With the No. 4 Michigan football team traveling to Piscataway this weekend to take on Rutgers, Juwann Bushell-Beatty is scrambling to get tickets.
The Paramus, N.J., native doesn’t get to come home very often, so he has been asking around to get as many of his family and friends to the game as possible. Despite competing with a number of fellow New Jerseyan teammates, like redshirt sophomore linebacker Jabrill Peppers and freshman defensive end Rashan Gary, Bushell-Beatty already has 10 to 12 seats locked up.
And those lucky guests might get to see one of the biggest moments of the redshirt sophomore offensive lineman’s career: his first start.
With sophomore left tackle Grant Newsome sidelined for the year with a serious knee injury, Bushell-Beatty is “Plan A” to replace him, according to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. As the primary backup at both tackle positions, he played the rest of the game at left tackle Saturday in relief of Newsome.
“What happened with Grant was really kind of sad, and I’m hoping the best for him in his recovery,” Bushell-Beatty said. “I’m just trying to be a team player and step up to whatever the team needs me to do.”
This is Bushell-Beatty’s first real crack at real playing time, and he has come a long way to get it. After entering 2015 fall camp at 340 pounds, he drastically altered his diet by replacing fried and fast food with things like protein shakes, and he also upped his effort in the weight room at Schembechler Hall. (“Lived in Schem, pretty much,” he joked.)
A little over a year later, he has added a lot more muscle and weighs closer to 315 pounds. He also took advantage of having a new coaching staff the last two years, never hesitating to pick the brain of offensive coordinator/line coach Tim Drevno.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Bushell-Beatty said. “He’s an infinite source of knowledge towards football and even just life. I feel like he’s really helped me improve my football IQ, and just like moving forward in life, too. Just taught me a lot of life lessons.”
All of those factors translated into on-field success as well, as Bushell-Beatty gained enough trust from Harbaugh and Drevno that he earned a job as the first tackle off the bench.
Bushell-Beatty felt so comfortable in his role that when Newsome went down, he barely had any nerves after being thrust into action. None of his coaches had to pull him aside — he already knew he was ready, and that his coaches had faith in him.
His teammates knew he had the talent, too, as well as room to be even better.
“Off (the field), he’s a great, guy, I love him,” said fifth-year senior offensive lineman Kyle Kalis. “On the field, though, nasty guy, how you want it. I think especially with Juwann, the more and more he plays, the nastiness is gonna come out of him. He’s still kind of in his head — not in a bad way, he’s just wanting to make sure he does everything right, and that’s what you want out of a young guy like that. As time goes on, you’ll see more and more of the true Juwann. And I think he is a hell of a player, he’s gonna be even better.”
Bushell-Beatty may be “Plan A” against Rutgers, but the Wolverines’ backup plan is a daunting option as well. Junior center Mason Cole, who was the first true freshman left tackle to start a season opener in Michigan history before moving to the middle this season, has been the other lineman taking reps at left tackle this week. If Cole winds up taking the job back, redshirt junior Patrick Kugler would start at center and slide Bushell-Beatty back to the bench.
Competition doesn’t scare Bushell-Beatty, though — not with a starting shot in his homecoming on the line.
“I think I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’m excited for this Saturday, and I’m just doing everything I can to prepare. … I haven’t heard anything, but I’m gonna take it as if I’m competing. I’m gonna just practice like I’m competing for a starting spot.”