Michigan football seniors ready to lead team 134

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By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 19, 2013

By now you know the story.

Last summer, the Michigan football team traveled to Southern California for a leadership weekend — a chance for the seniors to grow off the field. And Michigan coach Brady Hoke was so happy with the results that he decided to do it again.

So, during the first weekend in June, Hoke took his small senior class out west where the players trained with the U.S. Navy SEALs and hosted a youth football camp in Pasadena. The Wolverines also visited the Rose Bowl — the BCS Bowl where the Big Ten champion plays — allowing the seniors to visualize the goal they’ve held since they put on their winged helmets for the first time.

“The weekend allowed us to grow closer as a senior class,” said senior cornerback Courtney Avery. “It seemed like we discussed virtually everything. So with our entire class having identical goals and identical methods on how to reach those goals, this will allow our message to be clear for our underclassmen.

“This trip provided us with the opportunity to escape our daily routine and familiar environment in Ann Arbor in order to come together to create the blue print for our upcoming season.”

But why is the story worth repeating?

Team 134’s senior class is only made up of 13 fourth and fifth-year scholarship players, and with punter Will Hagerup’s yearlong suspension, just 12 scholarship seniors will dress on Saturdays this season. The trip to California helped ease Hoke’s worry about a small senior class, and has left him banking on quality making up for quantity.

“There’s a lot of vital things when it comes to handling the leadership,” Hoke said a few weeks ago to mlive.com. “The biggest part of it is those seniors putting on a camp. They’re the ones who have to run it. They run the administration, they run the execution of it, organization, and that’s a project for them that they’ve got to learn how to motivate, hot to teach and hot to communicate.”

Added Avery: “Even though we only have 13 seniors, this will not affect the leadership on this team. We have a lot of underclassmen (that) work hard and have proven themselves as being leaders. The trip has already shown positive effects since our senior class is closer than ever and since everyone embraces the same goal and the same vision for the season.”

With the graduation of captains Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs — now with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, respectively — a significant leadership void has been left behind. But like last season, several senior leaders stood out to the third-year coach.

“(Safety) Thomas Gordon is a guy who has gained a lot of confidence,” Hoke said. “I think (wide receiver) Jeremy Gallon is a guy that’s continued to grow, and that’s important.”

Added Gordon: “We as seniors have to step up, and I’m one of those. I think there were opportunities to show leadership, and I became a little more comfortable in that role after this trip.”

Hoke also made mention of “obvious” leaders such as left tackle Taylor Lewan, an early projected top pick in next year’s NFL draft, who was just named No. 11 on Sporting News’s Top-25 college football players for 2013.

There’s also redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner, who has the possibility of being the first non-senior captain since former offensive lineman Jake Long in 2006. Despite the team having not yet selected its captains, both Lewan and Gardner are expected to lead Michigan both on and off the field, and will do so behind their strong leadership.

“It’s been a process,” Gordon said. “We started this in January when we got back from the Outback Bowl, and some things we’ve learned will carry on through this season, and most things carry on that way into life.”

The opportunity the seniors had in California not only helped bring clarity to the senior leadership question in the locker room, but it has also left the players confident. More importantly, after two weeks to reflect, all 13 players who made the trip are ready to translate it onto the practice field.

“You can apply a lot of the things we did to football,” Gordon said. “But for us, it was more using the classroom sessions and organizing the youth clinic to show how much we can grow as young men — young men that will one day be better fathers, husbands, co-workers and community leaders. That’s what I took from it.

“One example was seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces at youth camp, just seeing what an impact it made. I think a lot of us saw those things on the trip.”