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September 15, 2010 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-09-15

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8A - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Michigan Daily - michigancdaily.com

Parallels to last year abound, but this season is different

The image should still be
fresh in your mind
favored Notre Dame team,
clinging to a lead in the game's
final minute.
Michigan's
highly touted.
quarterback
leads the-
Wolverines
down the field, ,
scoring the
winning touch-
down with sec- NICOLE
onds left on the AUERBACH
clock.
No, I'm not
talking about Saturday's 28-24
victory. Let's flash back to the
2009 version - the 38-34 win,
true freshman Tate Forcier's
coming-out party.
Sure feels eerily similar, huh?
In many ways - the 2-0 start,
a smiling Rich Rodriguez, the
premature Heisman talk - it
feels just like this time last sea-
son.
But in more important ways,
this year is totally different.
First, the Wolverines' big win
over rival Notre Dame this year
was on the road. Saying South
Bend is an easy place to play is
like saying Coral Reefs is the
University's most difficult science
course.

On Saturday, led by sophomore
quarterback Denard Robinson's
502 total yards, Michigan gave
Rodriguez just his second win
outside of Ann Arbor in his two-
plus years running the program.
Already, the Wolverines have
won more games on the road than
they did all of last year, and that
bodes well for the rest of the sea-
son. Four road games remain on
the schedule: Indiana, Penn State,
Iowa and Ohio State. After Michi-
gan's clutch performance in hos-
tile Irish territory, none of those
remaining road games - yes, even
against the Buckeyes - should be
chalked up as automatic losses
anymore.
Second, Michigan's most
impressive statistic of the season:
zero turnovers.
By this point last year, Wolver-
ine quarterbacks had thrown two
interceptions, and Michigan was
on its way to losing 13 fumbles and
throwing 15 interceptions on the
season. Four of those intercep-
tions belonged to Robinson - out
of his 18 attempted passes all of
last year.
Yet here we sit, eight quarters
into the 2010 season, and Robin-
son's passing stats are breathtak-
ing: 43-of-62 for 430 yards. And
no interceptions.
Of course, it's unlikely that

trend keeps up all season (pinch
me if it does), but it's an impres-
sive start. Not only has Robinson's
passing gotten crisper, it's gotten
more accurate. Opponents can't
expect Michigan to make mis-
takes like they did before.
That brings me to the final dif-
ference: The Wolverines know
how their bright 4-0 start last
season fizzled into a disappoint-
ing 5-7 final record. They've been
2-0 before. They've been ranked.
They know how to not let last year
happen again.
Part of that is making sure dis-
tractions like media attention and
hype are kept at a distance.
"Probably, if you asked half the
players on the team, they wouldn't
even know that we're ranked right
now," senior cornerback James
Rogers said. "We're just trying
to stay out of the newspapers
and stuff like that and don't even
worry about it."
The players don't seem con-
cerned about attention these
days, but there remains a sense
of urgency around this program.
Rodriguez knows winning erases
complaints, and the hot seat he
started the season in has cooled
considerably with the 2-0 start.
But nobody - particularly Rodri-
guez - wants to see the team col-
lapse again.

Redshirt sophomore J.T. Floyd (right) and senior Greg Banks walk off the field after beating Notre Dame 28-24

This offseason, the Wolverines
focused on learning the playbook,
gaining experience - all the cli-
ch6 things. But they've proven
they're more than talk. Robinson
has developed chemistry with his
wide receivers, and the offensive
and defensive lines have gotten
stronger.
Those are just examples of the

team's growth. Each step of that
process helps distance this squad
from last year's.
"We're getting better as people
can see," senior defensive tackle
Greg Banks said. "We can see it in
ourselves a lot more than usual.
Not to say that we weren't believ-
ing in ourselves (last year), it's
just that we're starting to find our

identity as a team now."
And that identity - untied
shoelaces and all - just feels
really different from last year's,
which could make the rest of this
season a whole lot more enjoyable
than the last.
- Auerbach can be reached
atnaauaer:oumich adu

1219 receiving yards and five touch-
downs in his sophomore and junior
years, while earning a reputation
as a thunderous blocker. But when
Edwards graduated to the NFL at
the end of Avant's junior year, it was
time for the team player to become
a team leader.
"My senior year was really hec-
tic for me," Avant said. "Here I was,
used to having a security blanket in
Braylon, with him receiving all the
attention, allowing me to have one-
on-one coverage. Now I'm the guy*
who's being doubled, the guy who is
the key focus of the defense as Bray-
ion was."
Avant's senior year was bitter-
sweet. On a personal level, it was a
fantastic year, as he racked up 82
catches, 1,007 receiving yards and
eight touchdowns. But on the team
level it was a tough year, as Michi-
gan struggled to a 7-5 record after
beginning the season with national'
championship dreams. Avant's
four years of selfless play did not
go unnoticed though, as he won
the prestigious Bo Schembechler
Award, given to Michigan's most
valuable player.
"When I think about it, I can
almost cry," Avant said. "Not
because the award meant that
much, but that Jesus Christ helped
lead me from a terrible situation
that I was in to graduate from
Michigan. Winning the Bo Schem-
bechler Award, the most presti-
gious award for an athlete in our
school, to see some of the guys on
the trophy list, it was just a hum-
bling experience."
Coming off a 1,000-yard sea-
son at Michigan, one would have
expected Avant's stock among NFL
scouts to be sky-high. But the NFL
Draft process was a difficult one
for him. While Avant's talents were
obvious on tape, his measurables
didn't scream high draft pick. A
4.73 40-yard dash time caused him
to fall to the fourth round of the
2006 NFL Draft, where the Phila-
delphia Eagles snatched him up.
Thankful for being drafted, but
angry for seeing receivers he felt
worse than him drafted ahead,
Avant looked at his fourth-round
selection as an opportunity. He
could prove himself as an under-
dog, that with hard work and faith,
anything is possible.

His rookie season was spent
working relentlessly to make a
talented Eagles team coming off
a Super Bowl appearance. Train-
ing camp went without getting
that dreaded call to drop off his
playbook, but earning a roster spot
didn't satisfy him. After a run of
wide receivers who steered away
from contact, Avant endeared him-
self to both the coaching staff and
Eagles fans by showing no fear in
going across the middle to catch
passes. His blue-collar style both on
and off the field made him a Philly
favorite.
After seeing no playing time
throughout much of his rookie sea-
son, Avant finally opened up eyes
after getting his first TD on New
Years Eve against the Falcons. His
patience paid off, as he entered his
second season as a key slot receiver
in the Eagles' pass-heavy offense.
His star has been steadily on the
rise since, going from 23 catches
in 2007-08 to 32 catches in 2008-
09 to 41 catches last season. Along
with two talented young receiv-
ers in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy
Maclin, Avant has emerged as part
of one of the most feared trios in
the NFL, acting as a mentor to the
phenoms.
Still playing off of his smaller-
than-expected fourth round rookie
salary, the Eagles rewarded Avant
with a new five-year contract exten-
sion. Never one to overtly show his
wealth, Avant was happy not only
for the security given to him and
his wife, Stacy, but the ability to
give back through the social work
he does with his church. Never for-
getting his own rough upbringing,
Avant is constantly looking to help
give at-risk youth an opportunity to
succeed.
It's 4:15 p.m. in Philadelphia.
The Eagles are facing the Pack-
ers to open the season. With a
new contract in tow and role as
the Eagles' go-to receiver on third
down, things have never been more
settled for the man from the Alt-
geld Projects. Still, the nerves from
running out onto Lincoln Financial
Field in front of 67,000 screaming
fans remains. He tells himself a
prayer he says every game:
"Lord, I thank you. I'm not going
to be fearful or scared of anyone out
here, as you are with me."

ason Avant is pissed off.
He's an All-American, so
why is he sitting on the
bench he thinks? No. 9
Washington is on the oppo-
site sideline, and he should be tak-
ing apart their secondary. Sure, he
ran out and touched the banner in
front of the 111,OOO-plus crowd, but
if he's not playing, it doesn't matter.
He spends the first quarter glued
to the bench, grumbling to himself
about the injustice that has been
done to him. He looks around for
fellow freshman receiver Steve
Breaston, who knows what Avant's
going through. But Breaston's not
sitting on the bench, he's up on the
sideline, yelling and cheering. This
freshman is being redshirted - he
can't play this entire year - and he's
the one excited?
Avant's not going to be the one
complaining while his friend is fired
up, so he rises and joins Breaston. It
all begins to soak in: the crowd, the
tradition and his teammates laying
it all on the line. He begins to cheer,
pulling for his teammates in a tight
game. When Phillip Brabbs hits a
44-yard field goal as time expires,
Avant runs on the field in jubilation
with the rest of his teammates.
"I understood what being a
Michigan Man was all about,"
Avant said in an interview with
the Daily. "It wasn't about my tal-
ent anymore, it wasn't about me
being the best football player, but
me encouraging my university, me
encouraging my teammates, and
that was the change in my career."
It's a Sunday, so Avant is going
with his Granny to church. Not that
he has much of a choice, lest he face
the wrath of her bible and belt. Lillie
Avant, known as Granny to the rest
of the neighborhood, raised Avant
his entire life. His mother dropped
him as a baby and never came back.
His father, Jerry Avant, was in and
out of prison. A stern woman with
a strong faith, Granny raised her
grandson as if he were her son.
Their neighborhood was the
Altgeld Gardens Projects on the

South Side of Chicago, a place most
famous for its asbestos. There were
drugs and opportunities to go down
the wrong path, but Granny's faith
kept Avant on the right side of the
tracks, praying for him every time
he went out.
Like most kids growing up in the
Windy City in the era of Jordan's
Bulls, Avant's game was basketball.
And a bailer he was, beating older
guys on the playground, taking
their money and pride in the pro-
cess. It wasn't until his sophomore
year at Carver High School that he
became a football player.
Carver was short on athletes and
funds, so Avant's basketball coach
- who held the same position with
the football team - made an ulti-
matum: if you want to play basket-
ball, you're going to have to play
football.
Avant's football career got off
to an inauspicious start. After one
day of the fullback repeatedly pop-
ping him, he quit. He didn't want
to get hit. But Granny wasn't about
to let Avant give up after one day.
She convinced him to go back out
with the squad. With his position
switched to running back, Avant
started to like the game a little bit
more.
In his junior year, Avant switched
positions again, this time to wide
receiver. And quite the receiver
he was, setting school records in
receptions, receiving yards and
touchdowns. Within two years of
first playing football, Avant was an
High School All-American.
New to the game of football,
Avant wasn't exactly well-versed in
the recruiting and rah-rah tradition
of college football. But he knew of
this program with history, Michi-
gan, and he remembered Charles
Woodson smiling with a rose in his
mouth. His interest was piqued, so
he began to look into the program.
Its winning ways and high aca-
demic profile only furthered his
admiration. When Lloyd Carr came
calling, Avant couldn't resist sign-
ing with the national champion-
ship-winning coach.
"I thought Coach Carr was genu-

ine," Avant said. "I thought he was
tough and I thought he went out of
his way to come out to the projects,
where most of the coaches were
scared to come and visit me."
After a freshman year dedicated
to getting stronger and faster, Avant
entered his sophomore year looking
to emerge a star after having only
two catches in his Michigan career.
But that stardom wasn't going to
come any time soon, as Braylon
Edwards had emerged as the lead-
ing man of the receiving crew after
a 1,035-yard, ten-touchdown sea-
son. Anyone who had known Avant
as a hot-headed All-American a year
before would have expected sullen
response to the thought of playing
second fiddle. But two events in
Avant's freshman year changed his
mindset: the Washington game and
the reemergence of his faith.
At the end of his first year at
Michigan, Avant submitted himself

wholly to Christ. His outlook had
changed.
"It was no longer aboutegoing out
and catching ten passes a game, me
being this and me being that, and
trying to do it on my own," Avant
says. "My mindset was, 'Lord,
whatever you give me, I'll be satis-
fied. I just want to play my hardest
so when people look at me, they'll
see you playing."'
No more complaining to quarter-
back John Navarre about not get-
ting enough passes, because Avant
understood now what his playing
meant. He was not only playing for
God, he was playing for all those
who didn't get out of the Garden
Projects, those in the drug game,
locked up or dead from the fast
life. He practiced what his receiv-
ers coach Erik Campbell preached:
'Never count catches. Only count
wins.'
In an era of big-ego wide receiv-
ers, Avant was the ultimate team
player, quietly gaining a combined

Jason Avant played for the Wolverines from 2002-2005. He garnered ,007 yards
as a senior and was drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

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