Chase Winovich didn’t dream of the NFL in high school.
Ask him if he always wanted to play professional football, and he’ll recount a memory from his junior year at Thomas Jefferson High School. Then-Florida State defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri approached him, asking if he wanted to play in the NFL.
Winovich told him yes, but admitted in November that he didn’t know what the future held. He was just three months removed from getting his first college offer, had just switched positions and was still “trying to make it” in high school.
But he made it there. He made it in college too, despite plenty of obstacles that stood in his way.
Now, despite the opportunity to declare for the NFL Draft, Winovich announced Wednesday, via Twitter, that he will be returning to Michigan for his final year of eligibility.
With the decision, Winovich will spend 2018 finishing out what has been a whirlwind career.
He came to Ann Arbor to play SAM linebacker under Brady Hoke, moved to tight end upon Jim Harbaugh’s arrival, hurt his PCL in the ensuing Spring Game and pulled his hamstring during the first week of camp.
He found himself as the sixth or seventh-string tight end, relegated to another year of scout team snaps, before eventually being moved back to defense during Michigan’s 2015 Citrus Bowl practices.
It was a move Winovich once equated to LeBron James’ Cleveland homecoming. More modestly, his teammates said he had finally found a home at defensive end.
It’s not an unheard of journey in college football, but that doesn’t make it any less difficult. How Winovich turned that journey into a potential NFL contract is perhaps best summarized by Matt Thompson — a former Michigan quarterback and one of Winovich’s best friends.
“I think the one of the funniest quotes that I ever heard about Chase was (when) I was talking to my mom,” Thompson said in November. “And she just met Chase, she loved Chase. And she said, ‘Too bad Chase wasn’t born in another era, he could’ve been the next Alexander the Great or something.’ ”
Hyperbole aside, it’s an accurate summary of Winovich.
That sort of drive is what prompted an honest, inward inspection from Winovich when he was asked what would motivate him to return to Ann Arbor on the Thursday prior to the Outback Bowl.
“As a Michigan football player there’s not a lot of things that I can really say we did,” Winovich said then. “We lost to Michigan State this year. Two years ago we lost to Michigan State. I could just go on and on about those losses. And we’ve just been so close. It’s just a matter of, I don’t know, hanging my hat on something.”
Hanging his hat on something, however, may not be as simple as wins and losses.
After all, Winovich watched firsthand as Brady Hoke’s final season unfolded, and the Wolverines finished 5-7.
He has been in Ann Arbor as Jim Harbaugh helped revive the program, even if this year’s 8-5 finish is a marked regression — his role increasing all the way.
And it’s for those reasons that a prior admission may offer a more nuanced insight. Sitting on the second floor of Schembechler Hall in early November, pondering the question of what he wanted to do after college if the NFL wasn’t his primary focus in high school, Winovich reached one conclusion.
“I just wanted to be a Michigan man and help make this program great again,” he said then. “Even if I don’t personally win a national championship. I know damn well that when I leave, Michigan football is in a better state than when I left it. That’s something I can hang my hat on at the end of the day.”