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September 23, 2010 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-09-23

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8A Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com 0

Walk-on Kovacs earns respect on'D'

0

By NICOLE AUERBACH
Daily Sports Writer
It seemed fitting that, on the day
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez
cracked jokes inviting any athletic
male students to walk onto the Wol-
verines as a kicker, a walk-on made
headlines.
Redshirt sophomore safety
Jordan Kovacs led the Michigan
defense with 11 tackles and a forced
fumble last Saturday in a win over
Massachusetts. He's started all
three games this season, and he's
been one of the few bright spots in
the Wolverine secondary so far.
Twoyears ago, Kovacs could only
dream of playing - let alone start-
ing - for the Michigan football
team.
His father, Lou, had walked on
at Michigan in the early 1980s and
played in one game in 1982. Kovacs
had opportunities to play else-
where, like a preferred opportunity
at Toledo, but he chose to follow his
father's footsteps.
He'd been asked back after initial
tryouts during his freshman year,
but Kovacs needed to undergo sur-
gery on his knee before he could
continue with the walk-on process.
Last January, he tried out again and
Rodriguez invited him back.
"It's amazing that Coach Rod

gives gu
said. "I'
other gu
who alw
winged1
ence. No
can play
know un
Kovac
tice, a da
He said h

"c
l.
Wim
Th
dr

tys opportunities," Kovacs under his belt, he's turned into
m sure there are plenty of one of the Wolverines' leaders on
ys on campus just like me defense.
ays dreamed of wearing the "He's been one of our most con-
helmet. It's a neat experi- sistent defenders," Rodriguez said.
t many people think, 'Oh, I "He's a very smart guy. He's physi-
at Michigan,' butyou never cal. ... He really understands our
til you try it." defense, and I think he'll keep get-
s reflected on his first prac- ting better and better."
ay that made his head spin. Kovacs said that understanding
he had no clue where he was makes him more comfortable with
his role within the defense. His sta-
tus on the team has changed this
fall, too.
This is the Rodriguez told Kovacs a few days
into August camp that the walk-
aged helmet. on would be getting a scholarship,
a moment that Kovacs can't recap
is is what I without smiling.
"That moment, where you can
ream ed of." pull a young man into your office or
see him in a hallway, whenever you
tell them, you're just so happy for
him," Rodriguez said. "You know
d to be or what he was sup- that's one of their goals. They know
do. So he took Rodriguez's they've earned it when they get one."
If you don't know where He has the playing time and the
.pposed to be, run in place. scholarship now, so Kovacs must
that a few times," Kovacs be getting some of the other perks
of being a Michigan football player,
the first minute of that right? Autographs, definitely.
to now, Kovacs used prac- "It is weird because I just look
an opportunity to impress at myself as just another guy and I
and somehow get some don't really understand why people
time. Now, with a year of would want my autograph," Kovacs
ce (eight starts at safety) said.

0

supposes
posed to
advice:I
you're su
"I did
said.
From
practice
tice as a
coaches
playing 1
experien

Senior safety Jordan Kovacs has been a welcome surprise in the secondary this season, despite Michigan's struggles on defense.
Kovacs walked on to the team and, before the season, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez offered him a scholarship.

9

Kovacs can't always figure out
when he's recognized, either. He
laughed, telling a story about a
woman coming up to him during a
shopping trip at Kroger in his home-
town, Curtis, Ohio.
"I was wearing some Michi-
gan stuff, and some lady came up
to me and said, 'Hey, is your name
Jacob?"'Kovacs said. "I said no, and

I walked away. My mom was with
me, and she was like, 'I think she
was looking for you because she was
wearing all Michigan (clothing)."'
A first-name slipup, but still not
bad for someone who wasn't on
Michigan's roster two years ago.
That part of the story - how special
his roster spot is - is not something
lost on Kovacs. And that's what

drives him each day in practice and
in each game.
"I (try to remind myself) how
lucky I am every day," Kovacs said.
"Some days, you're going to practice
and it's like, 'Oh, God, practice',butI
try to stop and look around and look
at the helmet I'm putting on. This is
the winged helmet. This is what I
have dreamedof."

Younger Saad explodes for
hat trick in overtime win

Freshman leads nation
in scoring after
three-goal game
By CASANDRA PAGNI
Daily Sports Writer
Just when it looked as if the Mich-
igan men's soccer team was headed
to another
overtime KENTUCKY 2
draw, MICHIGAN 3
freshman
forward Soony Saad abruptly ended
the speculation.

His game-winning header came
at 1:41 into the first overtime, giving
him his first Michigan hat trick and
cementing the team's first victory
in three games, a 3-2 win over Ken-
tucky last night.
Michigan (4-1-3) showed its deter-
mination from the start, as Saad's
first goal came just 3:13 into the first
period and marked just the second
goal scored in the first half all season
for the Wolverines.
The score came off a pass from
senior midfielder Justin Meram that
Saad drilled from 18 yards out into
the lower left corner of the Kentucky
goal. Meram's aggressive play all

game earned him two assists on the
night.
But despite taking a 1-0 lead, the
Wolverine offense was stifled all
half Michigan headed to halftime
with just four shots and only one on
goal - the lowest in both categories
in one period all season.
Michigan gave up the equalizer in
the 46th minute, as a Kentucky ball
slipped past the Wolverines' back
line and redshirt senior goalkeeper
Chris Blais to tie the game at one.
The match was one of the most
physical and aggressive games the
team has played all season, as Ken-
tucky picked up seven yellow cards.

The pitch was slick from rain and
both teams were forced to grind it
out from the start.
"There were a lot of tackles out
there," freshman defender Ezekiel
Harris said. "You couldn't be in the
game today if you didn't want to get
dirty."
Both teams netted their second
goals in regulation, with Michigan's
coming from Saad in the 74th minute
off a free kick. Saad led the way with
six total shots and three on goal.
The Wildcats converted a corner
in the last minute of regulation to
force overtime, something the Wol-
verines are all too familiar with this
season. But this overtime period
was short-lived, as Saad finished
the game with his third goal of the
night to lead the Wolverines into
Big Ten play on a high note.
"This game was vital," Saad said.
"No one wants to go in with their
heads down before they play a big
rival, especially Ohio State. That
being said, the way we won today
was an eye-opener, and also it was
a little warm-up for the hard tackles
and the hard game we face on Sat-
urday."
With eight total shotson goal, the
Michigan offense knows it needs to
start converting the opportunities it
creates, especially on corner kicks.
The Wolverines took eight corner
kicks against Kentucky, but couldn't
capitalize on any of them.
Playing host to conference rival
Ohio State on Saturday, Michigan
is riding the positives from yester-
day's game - especially Soony's hot
foot -until kickoff.
"I think good teams have to find
ways to win games," Michigan
coach Steve Burns said. "And this is
a team that is starting to figure that
out."

0

0

0

TOREHAN SH ARMAN/Daily
Freshman Soony Saad (top) and senior Justin Meram (bottom) played huge roles in
Michigan's win.

Blue's freshmen talent
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0

By STEPHEN NESBITT
Daily Sports Writer
During a non-conference sched-
ule that featured five overtime
finishes and one last-minute regu-
lation victory, the Michigan men's
soccer team has leaned heavily on
the fresh legs of the freshman class.
With just a few days left before
the kickoff of the Big Ten season,
Michigan coach Steve Burns has
called on his rookies to play an even
bigger role on both ends of the field.
Freshman forward Soony Saad
has carried the offense all year
long, most evident in his three-goal
effort against Kentucky (2-4-1) on
Wednesdaynight.
He scored in each period to help
the Wolverines capture a 3-2 over-
time win.
The dynamic forward climbed
atop the nation in scoring with his
hat trick against the Wildcats, put-
ting his season total at seven goals.
"It's definitely a plus when you
score three goals, but it's an even
bigger plus when they are the only
three," Saad said. "I just wanted to
win, whether it was three (goals of

my own) or three goals from anoth-
er teammate, I would be happy."
Michigan (4-1-3) is unbeaten in its
last six games, but has been plagued
with fatigue and injury after playing
several notably aggressive teams.
Senior defender Jeff Quijano was
removed from the starting lineup
last week, opening a space for fresh-
man Ezekiel Harris - a converted
forward - to join the Wolverines'
back line.
His speed and offensive-minded
attack have led to more quality scor-
ing chances, and his defense has
been nearly mistake-free.
"Coach has told me multiple
times that my duties are defense
first," Harris said. "I'm a natural
forward, so I go up (on the attack)
a lot, but you really have to combine
together and be a different breed to
play both ways."
The new starting lineup con-
sists of four freshmen. But when
sophomore midfielder Hamoody
Saad went down after a slide
tackle from a Kentucky defender
and sustained a hip flexor injury,
freshmen Dylan Mencia and Fabio
Pereira Villas Boras were thrust

into more prominent roles. Those
two will probably get considerably
more playing time during the next
few weeks.
Heading into conference match-
ups, the underclassmen will play a
critical role in determining whether
the team will be able to stay afloat in
the Big Ten.
"Our team is pretty young with
a couple sophomores and a couple
freshmen starting," Soony said.
"We're just going to keep growing
as a team and bond together even
more. The youth that we have can
definitely work to our advantage,
and I think it will as the season goes
on."
Michigan faces its first con- 0
ference test this Saturday with a
faceoff against No. 23 Ohio State in
Ann Arbor.
After being a Big Ten bottom-
feeder last season, Burns knows that
the only way to climb the ranks is
for the young players to contribute
all over the field.
"With a lot of young guys on the
field,the only way you gain that kind
of experience is getting forged in the
fire," Burns said.

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