Michael Danna had never experienced anything close to this, running out on the field for one of the best-known rivalry games in college football, helping his team blow that rival to bits and hoisting the Paul Bunyan Trophy up in the Michigan Stadium end zone.
These were the moments Danna — who spent the first four years of his career at Central Michigan before joining the Michigan football team as a grad transfer — came here for. The moments Danna will never forget.
And as they’ve come, Danna has taken the time to absorb them. Even the biggest NFL-bound stars usually get three years at a school. Danna got one. He’s known since he got to Ann Arbor that he has to embrace every last second before they slip through his fingers.
“I feel like I just got here and it’s coming to the end,” Danna said Tuesday. “But it’s been the blink of an eye and it’s already the end of November and I’m just trying to make the most of every opportunity I get being here.”
Danna still talks to his friends with the Chippewas and has been following their quest for a MAC West title. But he has no regrets of leaving the place that was home for four years — after all, with the Wolverines, he’s gotten to play on the biggest stage.
Beyond that, he’s upped his game and proved he belongs in the Big Ten. When asked in what area he’d improved the most, Danna listed off the two aspects of being a good defensive end: pass rush and run stopping. At Central Michigan, he played almost exclusively as an edge rusher. With the Wolverines, he’s done that in addition to 2-technique, 3-technique and 5-technique as part of a four-defensive end package defensive coordinator Don Brown designed because of the wealth of pass-rushing talent.
Though Danna comes off the bench, he’s become even more useful simply because he’s developed that versatility. Coaches know he can play anywhere. So they find a spot for him.
“Everyone thought he was a pass-rusher only, so (impressed with) how he’s handled the run game and the role that he’s played,” said defensive line coach Shaun Nua on Wednesday. “It’s hard to not start and just go in there cold.”
He later added: “Anytime you have a great player like Mike Danna, you can’t leave him on the sidelines.”
Danna’s bright-eyed attitude has been key in his ability to step in seamlessly. This is his only shot, so he can’t miss out on anything. Because of it, he’s worked that much harder. When he first arrived in the offseason, Danna got to work in the weight room, and others noticed. They knew someone with that kind of effort would fit right in as one of them.
“It’s not easy because you’re coming in, first you’re leaving a family you have in terms of the last team he was with,” Nua said. “And then a different culture there, adjust to a new culture, whatever it is, it’s not easy to go in and just be accepted, be welcomed with open arms but that kid’s attitude is — that young man’s attitude is special.”
Since he got to Michigan, Danna hasn’t worried about tomorrow. He hasn’t worried about next week. He hasn’t worried about anything but the seconds unfolding in front of him. It’s a mentality that’s allowed him to carve out a role even among a glut of pass-rushers — the 30 total tackles, three tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries speak to that.
And as the moments come and go, one thing is for certain: Danna will cherish every one.
“Gratitude is a very special thing, and that’s exactly what Mike Danna has,” Nua said. “He appreciates every single second that he gets, every little moment that we go through, good or bad. And he learns fast from it.
“I just wish I had him for four more years.”