Thorough Preparation Part of UM Football Experience – MGoBlue
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March 18, 2016
By Chad Shepard
On Friday (March 18),a dozen Wolverines began their pursuit of a professional career in football, as Michigan held its NFL Pro Day at Schembechler Hall. The athletes worked out in the Al Glick Field House for talent evaluators representing all 32 organizations across the NFL, participating in standard and position-specific drills while also conducting a number of interviews and proving their mettle in the weight room. After completing workouts and interviews, a few pro-hopeful Wolverines took time to talk with MGoBlue.com about everything that goes into an NFL evaluation and how comprehensively Michigan has prepared them for their journey to the next level.
The NFL is a high-pressure work environment.
Every weekend, there is a lot on the line — opportunity, dollars, and in the most valuable currency of all, one that can save someone’s livelihood and buy time itself: wins.
That adds unique pressure to the personnel charged with filling out a roster. Whether talent is acquired through the draft, free agency or other methods of procurement, the weight associated with the decision of who to keep and who to pass on cannot be ignored. Teams see athletes as investments, and with so much on the line, it makes sense that an organization would thoroughly examine every possible component of a player’s profile. From their character and background to their work ethic and locker room presence, nothing is off limits.
With so many opportunities to impress, it’s important that prospective NFLers turn heads at every possible chance. At the University of Michigan, athletes are prepared to impress in every facet of being a professional football player, from on-field production and work ethic to the contributions an individual makes to team culture and the local community.
A comprehensive approach to being a pro’s pro is what you’ll gain at Michigan, meaning whether they are drafted or not, this year’s crop of exiting Wolverines will leave Ann Arbor as true professionals.
“There are so many things I’ve learned here that I can take to the next level and use,” said safety Jarrod Wilson. “It’s the biggest stage in college football. We play under a microscope and it’s a surreal thing to experience things at this level when you haven’t even made it to the NFL yet.”
“It’s so holistic here,” agreed quarterback Jake Rudock. “The staff communicates so well, and everything else works because they understand that all of that matters. Having a locker room dynamic where the players take it upon themselves to get workouts started and things like that — that’s important. They’re teaching us how to do things ourselves.”
It begins in the classroom, where 250 degree programs available through 19 different schools provide a wide array of subjects for U-M students to dive into. Regular guidance at the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center, numerous opportunities to connect with prestigious alumni and programs like Athletes Connected — designed to open conversation and provide support surrounding mental health and the burdens faced by college student-athletes — illustrate just a few of the many initiatives and other means made available by the university to aid athletes all across campus.
Michigan’s scholastic reputation speaks for itself, and a competitive academic environment only furthers the notion iron strengthens iron, and to be the best you must surround yourself with the best.
“There are no shortcuts around hard work here,” said offensive lineman Graham Glasgow. “That’s why Michigan graduates end up being so successful. They know that there’s a right way to do things and to do them that way. This place teaches you that you have to consistently work hard to be great. If you don’t come as a high-character individual, it will develop you into one.”
The weight room is where today’s Wolverines sculpt high school bodies into the carved physiques capable of sustaining high performance in a hostile and often violent NFL environment.
Kevin Tolbert, who has worked with three NFL teams and spent more than 20 years working with the best college and professional athletes, heads a staff that includes strength and conditioning professionals Jim Plocki, Mark Naylor, Nate Barry and Corey Twine. In recent months, Jim Kielbaso was brought in to aid the transition and design individual-specific workouts for those pursuing the next level.
Together, they’ve worked with national champions, Olympians and professional athletes across a number of disciplines, and that experience is not lost on the athletes they work with in Schembechler Hall. Many players were quick to credit the environment in the weight room with setting the tone for practice and games.
“They did a great job of building relationships and putting us in situations where we had to rely on each other and couldn’t let the team down, and you see that in the game,” said defensive tackle Willie Henry.
“We’re working out five times a week and spending so much time with them and with your teammates — that’s when you build a relationship with the guys on the team. A lot of relationships are molded through the strength staff.”
Glasgow said he did not know just how much time he’d be spending in the weight room as a recruit, and he’s grateful to have developed bonds that he did.
“What a lot of people, and especially high school athletes, don’t know is that you’re going to be spending more time with your strength coach and positional coach than anyone else,” explained Glasgow.
“Having a relationship with them and having them push you really translates to better results on the field. The role that staff played for me was huge. They got me from a pear body as a senior in high school to looking like a real football player, and in turn I ended up playing like one.”
The closeness between staff and team pushes the athletes to new accomplishments by unlocking motivation that may otherwise go untapped. The level of commitment is so high and so evident that players know they’re not just lifting, running or training for themselves — they’re that much more eager to provide a return for the time others are investing in them.
For Rudock, a one-year Wolverine, the investment the staff made in him as an individual is what truly resonated.
“They care about the guy they’re working with,” he said. “Coach Tolbert gave me a huge hug after (today’s workout),telling me ‘Good Job, way to work.’ Here’s a coach who cares about you as a person and wants you to do well — you don’t have that everywhere. I’ve been fortunate to have coaches who really care about their players, and I can tell you it makes you really push yourself and go that extra mile in the weight room or get that extra rep or two because you know that he wants to see you be great.”
Michigan players also benefit from those who came before them. Champions like Tom Brady, Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard and literally hundreds of others have conducted themselves in such a way that there will always be a positive association with Michigan players in the NFL.
“I’m blessed to have made it through here for four years and experienced everything I experienced,” said Henry, “but I’m also lucky to have followed the guys who came before me at the University of Michigan. They didn’t have a bad rap as a guy who is hard-headed or can’t be coached or causes problems in the locker room. They created the mindset among coaches that Michigan guys are going to come in and work and be a good presence in that locker room and do what they can to help the team win.
“Michigan recruits to that character.”
Ultimately, it is the X’s and O’s employed by the Maize and Blue that may provide the strongest evidence in support of these players’ inclusion on an NFL roster. Coming into Ann Arbor, athletes know they’ll run a pro offense from a staff with pro experience.
Michigan’s 2015 staff boasted 85 years of NFL experience, including 49 years of playing experience. That gives them a leg up on the competition, often doing its best to segue from a spread offense or untraditional defensive scheme to an NFL setup.
“The tape is the proof,” Rudock states simply. “We not only run a pro style, but we’ve meshed concepts from three systems, from Coach Harbaugh and Coach Fisch and Coach Drevno, and we’ve found a way to make it work. When someone says ‘We’re running an over-plus,’ I know what they’re talking about. I know what defense you’re speaking about. That makes communication so much easier and helps you pick up everything more quickly. Even if someone has different terminology than you, you’ll still know what it is because that instance won’t be the first time you’ve heard it or seen it, and it makes you that much more prepared.”
Sure, measuring those similarities is easy to do from the view of the pocket, but what about the other 21 guys on the field?
“It’s reflected in every position here,” says Rudock.
“The offense is running a pro system. Well, that forces the defense to try and stop a pro system, so they’ve seen it now, too. Our defense still has to play us, and it gets guys prepared. I can say ‘It’s a one-by-two formation and they’ve got slot to the field with one split out’ and they understand. You see a guard pulling and you recognize: ‘Okay, we’ve got a power coming or a trap play’. That makes a big difference in preparation.”
That translates to the film room, too, says Henry.
“A lot of these coaches want to know that you know what they’re talking about, and I’m confident from the hard work that I’ve put in during the offseason studying film that I can get in front of the board and show coaches where I’m going and what my job is on certain plays. All the hard work that you’re putting in to make it to the next level; that hard work is paying off, and you can see it.”
“It’s just exciting to show these coaches that this system at Michigan is so great, and it’s prepared me so well for where I’m at today.”
Projecting the collective future of these outgoing Wolverines is a difficult exercise. The lens to the future muddied by the scope of time, but one thing is clear: no place prepares you for the next level like Michigan.
Communications Contact: Dave Ablauf