Rashan Gary playing up to the hype in young career

Saturday, September 10, 2016 - 5:45pm

Freshman defensive end Rashan Gary celebrates a sack against UCF at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

Freshman defensive end Rashan Gary celebrates a sack against UCF at Michigan Stadium on Saturday. Buy this photo
Grant Hardy /Daily

 

Chris Wormley had not yet started his answer about Rashan Gary when Gary appeared in the doorway to Wormley’s left. The two defensive ends had just helped the Michigan football team rout Central Florida, 51-14, and Wormley, a fifth-year senior captain, was asked about one of his top mentees.

Almost on cue, Gary had just walked in on Wormley and redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight’s postgame press conference to join them.

“I mean, look at him over there,” Wormley said. “He’s a freshman. He’s, what, 18 years old? Six-(foot)-five, (287 lbs.). Unbelievable pass rusher. Quick off the ball. Learns the defense really well. He’s a fast learner. You put all those together as a freshman, it’s something special. He’s a good kid. He plays hard, he plays fast and he just wants to win.”

Then, Gary walked up to the podium to sit beside Speight and Wormley, forcing two of the most important players on the team to scoot over.

“Oh, boy,” Speight said. “Lot of meat.”

There was plenty of room for Gary in the camera shot Saturday, and the true freshman proved there will be plenty of room for him on Michigan’s defensive line this year. If Gary inched onto the stage last week against Hawaii, making three tackles in a low-key blowout win, then Saturday may have been his breakout game.

Playing increased snaps, Gary tied for second on the team with six tackles, led the Wolverines with 2.5 tackles for loss and added an assist on a sack, ending a bothersome drought of … one week.

“I was itching for a sack this week, because I didn’t get one last week and I felt like I owed the D-line,” Gary said. “Because I missed one (against) Hawaii, and I’m like, ‘I’m not going to miss any opportunity I get from now on.’ ”

The sack came early in the second quarter, when Gary and redshirt junior linebacker Ben Gedeon teamed up to smother UCF quarterback Justin Holman at his own two-yard line. The Knights punted three plays later, and Michigan made it 31-0 three plays after that.

Gary’s chance came as a consequence of early-season injuries. Senior defensive end Taco Charlton and redshirt sophomore tackle Bryan Mone both missed Saturday’s game with injuries. Gary didn’t start — redshirt sophomore Chase Winovich did instead — but he played most of the snaps, as Michigan needed him to.

No other defensive end saw significant action, and Central Florida, in its first year running a new up-tempo offense, ran one play every 22.6 seconds of game time.

Gary said he felt more comfortable than last weekend — in part thanks to the help of Wormley and Charlton, one of whom anchored the line, the other of whom Gary helped replace. The Wolverines swap defensive linemen constantly during games, and Gary is leaving enough of an impression with the coaches to keep his name in that rotation.

For head coach Jim Harbaugh, a man who shows an almost religious devotion to the tenacity required of football players, few compliments mean more than calling a player tough. Saturday, asked about Gary, that was one of the first words out of the coach’s mouth.

At one point during the first week of practice, Harbaugh recalled, Gary dislocated his finger and went in for an X-ray. “The trainer was like, ‘Man, what is that?’ or something to that effect,” Harbaugh said.

“That’s football,” he recalled Gary saying, and Gary returned to the field.

Another time, Gary cramped up during practice, so Harbaugh took him out, only to find the youngster back on the field a half-dozen plays later.

“He’s really good like that,” Harbaugh said. “Real football player. Doing a great job.”

Expectations have always been high for Gary, the top-ranked recruit in the nation last year, from the February day he committed during Michigan’s “Signing of the Stars” ceremony to the April night he came out to a loud ovation from fans at the Spring Game.

Tuesday, after his first day of classes, Gary said he tries to shy away from that attention whenever possible.

“I try to stay low, but yeah, a couple people know me and they’ll say hi, take pictures,” Gary said. “But besides that, you see me with a hoodie on.”

Asked if that works, Gary said, “Sometimes. But I’m 6-foot-5, so it don’t always work.”

At this rate, it’s going to get harder every week.