When true freshman tight end Kevin Koger arrived in Ann Arbor, he didn’t know where to get a haircut.
So he just didn’t.
His hair and beard grew thick, and teammates started calling him Greg Oden — after the grizzled Portland Trailblazer who was No. 1 NBA draft pick two years ago.
“They just thought I looked real old,” Koger said.
It wouldn’t be the last time he gave teammates the impression of being more experienced than he actually is.
Before Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez took over in January, Koger was more familiar than most Wolverines players with Rodriguez’s program — and Rodriguez was more familiar with Koger than he was with most players in Ann Arbor.
Koger is one of the few freshmen on Michigan’s roster who were also recruited by the Mountaineers coaching staff. A few days before Rodriguez took over the Wolverines, Michigan wide receivers coach Tony Dews, who was then wide receivers coach at West Virginia, stopped at the Koger household in Toledo, Ohio.
Koger liked West Virginia’s staff, but his family liked that Ann Arbor was just 45 miles from home. Now he is in an ideal situation.
Despite his familiarity with Rodriguez from the recruiting process, Koger was still unfamiliar with the coach’s spread offense. The other Wolverine tight ends — fifth-year senior Mike Massey, redshirt junior Carson Butler and sophomore Martell Webb — had spring practice to learn the system.
Koger started June 21 with the other freshmen, and two months later, he was listed as a possible starter for the season opener.
Rodriguez said Koger is high on the depth chart because of how quickly he picked up the offense.
It took a few weeks for Koger to actually get his first snaps. But the delay didn’t bother him. He actually expected the wait to be much longer.
“I really didn’t think I would see the field this year,” Koger said. “I thought I would redshirt, honestly.”
Before the Wisconsin game, Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee told Koger to be ready to play. In the second quarter, someone on the sideline told him to get in the game.
“I thought he was playing a joke on me,” Koger said. “Then I asked the coach, and he told me I was in.”
Koger said he was nervous for a couple of plays, but the butterflies quickly disappeared.
Down 19-0 at the beginning of the third quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet hit Koger on a third-and-10 seam route for a 26-yard touchdown.
“He just throws me the ball, and I catch it,” Koger said.
Koger talked about the play as if he had been in the same situation thousands of times — not like a freshman who playing his first college game.
Against Illinois, he caught what appeared to be another touchdown, but it was negated by an illegal-man-downfield penalty. Junior Greg Mathews caught a touchdown pass on the next play.
Like a veteran who had been there before, Koger brushed off the setback.
“I didn’t even know what the penalty was on until halftime,” Koger said. “We still have points on the board, so it really didn’t bother me that much.”
On Monday morning, Koger was the first true freshman this year to speak at the weekly press conference this season. He displayed a sense of humor, revealed a bit of his personality and was honest.
When asked about team’s reaction to watching the video, he said “frustration would be an understatement.”
He looked comfortable at the podium, as if he had been there before.
Then again, with Koger, shouldn’t that be expected?