Quick-learning Bay Area product Asiasi settling in at Michigan

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - 7:23pm

Freshman tight end Devin Asiasi (2) made his first catch against Penn State on Saturday, a three-yard touchdown.

Freshman tight end Devin Asiasi (2) made his first catch against Penn State on Saturday, a three-yard touchdown. Buy this photo
Sam Mousigian/Daily

 

Devin Asiasi didn’t see his first Michigan touchdown coming. In fact, he wasn’t even supposed to get the ball on the play.

On 3rd-and-goal from the 3-yard line early in the second quarter, redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight was supposed to hit fifth-year senior wide receiver Jehu Chesson streaking toward the right pylon. Instead, he saw Asiasi sitting wide-open down the middle of the field and immediately fired it to him for six points and the freshman tight end’s first catch of the season.

Chesson jokingly gave Asiasi grief for taking his touchdown after the play, but Asiasi was busy basking in the energy from the 110,319 fans in attendance.

“I turned around, and I (saw) a bunch of people screaming,” Asiasi said. “I (saw) my teammate (senior tight end) Jake Butt right there, celebrated with him. I definitely took time to look around, enjoy the moment.”

The moment came out of nowhere for Asiasi, but it was something his coaches expected from him before he even arrived on campus. Tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said he has had a good feeling about Asiasi ever since he watched film on him back in January.

“He plays fast. He’s physical,” Harbaugh said. “He’s capable of playing very nasty. He weighs somewhere around 270 pounds and still moves very, very well. It’s a rare physical combination. And then he has a good football awareness about him, and he learns well. Once I got a sense of the fact that he’d be able to pick things up fast enough to contribute, it was kind of a no-brainer that he’d be part of the group.”

Of course, it hasn’t hurt to have an All-American mentor like Butt in his position group. Asiasi calls Butt a “big brother,” and he hasn’t hesitated to ask questions about the offense or take small tips from the decorated senior. In fact, Asiasi credits Butt as the person who sold him on joining the Wolverines when he was still at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle High School.

As a result, Asiasi has found himself getting plenty of reps as the third tight end (behind Butt and redshirt sophomore Ian Bunting). Unlike his first touchdown, though, playing time didn’t come out of nowhere for Asiasi — he’s been expecting to play since he first committed.

“I came into the year with the mindset of me getting this playbook down and trying to make an impact my freshman year,” Asiasi said. “It’s not really a surprise to me. I’m just trying to make my way.”

And even though he was used to being the biggest player on the field in high school, Asiasi hasn’t shown any signs of being intimidated by larger, older opponents in his first four college games. In fact, the biggest adjustment for him since coming to Michigan hasn’t occurred on the football field — it’s been familiarizing himself with the culture and expectations of Big Ten country.

Growing up in the Bay Area, Asiasi has never seen a university take football as seriously as Michigan. He’s also never seen snow before, a thought that makes him “kinda scared.”

“It’s crazy,” Asiasi said. “Coming from the West Coast, football’s not really (in) the spotlight. But over here, the football team here has a real big spotlight on them, so it’s crazy getting adjusted to that, getting adjusted to that attention. I’ve been trying to fit in, and I think I’ve been doing a really good job.”

Asiasi said he is just one of many kids who have left the Bay Area “with chips on their shoulder,” looking to prove themselves in schools with stronger football cultures.

With regular playing time as a freshman and a touchdown already under his belt, Asiasi seems to be doing just fine.