If he had his way, freshman Matt Cavanaugh would have already been on the Michigan football team.
During last February’s open tryout under Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, Cavanaugh, a then-Caledonia High School senior, came to Ann Arbor and tried to participate.
“I was actually the only non-student at the time that showed up,” Cavanaugh said yesterday. “I got to watch all of them and talked to the coaches, and actually, one of them remembered me (yesterday).”
His talent was clear — he had received an offer from Grand Valley State in high school — and the second time he tried to try out, he became one of five players who made it past yesterday’s open tryout at 6:00 a.m. in Oosterbaan Fieldhouse. Of 28 prospective Michigan football players, Cavanaugh, Jordan Kovacs, Dominique Ware, Russ Farha and Gabe Pena were invited back for further evaluations.
The five chosen from yesterday’s tryout will undergo eligibility and “character checks” before returning for another evaluation. Though all the walk-ons will have to adjust to practice, Rodriguez said one or two of the athletes from yesterday’s tryout could potentially land on the dress list this season.
The 90-minute tryout included footwork stations, position drills and timed 40-yard dash. Near the end of the tryout, two athletes trying out at quarterback alternated throwing passes to receivers. Kovacs had the fastest 40 time listed by the coaching staff, a 4.68, but most of the athletes finished in the high 4-second to low 5-second range.
The lower turnout and early morning workout made the mood during tryouts noticeably more subdued than in February. Instead of coaches barking orders, running backs coach Fred Jackson’s patient instructions and words of encouragement during footwork drills echoed through the fieldhouse.
Though some players said they thought the 6:00 a.m. tryout time was a move to discourage nonserious athletes, Rodriguez said it was the only time the coaching staff could take a break from preparing for games.
“That’s when my whole staff was available,” he said. “From 7:30 in the morning until about 11 at night, it’s pretty busy. This way, we could get the whole staff’s attention.”
Rodriguez anticipated that 25 to 35 athletes would attend the morning tryout. Though attendance met expectations, he said he was disappointed by low turnout at the offensive and defensive linemen positions.
When asked about the dropoff in tryout attendees from last semester, Rodriguez was quick to answer.
“It’s probably because a lot of the 65 guys that were there (in February) realized they couldn’t have made it,” he said.
The Michigan coaches were already familiar with many of the players before watching yesterday’s workout. Nine of the 28 athletes also participated in last February’s tryout, including three who were originally invited back for an extended evaluation but didn’t make the team. None of the three made the list again after yesterday’s tryout.
Of the 12 athletes who were invited for an additional evaluation in February, sophomore Tony Anderson and juniors Bobby Centlivre, Mike Fish and Nick Koenigsknecht made this year’s fall roster. Anderson was the only one to dress Saturday against Utah. Rodriguez said yesterday Anderson will “wind up playing at some point for us” but wasn’t sure if the cornerback’s Wolverine debut would come this season.
Anderson’s accomplishments at last year’s tryouts motivated Ware, his friend and fellow sophomore, to follow a five-day-a-week workout regimen including 100-yard sprints and weight training. Ware was the only player of the five chosen yesterday who participated in both open tryouts.
“I think I did real good,” Ware said before learning he made the team. “The coaches learned my name, so I guess that’s a good sign.”
Rodriguez will continue to hold an open tryout during the first full week of every semester.