Jake Butt was the Big Ten’s tight end to watch last year.
Michigan will face his successor this weekend in Troy Fumagalli.
Fumagalli, a senior for No. 5 Wisconsin, finished second in the conference in receiving yards last year. He’s in first place through 10 games this season, having tallied 33 catches for 422 yards and three touchdowns.
He possesses all the pass-catching prowess of Penn State’s Mike Gesicki (or Butt) — and is also quite the capable blocker. The Wolverines’ tight ends are certainly cognizant of Fumagalli’s skillset.
“Yeah, I watched (his) film against Maryland when we were studying for them,” said sophomore Sean McKeon. “He’s a great tight end, great technique and pass catcher for Wisconsin. So I think he’s going to probably get drafted this year and go pretty high, so I think he’s a great player.”
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Fumagalli is that he has done all this with just nine fingers, losing one the day after he was born from a birth defect.
The Daily spoke with Fumagalli at Big Ten Media Days in July about Wisconsin’s passing game, his impression of the Wolverines and whether he thinks Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst — who coached the tight ends when Jim Harbaugh quarterbacked the San Diego Chargers — shares any similarities with Michigan’s head coach.
Q: How did you injure your finger?
TF: When I was born, no circulation got to it, so they had to cut it off. It’s called amniotic band syndrome. Two days old.
Q: Does it hinder you in any way, shape and form?
TF: Nope. Nothing I can think of, honestly.
TMD: You and Jazz (Peavy) finished 14th and 15th in the conference in receiving yards last year. With both of you coming, how big of a base does that give your passing game to work off of?
TF: It’s big. We’re both seniors now. I think we’ve got to set that standard and move that forward. I think we both — I can speak for Jazz too — we do expect to bring that forward and be a more pivotal part. But it is big, just knowing that we can turn on the film from last year, Alex (Hornibrook) and us two, and even A.J. (Taylor) and Quintez (Cephus), who played quite a bit, and just know that we can look at our own film and learn from that and see where we need to grow.
TMD: How does that change the pass coverages you guys see, with how often you run the ball?
TF: The biggest thing that I notice is we always got a lot of safeties downhill, a lot of guys in the box. It gives a lot of one-on-one matchups most times, which is good, and the more we can run, the more play-action works, and we can bounce those two off of each other.
Q: What do you know about Michigan off the top of your head?
TF: Not a whole lot. I know that they’re losing a ton of guys. But I do expect Michigan to have guys ready. I think they have a ton of talent, obviously. They’re going to be very competitive.
Q: What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘Michigan’?
TF: I guess kind of that football, I don’t know, sanctuary that they got going. They got the Big House and all that. And a ton of people you see around, huge Michigan football fans, and I’ve got a lot of respect for that and what they’ve done.
Q: Everyone talks about how well Ohio State and Michigan recruit. Are they off-the-charts talented, or are they just another Big Ten team?
TF: I think any team can beat any team, and any team can lose to any team in the Big Ten. But yeah, I think those guys are very competitive. I got a chance to go against Hooker last year, (former Buckeyes’ safety) Malik Hooker, I thought he was one of the better, if not one of the best, safeties I’ve played all year. I thought he was very good instinctually and the way he hit, it was good.
Q: Going back to Michigan, do you see any similarities between you and them with the pro-style offense and kind of defense they play?
TF: Yeah. Similar to a lot of the Big Ten schools, you can match the physicality they have. The effort they play with is also there, I would say.
Q: Do you see any similarities with Coach Harbaugh and Coach Chryst?
TF: Uh, I don’t know enough about Coach Harbaugh. But I know they used to be friends back in the day. Forgot what I heard. Something about how they used to do some football thing together. But I’m sure that they think they are similar. You know, they’re obviously pro-style guys and stuff like that.