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September 16, 2005 - Image 16

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The Michigan Daily -- Football

Michigan enters the 2005 season with running back talent everywhere you look. But can the Wolverir
By Gabe EdelsonI Daily Sports Writer

yes' loaded backfield live up to the

As the 2003 season wound down to its conclusion, then-
senior Chris Perry was putting the finishing touches on
one of the finest seasons ever by a Michigan tailback. In his
last year as a Wolverine, Perry amassed 1,674 yards - the fourth-
highest ground yardage total in school history - on a record 338
carries. His 18 rushing touchdowns tied him for second on the all-
time list.
Yet despite the collective sense of euphoria felt by the Michi-
gan faithful at the thought of cheering for the Doak Walker Award
winner and Heisman Trophy finalist, a dark cloud
moved in over the Big House. Michigan's biggest
strength was about to become its most
glaring weakness.1

Running backs coach Fred Jackson has certainly taken notice of
Hart's extra burst compared to a season ago. And heading into his
14th year at Michigan, it's pretty clear he knows what to look for.
"(Hart) came in last year and wasn't in the shape that he would've
liked to have been in," Jackson says. "But as the year went on,
he got in condition. But then the load got heavier. You start car-

rying a ball 30, 40 times
a game at 180 pounds
and the wear and tear is
tougher. But now he's
stronger. He's faster. This
year you're going to see
a different guy. When he
gets by a guy this year, he
might go the distance on

just how crucial his quick adjustment to college has been to his
"It helped me so much," Grady says. "I learned the playbook, I
was meeting guys and building relationships. Getting a jump on
school will help with time (management) because that's another
big part of my development here at Michigan."
Grady's preparation was evident against the Huskies in the sea-
son opener. In his first action at Michigan, the freshman relieved
Hart to rush for 42 yards on nine carries, including his first career
touchdown on a plunge over the line from one yard out just before
halftime. Grady was perhaps even more impressive last week
against Notre Dame, carrying the bulk of the load and picking up
79 yards on just 18 attempts - a 4.4-yard average
- as the primary option after Hart took a seat.

"I can't complain
about the running
backs. All I
can do is smile
about them.

and if they have success, you
H art is thrilled-about the
means he won't have
fatigue he faced late I
yardage - began to take a tol
"It's going to be a lot better
this year," Hart says. "In the g
going to be able to come in a
They can get us yards when w
and stuff like that, I won't ha'
The lone uncertainty seems
departed Kevin Dudley made
er for Perry and Hart. This ye
Oluigbo and a converted defe
Will Paul, are competing to i
All three played against the
son and Paul
got both start
264-pound P
Still, it's pre
verines to restrain th

With Perry graduateda
playing for the NFL's
Cincinnati Ben-
gals, coach Lloyd Carr and
the 2004 Wolverines head-
ed into the season opener
against Miami (Ohio) with
a gigantic question mark
sticking out of the turf in
the offensive backfield.
Carr started the year
with unproven senior
David Underwood as the
featured back. Underwood,
who had gained a meager
276 yards during Perry's stel-
lar campaign, averaged just 2.8
yards per carry on 23 attempts I
the season before he was injur
minutes into Mich- i
gan'ssecondgame, against
Notre Dame. Carr also
experimented with soph-
omore Jerome Jackson
and junior Pierre Rembert
before giving undersized
freshman runner Mike Hart
the bulk of the carries begin-
ning the following week against
San Diego State. Hart didn't
disappoint, racking up 121
yards on 25 carries in his
first look at extended playing
"I just seized the opportu-
nity, I guess," Hart says. "I
had the opportunity and I just
had to take advantage of it."
The diminutive ball-carrier
never looked back, and when
the dust had settled, Hart had -
accumulated 1,455 rushing yards,

It's clear that Hart's We've otsome
confidence is soaring to
begin the season, as well. of the greatest
Last year, he wasn't sure
exactly what his role was running backs
at the outset. This time *
around, he knows he's in the country."
Plan A when it comes
time for Henne to hand n
al, off. ~Senior co-captain
"I like to compare it to Jason Avant
high school," Hart says.
"My freshman year I wasn't really that comfortable, but when
sophomore year came around I knew I was the best player on the
field. That's how I'm going into every game this year. And that's
how I played during spring ball. Unstoppable, I guess you could
say. I'm not cocky, but inside yourself you
know you can do it, and you know that
you can't be tackled."
But Hart knows there will still be
some doubters out there, and
he's prepared to silence them,
once again.
"I still feel like I have to
prove myself," Hart says.
"I'm a starter now, but I
still have to hold it. I
might not do anything
this year and they'll say,
high-profile 'Mike was just a one-year
knn Arbor with wonder.' "
redentials. Below Fortunately, it doesn't
totals - all Michi' appear that Hart will have
cords - Grady put to endure the dreaded
Rapids High School. sophomore slump this
season. He got off to a
151 924quick start on Sept. 3
against Northern Illi-
nois, carrying the ball
boatloads of 27 times for 117 yards and a
iore impres- touchdown. Hart also, caught
another true four of Henne's passes for 49
The shifty, yards, including a spectacu-
her than put- lar 34-yard score down the
he Year had right sideline late in the

Kevin Grady
One of Michigan's mostI
recruits ever landed in A
some pretty impressive c
are the four-year career
gan state high school re
together at East Grand R

Then there's sophomore
Martin, who, at 6-foot-I
215 pounds, provides anotl
big body with breakaway speec
Martin averaged more than four
yards a carry last season as a
first-year runner in the group
backing up Hart, and he looks
to play an even bigger role
in the offense this season.
Though he is currently nurs-
ing an injury that prevented
him from playing at full speed
in the season's first two games,
Martin will pick up the pace as
he gets healthier.
The players filling the top
three spots make it easy to forget
about Jerome Jackson, a multi-
talented junior who may be the
most well-rounded of the whole
bunch. But right now, last year's
No. 2 option is listed as fourth or
the depth chart. Just another
sign of how much things have
changed in the Michigan
backfield. Carr is even confi-
dent that his fifth-string run-
ner, 5-foot-6 redshirt junior
Alijah Bradley, will play an
important role on this year's
team. Sure enough, Jackson
and Bradley combined for 28
yards on five carries against
Northern Illinois.
But for anybody seeking
a strict breakdown of Mich-
igan's plan to split carries
between Hart, Grady, Mar-
tin, Jackson and Bradley this
season, Fred Jackson is not
the one to ask. The position
coach is far less concerned
with fulfilling quotas than he
is with giving the Wolverines
their best chance to win.
"If they all bust their butts
and work hard in practice,
they deserve to play out on
the field," Jackson says of
his talented group. "My job
during the course of a game
is to try and place each one
of them. It's hard to place a
number of carries, because
if a guy gets hot, you're not
going to want to take him out.
But you give guys the oppor-
tunity to have some success,

backfield. Obviously, a solid
the rest of the offense while
fact that is lost on no one in
Michigan's locker room.
"I can't complain about
the running backs," senior
co-captain and receiver
Jason Avant said. "All I
can do is smile about
them. We've got
some of the great-
est running backs

Mike Hart
Despite starting only eight games, the Wolverines'sz.
tailback compiled eye-popping numbers during his first
year in college. Below are Hart's freshman statistics.

in the country.
... Not just
(the top)
three, but
from one
to about six,
you put any
of those guys
in the game,
it's a differeni

Games Carries
12 282




Carries Yards
1,154 8,431

10 touchdowns andt

national attention. His accomplishments were even im,
sive considering that they came with Chad Henne,a
freshman, starting the entire season at quarterback.
elusive Hart had executed yet another cutback. But rath
ting moves on defenders, the Big Ten Freshman of t
turned around the fortunes and perception of a runnin
that just a few months earlier had been seen as the tear
Achilles' heel.
So Hart entered this year with high expectation
the reasoning that he's seen a full season of a
Division-I level. Of course, that's not to say tha
it easy during the offseason. On the contrary, the Syr
native kicked it into high gear to ensure that he wouldt
ter prepared for his sophomore year.
"I worked a lot on my pass blocking," Hart says. "I
little bit of everything last year, but I just worked on ge
in every aspect."

Mike Hart (20) and Kevin Grady (3) head the long list of talented Michigan running backs. The dynamic duo has shouldered the majority of the weight in
the ground game so far this year. Behind Hart and Grady, Max Martin, Jerome Jackson and Alijah Bradley provide even more options for the Wolverines.

g backs unit
m's potential
s, following
ction at the
at Hart took
acuse, N.Y.,
be even bet-
I could do a
etting better

first quarter, during which
the runner flattened a Hus-
kies defender en route
to the end zone. And
while an apparent leg
injury knocked Hart out
of the Wolverines' game
against Notre Dame last
Saturday, indications
are that the starting back
will not miss significant
But this year, chances

Max Martin
Michigan's third-string running back saw limite
action in 2004 as a true freshman. This year, Martin
has picked up six yards on five carries against North-
ern Illinois and Notre Dame while playing at less than
full strength. Below are his totals from last season.
Games Carries Yards Average TDs
8 32 132 4.1 1

are good that the generously listed 5-foot-9, 192-pound Hart
won't have to do it all himself. He's got company. Lots of it, in
fact. Michigan's running backs are no longer seen as the patch-
work collection of maybes that they were last season. Now,
one might say the Wolverines have been blessed with an
embarrassment of riches at the position.
Behind Hart is Kevin Grady, a freshman Mack Truck
of a runner with deceptive speed who packs 228
pounds of muscle into his 5-foot-9 frame.
"He's gonna run you over," Hart says of his primary
backup, "but he's quick, too. He'll try to make you miss."
Grady comes to Michigan as perhaps its most heralded

running back recruit of all time, having broken most every major
Michigan high school rushing record in his four years at East
Grand Rapids High School. He ranks first in state history for car-
ries, rushing yards, touchdowns, scoring and consecutive 100-yard
rushing games. Henne, for one, has been impressed with Grady's
modesty despite the excitement surrounding his arrival.
"Kevin's a great person," Henne says. "He's humble. He doesn't
talk about himself, and he's always willing to work harder. And
that's what I like about him. When (players are) willing to work
harder and come out and try their best, that's all you can ask for."
Grady even got a head start on his initiation to the football pro-
gram, enrolling for the winter semester last year and practicing
with the team since the Rose Bowl. The freshman seems to realize

Hart's three 200-yard rushing games last season
- which came in consecutive weeks against Illinois,
Purdue and Michigan State - set a Michigan record
for 200-yard games in a single season by a Michigan
runner. Hart is also tied with Ron Johnson for the most
200-yard rushing games in a Michigan career. But the
sophomore garnered plenty more accolades, as well.
Below is a list of the awards Hart won last year.
" Big Ten Freshman of the Year (coaches and media)
". All-Big Ten first team (coaches and media)
" SI.com All-America honorable mention
" Collegefootballnews.com All-America third team
" Scripps/Football Writers Association of America
Freshman All-America
" Rivals.com Freshman All-America first team
" The Sporting News Freshman All-America second
" The Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten
* The Sporting News Big Ten Offensive Freshman of
the Year
Hart also owns the national high school career records
for touchdowns (204), consecutive and total 100-yard
rushing games (47), and points (1,246). He carried the
ball 935 times for 11,232 yards in high school.

different stuff.
Much of the
massive shoul
who are also e)
er teammates.
"We have a
right guard M;
the huddle, it's
defense never 1
we up front. V
holes for them
Even the u
back his high]1
"Our situati
to be as good a
says. "They're
make the cuts
passion.... I li
guys have a ro
Heading int
ern Michigan
how much thi
Underwood h
ferred to Illin
most importa
behind Henne
tion point indi
abundanTt asse

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