In August 2019, the preseason practice that stole Andrew Stueber’s junior season started just like any other. With starting left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. nursing an injury, the Michigan football coaching staff decided to make a tweak.
Rather than spending practice at right tackle — where Stueber and teammate Jalen Mayfield were deadlocked in a battle for the starting job — Stueber took starting reps at left tackle in place of Runyan. A few short hours later, he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It was a pass play that went wrong,” Stueber, now a senior, said last week on Jon Jansen’s “In the Trenches” podcast. “Someone fell on me. I went down and kind of sat there for a second. I had never been in that position before. I got up and the trainers came over.”
A sense of uncertainty set in, Stueber said, as the medical staff helped him off the field and onto the training table. Shortly after, an MRI revealed a torn ACL, ending Stueber’s season before it began.
The injury came as a shock to Stueber, who never missed a high school practice or game despite being a two-way lineman, according to Rob Trifone, Stueber’s high school football coach in Darien, Conn.
“Andrew is about as good a citizen as you can get,” Trifone told The Daily. “He’s a well-rounded young man. … When that (ACL tear) happened and he heard the news from the physician, he was heartbroken.”
Sidelined with a major injury for the first time in his career, Stueber spent last fall finding other ways to contribute to the Wolverines’ 9-4 season. He sat in on every offensive line meeting, often focusing on helping younger players with their technique and understanding of the new playbook. Given his experience at both tackle and guard, having Stueber around during the early stages of his recovery proved to be an asset for Michigan.
Once Stueber returned home for the summer, he crossed paths with Trifone every few weeks. Both of them work out at Vibe Fitness, a gym in Darien.
“Whenever I talked to (Stueber), he was very upbeat and positive,” Trifone said. “He was either on schedule or ahead of schedule with his therapy. But you know, that’s Andrew.”
Stueber’s demeanor as he pushed through the final months of his ACL recovery came as no surprise to Trifone. Just a few weeks after naming Steuber a Darien captain in the spring of his junior year, Trifone stopped by the team’s facilities to pick up equipment on a Friday night. There, he saw Stueber coaching a group of younger teammates through sled drills.
The following Monday, Trifone sought out Stueber before practice to ask about his players-only workout.
“Coach, I organized a group,” Trifone recalled Stueber telling him. “I told them we’re going to meet three times a week. I don’t care if it’s a Friday or a Saturday.”
Four years later, it’s that same work ethic that has guided Stueber’s year-long ACL recovery. Before the Big Ten paused all padded practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic last month, Stueber had the green light to suit up, though Michigan’s trainers want him to continue rebuilding the muscle in his quad and stretching his calf.
In a Zoom call last week, junior offensive tackle Ryan Hayes told reporters Stueber has been taking first-team reps at right guard. With all five of last season’s starters gone, the Wolverines will lean on Stueber’s pre-injury experience — including a pair of starts in 2018 against Ohio State and Florida — to anchor the offensive line whenever they take the field next.
When the time comes, Trifone knows exactly how his former captain will respond.
“(Stueber) is a very committed young man and something like an ACL injury is not going to knock him off course,” Trifone said. “That’s just who he is.”