This past summer, during the conditioning program before his redshirt junior season, Michigan offensive guard Kyle Kalis thought to himself. He had shown potential as a five-star recruit out of Lakewood, Ohio. But in the two seasons he had spent on Michigan’s inconsistent offensive line, the Wolverines had finished 12-13.

And then he told himself, “I’m going to make this year the year I need to have to go where I want to go.”

Everything has come together for Kalis since then.

Another moment this summer fed into his resurgence. Kalis was working out in Michigan’s weight room early in the morning when Rick Finotti, his football coach at St. Edward (Ohio) High School, walked in to say hello. Finotti was tremendously successful at St. Edward, going 62-15 over six seasons with two state championships, one in Kalis’ junior season.

The day Kalis saw Rick Finotti in Ann Arbor, Finotti interviewed for the director of football operations job under Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh. Later that day, Kalis learned Finotti got the job, and suddenly he had one of his mentors with him.

Kalis also became very close with Finotti’s family. He was best friends with Finotti’s son and estimated that he spent the night at their house three to four times per week.

On the field, Kalis made big strides under the new coaching staff in the offseason. He came out of St. Edward as a U.S. Army All-American, and he arrived at Michigan after decommitting from Ohio State amid NCAA sanctions.

He started nine games in his redshirt freshman season, but just seven last year. As part of an offensive line that took criticism as one of the worst in the Big Ten, Kalis struggled with consistency.

“It’s one of those things where the past couple years as I’ve been playing, we’ve been doing good things as an O-line, we’ve played well the past couple years, we just weren’t playing 11-man football,” Kalis said. “It was hard to single out somebody. It was hard to give a group credit when everyone wasn’t on the same page. But on the flip side, it does feel nice to start getting some recognition for what I’ve been doing.”

He has started all four games this season at right guard on a rejuvenated offensive line for the 22nd-ranked Wolverines. Michigan has rushed for more than 200 yards per game so far.

And after facing his share of struggles, Kalis is enjoying every minute.

“I’ve always had fun — I would have quit if I wasn’t having fun — but having the success like we are, that’s the fun you’re supposed to be having,” he said. “The feelings and emotions that we’ve been having these past couple weeks, that’s the kind of fun you’re supposed to be having.

“It’s always been fun, no matter what anybody says. It’s just more fun.”

Part of Kalis’ improvement comes from new coaches, namely Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno, who have brought the best work ethic and talent out of him. Part of it comes from playing on a better overall offensive line, with three other fourth- or fifth-year players.

But a big part of it, too, comes from a personal change: With two years left, Kalis has simplified things and begun to take ownership of his success.

“Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve been playing football for the reason that I started playing football,” Kalis said. “And that’s because I like to be physical, I like to hit people, that’s fun for me. But at the same time, you want to do it in a way where you’re successful, and in a way where people are going to say, ‘Wow. We want to do it like that guy.’ ”

Kalis admitted that he had to grow up, a process that came with experience. He always had the physical talent and the intensity. His growth has been about harnessing it and using it to help the offensive line. As a veteran, part of the growing-up process was becoming a reliable leader in the offseason.

Kalis also admitted that he was a “wild dude” when he arrived at Michigan, and that showed up on the field. He still is, to some extent — it’s almost a prerequisite when you sign up to play football.

But this year, he’s using that wildness to his advantage. He’s using it to spring a block for junior running back De’Veon Smith on his 60-yard touchdown run, and then to run toward the end zone to celebrate with Smith.

“I’ve never dialed (the intensity) back,” Kalis said. “I’ve been playing more relaxed, and I don’t think so much. That’s the key — you just gotta learn how to control it and filter it and then use it when you need it.”

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