Last spring, defensive tackle Donovan Jeter’s teammates and coaches couldn’t say enough about him. After missing his freshman season with an injury and showing promise in seven games as a sophomore, many tabbed Jeter as one of the Michigan football team’s breakout candidates entering 2019.
Those expectations never materialized.
The former top-300 composite recruit saw action in 10 games last season, but failed to record a single tackle. By the end of the season, it was clear the Wolverines didn’t have much interior defensive line depth behind senior Carlo Kemp.
Now entering his fourth year with the program, Jeter is getting the same kind of hype. This time, coaches are saying, it’s real.
“Sometimes all of us, we tend to not understand how fragile and how very, very limited the opportunities are,” Michigan defensive line coach Shaun Nua said during a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday. “(Jeter) is probably just sick and tired of not breaking through. It’s a combination of all of that. He’s finally realizing, ‘What the heck am I waiting for?’
“We’ve had a lot of discussions about it and he’s finally seeing the light. Just hoping he’ll stay strong and have a good feeling (he) is. Once you realize your opportunities are very, very limited, either you fight back or you don’t, and he’s decided to fight back.”
For Jeter, fighting back came in the form of transforming his body. He put on nearly 30 pounds of muscle during the offseason, and with his weight now up to 318 pounds, he gives the Wolverines the size they need to clog the interior.
According to Nua, Jeter is currently competing with Kemp and sophomore Chris Hinton for the two starting spots inside. Hinton is the youngest of the group but arguably the most promising, while Kemp returns for his final season of eligibility as an incumbent starter.
If Jeter wants to see the field, he’ll have to prove he belongs. In his efforts to do just that, he’s emerged as one of the unit’s leaders.
“Jeter is taking a leadership role especially within our room, not just for the (younger) guys,” Nua said. “That’s the beauty of it — when you do your job and start to lead by actions, it’s easy to lead. Because everybody’s like, ‘He’s not just blowing smoke and not doing it.’ So he is doing a good job of being a leader to the younger guys and especially to our group.”
While Nua named Jeter, Hinton and Kemp as the three frontrunners for the defensive tackle spots, he also praised strides made by Jess Speight and Mazi Smith. Defensive coordinator Don Brown echoed a similar sentiment when he addressed the media two weeks ago. Despite his productive offseason, Jeter’s playing time is anything but guaranteed this fall.
Through the thick of competition, though, it appears Jeter is realizing his potential for the first time since arriving in Ann Arbor in 2017.
“That comes with a lot of experience and just time, young men finally realizing, ‘Oh I can do this, I can do this on a consistent basis,’ ” Nua said. “His mindset is part of the thing that’s changed in everything he does. Off the field, on field, with his teammates. And once that happens, everything seems to fall into place.
“He’s literally (taken) his mindset into a place where it’s helping him produce a very very high level, and especially on a consistent basis. He’s in a good place.”
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