Rich Rodriguez compares his first open tryout experience to the movie “Invincible” – the story of Vince Papale, a bartender who tried out for the Philadelphia Eagles and made the team.
“The first year I did it, I had about five or 10 guys show up who had never even played high school football,” Rodriguez laughed.
That was seven years ago. But in Rodriguez’s last season at West Virginia, almost 50 athletes showed up for a chance to be a Mountaineer football player.
This year, he’s continuing the tradition – and possibly starting one at Michigan. Today at 4 p.m., Rodriguez will hold an open tryout for the Michigan football team. Interested athletes must undergo a physical exam before the tryout and have some high school or junior college football experience. Registration will begin at 3:30 p.m. at Schembechler Hall.
As a student at West Virginia, Rodriguez walked onto the football team and eventually earned a scholarship.
“I’m a big believer in the walk-on program,” he said. “The opportunity’s going to be there. If the guy can run around a little bit and maybe looks like a potential contributor, we’ll keep him.”
Rodriguez said he gave scholarships to 25 walk-ons the past five years at West Virginia. He said the Michigan football team may keep four to five athletes after today’s tryout.
Making the cut doesn’t guarantee a roster spot next fall, but it ensures the players will be on the team through spring practices.
Everyone’s a rookie: The Wolverines now have` 24 commitments for next season, but due to upperclassmen departures, Michigan will not fill all 85 scholarships.
Rodriguez can only give 25 scholarships per year, and as of Signing Day, he said the Wolverines had 26 or 27 scholarships because of players leaving early. When Rodriguez arrived at West Virginia, he said it took two or three years to make up for the upperclassman deficit resulting from the coaching change.
“I’m hoping we won’t lose any more of our upperclassmen, but I can’t guarantee you,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not going to lock the doors from the inside out. We’re going to be demanding.”
Rodriguez said his new system means “everybody’s kind of in a rookie mode” – and he may not have a solid idea of where his team stands until two-a-days finish in August.
“I don’t know what we’ve got,” Rodriguez said. “Heck, I haven’t had a practice yet. I like winning too much to not adapt to our people, but I don’t know what I have to adapt to yet.”
The wide-open nature of next year’s team has led some to question how well Michigan will play out of the gate. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, an Ohio State graduate, predicted Michigan would be 6-6 next season.
But Rodriguez responded to the predictions the same way he answered questions about his tumultuous relationship with West Virginia – by deflecting them.
“Nah, I hadn’t heard him say that,” Rodriguez responded. “He won’t be the first guy to make a prediction, and he won’t be the last.”
He paused for a second, then smirked.
“Where’d he go to school?” he asked.
Speed is top priority: Rodriguez challenged the stereotype of the Big Ten as a slow conference with big, strong players – and said Michigan will be quick to set a high standard.
On Signing Day, Rodriguez named running back/receiver Terrence Robinson as an example of a fast athlete at an offensive skill position, while cornerback Boubacar Cissoko runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.
And he said Michael Shaw, a running
back from Trotwood, Ohio, was “one of the fastest prep players in the country.”
Strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis will assist with speed training, and the increased emphasis on speed won’t just be limited to the incoming recruits.
“I like guys that can run at all positions, even the kicker,” Rodriguez said.
“I’ve been getting on Zoltan [Mesko], our punter. He’s committed to do it. ‘Coach, I’m going to be able to run as fast as anybody you’ve got.’ I don’t know.”