“I was a basketball player,” Jason Avant
said simply, as if that was all the explanation needed.

Mira Levitan

He was responding to someone who asked him why he didn’t play
football until his sophomore year of high school.

It turns out one of Michigan’s best young receivers never wanted
to play football at all. He started playing for one reason – his
basketball coach, also the school’s football coach, made him.

“Actually, I quit the first day,” Avant said. “He put me at
linebacker, and I didn’t want to play linebacker. I toughed it out
that day, and after that day was over, I told him I wasn’t going to
play any more. But he put me out there again, and I just did it
because I didn’t want to stop playing basketball.

“I didn’t really get my way, but it’s just life.”

Life is working out pretty well for the Chicago native. Avant,
who didn’t even like football until after his first season was
over, instantly made a name for himself on the gridiron, drawing
better scholarship offers than he had on the court. Now in his
sophomore year, he still plays basketball for fun, but he’s fully
dedicated to football.

While Avant may be the unkown among Michigan’s fantastic
receiving trio that also includes Braylon Edwards and Steve
Breaston, Avant’s play has put him right up there with them. He’s
second on the team with 32 receptions for 525 yards. Avant has just
one touchdown catch to Edwards’ seven, but Avant catches the
longballs – he averages 16.4 yards per catch and hauled in a
71-yard pass at Iowa. And he seems to catch everything that’s
thrown his way.

Michigan considered playing the versatile Avant at safety, and
he thinks he could hold his own at running back -his position that
first year of high school football – but he loves being a
receiver.

Avant doesn’t mind at all that he doesn’t get loads of
attention. In fact, he’s awfully self-aware. He said he doesn’t use
the speed of Edwards and Breaston as a motivator – he wants to get
faster because “that’s one of the things I want to do, not just
because of them.” And he didn’t care that Michigan already had
talented receivers when he got here – he focused on his own
game.

Avant is too busy just being himself to worry about measuring up
to anyone else. The 6-foot-1, 203-pound Avant is a physical wideout
– “I feel like I have to be the aggressor,” he says – who actually
likes to block when he doesn’t get the ball.

And he’s known by his teammates as someone who always works hard
in practice. He remembers something his high school coach used to
tell him: “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.”

Much of his outlook on football and life comes from his days
growing up in a hardscrabble Chicago neighborhood. Avant said
during his stint at Carver High, he saw athletes “fall by the
wayside. A lot of guys had the ability and talent to do things, but
their attitude and things off the court hindered their play.”

Avant, who has an impressive maturity about him, took
notice.

“That’s what changed my whole attitude around, and that’s who I
try to be – I try to be humble, try to stay calm, all those types
of things. And it’s been working,” he said.

Avant is quietly confident and very demanding. When Michigan won
a sloppy game against Indiana on Sept. 27 and some of his older
teammates weren’t overly concerned with the team’s lackluster play,
Avant expected more – and he had no qualms about saying so.

In his season-and-a-half at Michigan, Avant has earned respect
and high praise from coach Lloyd Carr.

“He’s one of the best players in this league, and before he
leaves here he’ll be one of the best football players in the
country, I believe,” Carr said. “He’s a guy that, if he could
physically do it, you would never take him off the field. There’s
nothing he can’t or won’t do to help this football team.

“He’s an emotional guy that has a great competitive spirit and
will to win. He’s always looking to get better, and he’s a coach’s
dream, I’ll tell you that.”

There’s little doubt now. Jason Avant is a football player.

Courtney Lewis can be reached at
“mailto:cmlewis@umich.edu”>cmlewis@umich.edu.

 

 

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