His 6-foot-7 frame walked through the Crisler Arena door with just as large a smile beaming across his face.

And it was a feeling mirrored by Michigan fans around the nation.

Thursday afternoon, redshirt junior left tackle Jake Long stole the spotlight from the upcoming Rose Bowl showdown against Southern Cal when he publicly announced his decision to return for his senior season.

“It was the best thing for me and this team,” Long said. “Michigan has done so many things for me, and I’m just paying it back and coming back to play. It’ll be fun.”

A team captain and anchor of the offensive line, Long’s announcement only builds the excitement over next year’s Wolverine offensive unit.

The Lapeer native received high postseason accolades in the past few weeks. He was named to the All-American team, First-Team All-Big Ten and Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. Long started all 12 games for Michigan this season at left tackle.

After discussing the prospect of jumping to the NFL with coaches inside the program, Long decided that the best-case scenario for him and the team would be for him to don the maize and blue for another year.

“We’re going to be a force,” Long said. “We got all the playmakers coming back, it’s going to huge. We still have things to win and prove to people next year.”

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr told the press last Friday that if a player comes to him, he will offer his opinion. Besides that, he said that he supports the player, no matter the decision he makes in the end.

Long told Carr this past Monday that he would be returning, and he said that Carr was excited about the prospect of the left tackle anchoring the Michigan offensive line for one more year.

“He said there’re still things for me to prove here and whatever I decided, he was going to support me,” Long said. “It made me feel great that he has my back like that. It was just the best thing for me to do, to come back and finish out my senior year.”

Because of the distraction that his decision could’ve become, Long made a goal to make his statement concerning his future before the Rose Bowl.

Quarterback Chad Henne confirmed he’d return for his fourth year at Michigan, and fellow junior Mike Hart all but did the same, saying he’s “99 percent” sure he’ll be back next season.

Hart said he talked to Long numerous times about coming back but still said that he would back his teammate whatever the decision was.

“I told him to do what’s best for him,” said Hart, who finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting this year. “But I told him that I need him back, Chad needs him back, Mario needs him back and the whole offense needs him back.”

On the other side of the ball, Wolverine fans may have another year to enjoy junior defensive tackle Alan Branch wreaking havoc for opposing offenses, at least according to senior defensive end LaMarr Woodley.

“Just from my understanding, he’s coming back,” Woodley said. “I wouldn’t see why he’d leave.”

Branch, along with linebacker Shawn Crable, have been rumored to be leaving the Wolverines for the NFL Draft come April, but Woodley said that in his talks with Branch, he didn’t get that feeling.

“That’s what I assume,” said Woodley, who also discussed with Branch his situation at the end of last season. “I haven’t heard him saying, ‘I’m leaving.’ “

As for Branch’s offensive counterparts, they would love to see him back in maize and blue, but they’re playing the waiting game along with everyone else.

“I hope he comes back,” Hart said. “If he comes back, we’re going to be dominant again. We’ll see what he does. I’m anxious to see too, to tell you the truth. He keeps giving me the ‘I don’t know yet.’ So, we’ll find out.”

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