Mike Sainristil was one of those guys in high school. The kind that played seemingly every position and did it well, his athleticism the prevailing reason he stepped on a football field and stayed there nearly the whole time.
Even when he committed to Michigan, it was unclear whether Sainristil’s talents would be best fit at wide receiver or cornerback. A few weeks into spring ball, Jim Harbaugh said, “Defensive coaches would be fighting to have Mike as a corner.” But, for now, the defensive staff has lost that battle.
Sainristil is a wide receiver. And, by all accounts, he looks good doing it.
“He has a level of quickness, change of direction, speed,” Harbaugh said last Wednesday. “Been really eye-opening and really good for the team. He’s also tough. He’s blocking.”
For now, with juniors Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins out, Sainristil is taking starting reps as the H receiver, in the slot. For someone who juggled multiple positions in high school, his game already has an unusual refinement. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis tweeted a video last week of the early enrollee running an out route and doing so with the technical ability required of a college wide receiver.
At Michigan’s open practice on Saturday, Sainristil stood out in the same way. During red zone drills, he effortlessly hauled in a touchdown off a crossing route from Dylan McCaffrey. Minutes later, he caught a bullet over the middle from Joe Milton.
“Wow, he is quick. He’s a really good football player,” said junior Ben Mason. “A really tough guy, too. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there and make a block. So he’s a guy that I’m really confident having on the field with us.”
There’s enough spring hype to go around, but as far as early enrollees go, Sainristil is getting the brunt of the compliments. Though just a 3-star recruit, thanks to his 5-foot-10 stature and the lack of high-end recruits in Massachusetts — and a 3-star without a clear position at that — he seems to be doing everything right thus far.
That goes beyond the field. It means going into class, getting in the weight room and doing it all on time.
“He’s doing everything to a T,” said senior guard Mike Onwenu. “He’s taking a lotta reps. … He’s stepped up to the plate. It’s crazy to see that as a freshman.”
Both Harbaugh and Mason brought up the blocking as well, a characteristic that shows up on Sainristil’s high school tape despite his 179-pound frame. He seeks out contact and looks to lay guys out. That’s the type of thing that endears him to Harbaugh.
“There’s probably three examples where you can see his second, third, fourth effort down the field,” Harbaugh said. “Sometimes 20, 30, 40 yards down the field, blocking for whoever does have the ball. If you don’t have the ball, then you become a blocker. He’s been really good and can’t say enough good things about him.”
Michigan’s receiving corps lacked depth last season. Outside of Peoples-Jones, Collins and tight end Zach Gentry, nobody earned the consistent trust of quarterback Shea Patterson. That’s a hole Sainristil — along with tight end Nick Eubanks and a healthy Tarik Black — can fill.
“Mikey, just keep doing what he’s doing,” Harbaugh said. “… Doing a great job. So all compliments to Mike Sainristil, as long as he takes that flattery and, as they say, ‘Don’t inhale,’ should be good.”