When Andrew Vastardis met with Michigan football’s coaching staff after the Big Ten postponed its season in August, he had one goal in mind: to stay around as long as possible.
Vastardis, the backup center behind Cesar Ruiz for the last three years, could have gone to medical school. Instead, he wanted to stay for a fifth year to get his Master’s in Physiology (he graduated with a degree in movement science) and — just as important — contribute to the team.
“This could have been my last chance and I felt that I prepared myself as best I could and have grown really close with the coaches and my teammates,” Vastardis said. “It’s a second family here. As long as they’d have me, I’d continue to be here and continue to work cause at that time when (the postponement) first happened, I was thinking, we’re gonna play eventually, we just don’t know when it’s gonna be. And I wanted to be ready for that.”
It turned out, he was right. Five weeks after canceling, the Big Ten reversed course. When the Wolverines play their opener at Minnesota on Saturday, Vastardis will be the starting center for the first time in his career. He was also voted a team captain.
According to fifth-year senior defensive tackle Carlo Kemp, Vastardis is also proving his worth in practice.
“We like to think of Andrew as a Mack truck,” Kemp said. “He just drives his Mack truck to work every day and pours his concrete.”
As the center on an offensive line that will feature four new starters and protect a new quarterback, Vastardis will be an inherent leader. Having been in the program for a long time, he’s comfortable with protection calls. He said Monday that he starts calls with tackles and guards, giving feedback as needed. Quarterback Joe Milton, too, has “gotten very good at it,” Vastardis said.
It’s a situation reminiscent of 2018, when Michigan came into the year with a new offensive line coach, new quarterback and a group that had struggled the previous season. Though the Wolverines gave up lots of pressure in the opener against Notre Dame, that group gelled quickly afterwards.
“I think looking back to that season, we had a lot of guys that were just coming into their roles,” Vastardis said. “I remember we had some older guys in the room still that were able to exemplify leadership, say what they’ve seen in the past. I feel like in my role and like we mentioned, a ton of guys that aren’t just new guys, guys that have played before and have been in the program and know what the coaches are trying to put forth for our mission.”
Though guards Andrew Stueber and Chuck Filiaga have never been full-time starters, either, they’ve been practicing with Vastardis for years. Stueber missed last season with an ACL injury, but both are seniors. While the trio hasn’t started a game together, they know how to play alongside one another.
“I think we’ve gotten to a point where we’re very comfortable with each other,” Vastardis said. “I believe in them and they believe in me.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, too, has the same belief in Vastardis.
“Done a great job since he’s been here, his opportunity has come and he has grabbed onto it,” Harbaugh said. “Been extremely, extremely thrilled with him.”
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