After the Michigan football team lost to Iowa over the weekend, senior running back De’Veon Smith told his teammates that they needed that loss, and they could learn from it. He felt the Wolverines had gotten too comfortable, and in order to move forward, they would have to focus more in practice.
Freshman running back Chris Evans listened to his older teammate. For the freshmen on the team, the loss at Kinnick Stadium was their first-ever taste of defeat.
“Yeah, I was surprised (by how the loss felt),” Evans said. “When they ran on the field, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ like this is some crazy stuff. It was ridiculous.”
He went on to describe the Hawkeye fans storming the field as “like a movie.”
The loss didn’t feel real until hours later, when Michigan was waiting for its plane to take off on the tarmac.
“As I was sitting there, I’m like, ‘Dang, we just really lost,’ ” Evans said. “And then it popped up on the TVs behind the seats, a recap of it and stuff, so that really hit hard.”
The freshmen on the squad have their own group chat, and when it sank in that the team would no longer be undefeated for the first time in their short careers, emotions flared.
“We could tell how people switched, like changed, because we haven’t really been in that situation,” Evans said. “So we saw really people’s true colors after they got mad, and their anger built up and stuff. We’re just talking, like we just gotta make sure we keep our heads on straight when it’s our time.”
In a way, the freshmen have been spoiled by Michigan’s success. At the same time, the rookies have contributed to this season and have ownership for its success just as much as some of the veterans do.
Evans was the leading rusher against Iowa, and defensive end Rashan Gary, offensive lineman Ben Bredeson and wide receiver Eddie McDoom all played major roles in their units as well.
Despite Evans’ relative success against Iowa, rushing eight times for 52 yards, he was still upset with his performance.
“I feel like I would get through the gap,” Evans said. “But I was getting down on myself because I feel like the offense, we really needed a big play, but I felt like I couldn’t do that for us.”
The freshmen reaction to the loss was somewhat expected. But older teammates have been there before, and some are even impressed with the way they’re handling it. Those who have experienced losses before agree that perhaps an initial exposure to it could be positive.
“I think they’re all fired up and ready to attack this week of practice,” said redshirt sophomore tight end Ian Bunting. “We have a very mature group of freshmen and a lot of guys that are playing. That was a big learning experience for them I think, and for everyone on the team.”
For someone like Evans, who this summer plastered to his ceiling magazine articles that wrote him off as an instant redshirt, the loss stung. After overcoming criticism that he wouldn’t be able to contribute in 2016, this was his first major defeat.
Against Indiana, the Wolverines will get to see for the first time how their freshmen rebound.