PISCATAWAY — With a loosened brace draped over his right shoulder, Rashan Gary peered at the stat sheet on the podium in front of him.
“Pssst,” Gary muttered to no one in particular. “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.”
The junior defensive end, in fact, repeated that phrase four times throughout his postgame press conference. On Saturday, it must have been “great” indeed.
The Michigan football team bludgeoned Rutgers for the fourth time in as many years under coach Jim Harbaugh, this time winning, 42-7. It was a celebratory homecoming for numerous New Jersey natives on the Wolverines’ roster, including Gary — an alumnus of Paramus Catholic High School.
But just a month ago, Gary’s return to his home state was in question. He missed three October games with an AC joint injury in his right shoulder, and rumors swirled that he might end his collegiate career before the season’s end.
After all, the former No. 1 overall recruit’s talent had never been in question. Gary could have been a high pick in the 2019 NFL Draft without playing another snap for Michigan — in the same vein as Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa.
But tucked inside the underbelly of Highpoint.com Stadium on Saturday, it became clear why Gary did not take that route.
Gary’s reaction to the stat sheet in front of him was not some self-aggrandizing remark. Four tackles and one quarterback hit against the Scarlet Knights, though a solid performance, is not going to make his name jump on NFL Draft boards.
So why was Gary so elated?
“I just like seeing my brothers, man, just seeing what my brothers are able to do,” Gary said. “It’s ridiculous. I’m just happy to see my brothers eat. That just shows us as a team — looking at the stat sheet — that we’re improving individually and as a team.”
The most noteworthy of those stats was Karan Higdon’s 44 yards, which put the senior running back over the 1000-yard mark just nine games into his season.
When that was brought to Gary’s attention, he pumped his fist repeatedly. It was a benchmark Higdon had been hankering to eclipse, and Gary certainly knew it.
Minutes later, junior quarterback Shea Patterson uttered a statement he has not been coy to share.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a team that’s been this close,” Patterson said.
Yeah, that is as cliché as it gets — the types of things Michigan coaches would want Patterson to say publicly.
But it feels genuine because Gary is exhibit A.
Insurance policies are an inevitability these days, but Gary is literally risking millions of dollars by continuing to play for the Wolverines. He has ground to gain in mock drafts, sure, but all it takes is one play for things to go really south.
But Gary said he never considered leaving.
“I’m out there with my brothers,” Gary said. “I’m having fun flying around. Being around these guys, they give me energy.
“Tell me how (my shoulder) looks.”
Gary then moved his arms around rapidly, from side to side and up and down, like he was practicing some faux-karate moves.
The shoulder looked fine — both then and during the game he chose to play in.
“That’s a testament to his character,” Patterson said. “He could have easily sat the rest of the season out and kept his goals and dreams for a few months, but it’s all about the team.
“That’s just what makes Rashan, Rashan.”