Amara Darboh wore a blue-collared workman’s shirt two days in a row this week — complete with a script “Amara” written on the right breast. And though the fifth-year senior wide receiver wasn’t exactly working a factory job, his week had no shortage of hard labor.
The Michigan football team began fall camp Aug. 8, and since then, according to senior tight end Jake Butt, the Wolverines have had only one true day off and just a few days of not wearing pads in practice. It’s just the latest installment of ultra-competitive coach Jim Harbaugh’s efforts to instill a hard-work-driven mentality in his team, and the T-shirts were just a tangible manifestation of that.
According to Darboh, the half of the team that had logged the most practice repetitions received the blue shirts, with the top players receiving a few extra unspecified rewards.
“It’s like taking it to another level,” Darboh said. “It’s kinda cool. In camp, you’re gonna have nicks and bruises — some guys can’t practice all the time. Competing through that, and charting everyone’s reps … it just keeps guys going and keeps you wanting to work harder.”
It’s fairly typical for a fall football camp to be hot, tough and trying, but Harbaugh’s increased emphasis on competition and labor has made Michigan’s camp seem like a unique experience. The Wolverines’ game notes for the season opener against Hawaii on Saturday didn’t even list a depth chart, meaning there are some spots still to be earned.
The team already boasts an abundance of experience and talent on both sides of the ball, so practice was bound to be competitive to begin with. But with freshmen coming in and impressing right away — defensive end Rashan Gary, offensive lineman Ben Bredeson, running back Chris Evans and cornerback David Long are just a few of the names that the coaching staff have praised in recent weeks — tensions are high, and the team is buying into the work they are putting in.
“The waters have been hot all camp,” Harbaugh said. “Competitive waters, almost boiling. It’s been great.”
Even established players like Darboh and senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis mentioned that they have no sense for what the depth chart will look like, and the uncertainty has kept everyone playing with an edge.
“(Harbaugh) says no one’s job is safe,” Darboh said. “It makes the competitiveness increase in practice. … We’re all just competing, splitting reps, and when your name is called and the ball’s thrown to you, you try to make a play.”
By pushing a blue-collar mentality, Harbaugh has pushed his players to their limits and sometimes beyond, they say, knowing that surviving the typical bumps and bruises of fall camp is key to preparing for the start of the regular season in five days.
With most of the Wolverines only having played here, they couldn’t speak to what other college fall camps are like, but they’re feeling confident that the work they’re putting in sets them apart from the rest.
“Every day, other than maybe four or five, I was up at 6:30 in the morning going until 9:30 at night,” Butt said. “I don’t think teams can really outwork that — they can probably only match that.”