Get anyone in the Michigan football program going on freshman defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, and it soon becomes clear how high they are on him.
Ask fifth-year senior defensive lineman Lawrence Marshall.
“Oh my god, Aidan, from the first day until now, making a huge jump. That kid will be an All-American here.”
Ask junior defensive end Rashan Gary, a potential future top-10 NFL draft pick.
“I tell him all the time, my freshman year, he’s ahead of where I was.”
Ask his position coach, Greg Mattison.
“All I know is when Aidan was recruited, and watching Aidan play in high school and watching him in camp and watching him in games, his future is very, very bright.”
Four games into Hutchinson’s Michigan career, the hype is deafening. Hutchinson — barely 18 years old — has publicly tempered expectations. “That’s cool, but I have a lot to work on,” he said,when asked about Marshall’s All-American prediction.
But his performance thus far speaks for itself.
Despite playing behind Gary and fifth-year senior Chase Winovich, Hutchinson has seen action in all four games this season. Against Western Michigan, the freshman notched six tackles. Late in the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Nebraska, Hutchinson diagnosed a screen pass from Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez and batted the attempt back in the air. Martinez caught his own attempt in the Nebraska end zone, but Hutchinson knocked him down, forcing Martinez into an intentional grounding penalty out of desperation, resulting in a safety.
It was a glimpse of the athleticism, intelligence and relentlessness that, by all accounts, Hutchinson has been showing in practice all year.
“He’s strong, he goes hard, he’s smart. Like he really understands football,” Marshall said Tuesday. “Like a lot of freshmen, when they come in, they really don’t understand the adjustments from high school to college. He really understands football.”
That would make sense, given his family pedigree. Hutchinson’s father, Chris, played at Michigan from 1988-1992, earning All-Big Ten honors his final two seasons and an All-American selection his senior season.
Chris totaled 11 sacks in 1992 and finished his career with 20, then the second-highest total in school history.
Mattison coached the Wolverines’ defensive line in 1992, and says “(Chris) may be the best I’ve had the opportunity to coach.”
“Obviously him being an All-American here, obviously I know there’s a high standard for me,” Aidan said Tuesday. “I think, but I set my own expectation for myself, and I set the bar for myself.”
For the time being, his snap count will be limited by the presence of Gary and Winovich — two potential All-Big Ten ends who rarely take a play off, barring injury. Hutchinson has gained valuable in-game experience in the last three weeks, games Michigan has won by a total of 127 points.
Far from a hindrance, Mattison sees Gary’s presence in particular as valuable to Hutchinson’s growth. Mattison often sees Gary offering Hutchinson assistance in meetings and film sessions, which reminds the veteran coach of another player-to-player relationship.
“I can still remember (former defensive end) Chris Wormley sitting right next to Rashan, helping him every day with all of the things we were trying to do, and (Gary) listening, and him learning it, and doing better each day that way,” Mattison said. “Rashan is doing the exact same thing with Aidan.”
Hutchinson will almost certainly step into a more prominent role next season, with Winovich graduating and Gary likely headed to the NFL. He will occupy the same spot, in the same uniform, under the same coach that his father did during his All-America season.
If the first portion of his freshman season is any indication — and if Marshall’s words turn into reality — Hutchinson could quickly shed the title of “Chris’ son.”
Mattison certainly thinks he’s on his way, even flashing some of the same skills that made Chris successful.
“Aidan has a lot of that in him,” Mattison said. “The good thing is Aidan has six more inches.”
Aidan Hutchinson has generated plenty of hype in his first few months on campus. But if what Mattison said is the case, not a word of it is hyperbole.