TAMPA, Fla. — Maurice Hurst stood on the sidelines of Berkeley Preparatory High School, fielding questions in a manner that has now become commonplace for the fifth-year senior.
The only difference was that Rashan Gary stood in his shadow — wide-grinned as he playfully mimicked Hurst’s every mannerism while waiting for his own turn to speak.
With Berkeley Prep as the backdrop, Gary played the role of younger sibling. It seemed all too fitting. The sophomore defensive end has spent a large portion of his career thus far — including Friday afternoon — crediting Hurst as the mentor that has shown him the way in Ann Arbor.
“I can’t put it into words,” Gary said. “That’s my big brother. He helped me along the way every step if I needed something all I had to do was ask him, text him, nothing but a call away. Just having him pass his leadership down to me, just help teaching me small things that I can teach up and coming people, it’s a blessing. Being able to play with somebody like that, memories (are) gonna last a lifetime.”
And for that reason, though the scene was innocuous enough, it painted a perfect picture of what the last two years have been for the duo.
Hurst, the elder statesman. Gary, the aspiring pupil. Both deserving of the spotlight in their own right, but enjoying it together.
Of course, that time is quickly coming to an end. In three days, Hurst will make his final start for the Michigan football team — a milestone that, at least momentarily, was complicated.
Projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, Hurst said in December that he was unsure if he would participate in the Outback Bowl at all, wary of the risk an injury in the bowl game could pose to his professional career. It was a troubling situation Hurst saw first hand when Jake Butt tore his ACL in last year’s Orange Bowl. Butt was projected by some to go in the first round before the injury. He fell all the way to the fifth.
But if you ask defensive coordinator Don Brown about Hurst’s decision to participate, he’ll tell you he thought Hurst “would play no matter what anyway.”
Ask his teammates, and they’ll say Hurst’s decision is a testament to his character.
And ask Hurst himself, and the rationale appears to be rather simple.
“I think it was just myself, just the person that I’ve always been,” he said. “Football’s always offered so much to me, and it just felt like the right decision. I’ve never really been one to ever back down from any football competition, so I think it’s just another opportunity for me to get to play and get to display my skills and get to have a good time with my teammates.”
Added Brown: “When it was all said and done, he had all the facts, he just felt like his Michigan legacy was important. I wouldn’t have blamed him either way now. … But I’m just glad for him, especially the type of year he’s had, to finish out with his teammates, I think, is a really important step for him.”
The fact remains, though, that this is Hurst’s final step at Michigan. And with Hurst’s departure, Gary will be front and center come 2018. There is little doubt, at least among his counterparts, about how that will pan out.
“He’s got a very bright future,” Hurst said. “Everyone knows Rashan’s got a really bright future. Just keep taking coaching, keep playing the way he is and just continue to push himself, because I think his biggest motivator, he really wants to be great, so that’s a big thing for him.”
To be great, however, will require adjustments for Gary. It’s no secret he was the target of double- and triple-teams from opposing offensive lines all season. It was an approach he admits he didn’t expect, but also one he wasn’t frustrated by. On the contrary, Gary said Friday that he was glad it happened.
Now, he says he knows what to expect, and that the coaching staff has given him a list of things to work on that could counteract the double teams, the chip blocks or whatever opposing teams may throw his way come next year.
So with a bowl game and an offseason on the horizon, Gary said he’s looking forward to “getting to the lab,” intent on perfecting his craft.
That, of course, could be easier next season should Chase Winovich decide to return to Ann Arbor. But regardless of the redshirt junior defensive end’s decision, Gary has faith the defensive line room will remain the same, even if Winovich joins Gary’s ‘big brother’ in leaving.
“It wouldn’t change it at all, because I feel like having Mo and Chase there and me — all three of us are leaders — so it wouldn’t change nothing,” Gary said. “It’d just be a leader in just me, helping everybody come up and become another leader, and get other leaders ready to help other people coming up.”
Perhaps that sounds familiar.