At the end of last season, senior edge rusher Braiden McGregor was just happy to feel like his healthy self again. Then in the offseason, he stressed that the next step to success would come through finding his confidence.
And now, five games in, McGregor is finally hitting his stride.
“Saturday was when I really started (thinking) ‘OK, (I feel in) midseason form,’ ” McGregor said Monday. “To get there, I started feeling good and just building on this.”
It’s a building process that has taken ample time. McGregor’s path to this moment has been winding and tasking, but rewarding. The edge rusher ended his senior season of high school prematurely after tearing his MCL, PCL and meniscus in his right knee. He spent his entire first year with the Michigan football team rehabbing from the sidelines.
Fully healthy, he spent his second season waiting in the wings, learning behind the eventual No. 2 overall pick Aiden Hutchinson in 2021. Finally seeing the field more throughout his third campaign, he struggled with his confidence levels, failing to reach the lofty goals others had set for him.
Before he had even played a snap in 2023, while standing in Schembechler Hall baking the August heat, McGregor affirmed that his journey is far from over.
“I think the number one lesson is, trust the process,” McGregor said Aug. 11. “… Just trust the process. Know that you’re going to be good one day, your knee is going to feel better.”
Flash forward to this past Saturday against Nebraska. Suddenly, the process has amounted to a prize. McGregor flashed the unrealized potential that had Harbaugh’s program dreaming and opposing defensive coordinators sweating.
Two plays into the Cornhuskers’ opening offensive drive, quarterback Heinrich Haarberg attempted to lace a pass across the middle of the field. Sticking his paw into the air, McGregor slapped the ball upwards, landing in the hands of sophomore defensive lineman Kenneth Grant. Although the Wolverines’ defense crowded Grant in celebration, it was McGregor who triggered the play.
Continuing to reap the reward of his commitment to the process, even as Michigan’s 28-0 lead had silenced Memorial Stadium, Mcgregor came out of halftime swinging. Ending Nebraska’s opening offensive drive of the second half, McGregor came screaming off the edge, sacking Haarberg for a six-yard loss. The negative play pushed the Cornhuskers six yards deeper towards their own territory as they missed a field goal on the ensuing play.
McGregor, nor any of his counterparts, play each and every down on defense. As the Wolverines emphasize a rotational scheme that makes them hard to game plan against, McGregor thrives in his role.
He may not be as dominant as his mentor in Hutchinson, but it’s all a part of his mentality of gratitude and confidence.
“Don’t take your time for granted,” McGregor said of his senior season on Aug. 11. “It goes by so fast. Like that first year, I barely remember any of it. And it felt like forever because of the knee but … just go everyday as hard as you can.”
The adversity has transformed his mentality, and thus, his playstyle. Whether McGregor plays 10 defensive snaps, or 100, his tumultuous journey from rehabbing relentlessly during his freshman season to now, has critically shaped how he views his current role.
As he spoke confidently on Monday, sporting his first sack of the season and already logging nearly as many tackles for loss as he did last season — in just a third as many games — McGregor’s success on Saturday was one piece of a much larger puzzle. That success didn’t mold his attitude, rather, his attitude molded his success.
“I feel like it’s made me stronger as a football player, mentally, out there,” McGregor said Monday. “Like if you don’t win a rep, you just go back, it’s not a big deal. And everybody says it, but when you’re playing at this level, it’s hard to just stay confident and stay like that.”
McGregor is no stranger to difficult situations. In fact, he knows they will come again. The challenges of his role don’t escape him, but the memories of his journey — and the lessons he’s learned — haven’t either.
So, as he stood once again in Schembechler Hall, two months removed from his fall camp address, he emphasized that even as challenges come and go, his mentality and the confidence that comes with it will stay the same:
“Just trust the process.”