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September 13, 1993 - Image 16

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The Michigan Daily, 1993-09-13

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6- The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, September 13, 1993

SOPHS
Continued from page 1
freshmen and sophomores are looked
upon differently in this program,"
Toomer said. "It's just paying your
dues. You've got to go through your
freshman year to get your real
opportunity."
Hayes and Toomer had to learn
that the hard way. Freshman phenoms
are a rare species. At Michigan,
they're as close to extinct as the
wolverine is in the state of Michigan.
It was only logically then for the
pair to befriend each other in August
of 1992 during preseason condition-
ing. Instead of roughing the tide
individually, the pair decided to face
together the pain and suffering that
comes with "paying your dues" as a
Wolverine.
'We came in together, played
together and have certain amount of
years here together, so we decided to
just hang around together," Hayes
said.
They were the only ones who
knew what the struggle would be like-
They became natural allies, people
who could share the agony of life as a
freshman football player. They were
playing for Michigan.
But they were not yet Wolverines.
"Me and Amani, we came in and
we just wanted to play," said Hayes,
his stocky 200-pound frame remind-
ing people more of a wrestler than
receiver.
Just play is what Hayes had done a
lot of at Booker T. Washington High
School in Houston.
And play. And play.
Hayes was as versatile as a Swiss
Army knife, performing at nine
different gridiron positions during his
senior year, including quarterback.
Anytling to help the team. No one at
Michigan ever questioned his desire
or his heart when they recruited him
as a wide receiver.
'You know when you talk about
Mercury Hayes, he's going to play
hard every single down," Michigan
coach Gary Moeller said.
It was Hayes' great speed and soft,
receptive hands which tied his destiny
to catching the ball as opposed to
passing it.
"I thought he did a very good job.
I think he can be an excellent
receiver," said Moeller following
Hayes' eight-reception, 105-yard
performance against Washington

State.
For Hayes it was a career day,
literally. As a freshman in 1992, the 5-
foot-8 wide out had caught all of 10
passes, for all of 136 yards.
Walking off the field, playing the
role of hero, had made the struggles
of his freshman year worth it.
Mercury had arrived.
.0.
"There was a lot of tension
because me and Mercury were
freshmen, and we didn't really know
how to treat (our teammates), and
they didn't really know how to treat
us," Amani Toomer said. "There was
a lot of misunderstanding."
At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, the soft-
spoken Californian is quite shy when
you approach him in street clothes.
He is not one to seek out conflict or
trouble. Yet his sleek frame and long
strides grab the attention of opposing
defensive backs.
Toomer had little doubt that
Michigan was the place for him. Even
though his father had played for
Woody Hayes at Michigan's arch-
enemy, Ohio State, Toomer just
realized that being a Wolverine was
his calling, both on the field and off it.
"I took a visit to Notre Dame
because one of the players, Bobby
Taylor, was from my high school so
he kind of took me around to Notre
Dame," Toomer said. "I liked it but I
just felt that Michigan was a better
place for me. It was partially because
of academics which could help me
later on in life."
Coming out of DeLaSalle High
School, Toomer had been named to
every All-America list in the country.
He was ready to make his presence
known at the next level.

But he didn't realize he'd have to
wait his turn, as almost all Wolverines
before him had done. Howard himself
was a redshirt.
He'd have to wait until the first
game of his second season at Michi-
gan to finally feel the glory. Toomer
gained 69 yards and scored a touch-
down against the Cougars.
Only then had Amani arrived.
-e@e
"Me and Amani, we're real tight.
When people see Amani they know
I'm not too far away," Hayes said of
their friendship.
But that wasn't the case for all the
Michigan receivers a year ago. With
Derrick Alexander, Walter Smith and
Felman Malveaux all having been
through at least one complete season,
the freshman duo of Hayes and
Toomer had a tough sell ahead. They
were the outsiders, young hotshots
expecting to play. They weren't
Wolverines.
'You have to go in and present
yourself and see if the team will
accept you as who you are," said
Hayes of his first year at Michigan.
"My freshman year was more of a
learning process."
As their first year unfolded, the
cockiness and attitude that comes
with being a high school All-America
dissolved. In its place, "Michigan
Football" was taught to the newcom-
ers, practice by practice, game by
game.
'You have to get used to playing
in front of so many people," Toomer
said. "Once you get used to that, then
you have to get used to the size of the
players, because they're a lot bigger.
You've just got to get used to the
whole thing."

But there was still a de facto line
between the old and the new guard.
And only this past summer did it go
the way of the Berlin Wall. A new
attitude appeared, one in which team
was emphasized over individuals. The
effect is easily seen.
"I think (the tension between
receivers) was more of last year,"
Toomer said. "I think that this year,
our receivers got together and made
more of a commitment to being
together and sticking with each other
through the good and the bad.
"I think last year we might have
had a few problems with that, but not
this year. I see a whole new outlook
on the receivers unit. I think we've
gotten a lot closer just being together
a year."
What the future holds for both
Toomer and Hayes is more certain
this September day than it ever was
last season. The two receivers know
what a year of Michigan footfall is
like and they have proven they can
handle it.
After the disappointment of losing
to Notre Dame Saturday fades to
black, there will be the knowledge
and hope of goals still to come. There
will be many more days to make an
impact. Many other Wolverines to
live up to.
"As you see last year, (Derrick)
made the big catches that we needed
and that just makes me want to (go
that much harder)," Hayes said.
"When I go out and have the opportu-
nity to make the great catches I can
say, 'Hey, Derrick Alexander came
before me and made the great catches.
I have to, too."'
His friend, as well, is placing the
same expectations upon his shoulders.
His ability seems almost limitless and
he is ready to take the next step
toward being a premier receiver. He's
just waiting for his moment.
"That's what keeps us on our toes
and what will make us ultimately
better players. We have to get used to
taking advantage of every opportunity
you get."
Taking advantage of opportunities
is something that Hayes and Toomer
have grown to excel at, for the
opportunities have been few and far
between as freshman at Michigan.
But they are no longer in their first
year. They are sophomores.
But more importantly, they are
Wolverines.

DOUG KANTER/Daily
Mercury Hayes and Amani Toomer, friends since their meeting in 1992, celebrate a
Hayes reception during Saturday's loss to Notre Dame. The duo started the 1993
season on a high note, both setting career records against Washington State in the
home opener.
>r SEPTEMBPER SPECIALS:
Champion reverse weave sweatshir s S
(with MICHIGAN screenprint) 0..*35
W fblank Champion of
N: EE twill gree lettersi
SPIRIT
1205 S. UNIVERSITY, ANN ARBOR, MI148104 (313)761-2100

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