LIVONIA — Two weeks ago, junior Brandon Graham was walking toward the Michigan football buses outside Ohio Stadium after the Wolverines’ 42-7 loss to the Buckeyes. He stopped to talk with director of strength and conditioning Mike Barwis.
The defensive end told Barwis he was excited to see what type of leader he would be next year.
Graham has already received a sign of respect from his teammates, who elected him the Bo Schembechler Most Valuable Player. The award was presented Thursday night at the 88th annual Michigan Football Bust at Laurel Manor in Livonia.
“I didn’t see this one coming,” said Graham, who some have speculated might forego his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. “I didn’t think I was going to be up here until next year.”
Although Graham could change his mind and declare for the draft before the Jan. 15 deadline, he said he plans to return next year.
“We’re going to fight even harder for next year,” Graham said. “I’m going to be your all leader, man. You just have to follow me, and we’re going to make it happen.”
Graham is the first player who only played defense to win a solo MVP since defensive tackle Buster Stanley won it in 1993. Middle linebacker David Harris split the award with running back Mike Hart in 2006, and cornerback and wide receiver Charles Woodson won it in 1997.
Graham, a second team all-Big Ten selection, is second nationally in tackles for loss (20) and tied for 10th in sacks (10). He also made a career-high 46 tackles.
Thirteen of the 15 seniors honored thanked former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who was in attendance, before they thanked Rodriguez. Those 13 included fifth-year senior cornerback Morgan Trent, who didn’t mention Rodriguez at all.
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Will Johnson thanked Rodriguez before Carr. Fifth-year senior kicker Jason Gingell thanked both coaching staffs, but didn’t mention Carr or Rodriguez by name.
The speeches were somewhat overshadowed by the absence of freshman running back Sam McGuffie, redshirt junior defensive end Carson Butler and redshirt freshman running back Avery Horn.
Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and defensive line coach Bruce Tall were the only assistant coaches at the event. The rest were out of town recruiting.
Rodriguez declined to comment on any personnel issues with players or coaches.
“Tonight, we’ll talk about the seniors,” Rodriguez said. “This is their night, and this is my first bust.”
After a 3-9 season, the most losses in Michigan history, many of the speakers had a defiant tone.
“Maybe you all had your fun and got your pound of flesh out of Michigan after 33 years, but I’ll tell you one thing,” said former Michigan quarterback Rick Leach, who represented the 1978 Michigan Big Ten Championship team. “I don’t care if it’s (Michigan State coach) Mark Dantonio, (Notre Dame coach) Charlie Weis, or you better believe it, (Ohio State coach) Jim Tressel, your freaking day is coming.”
Rodriguez later gave an “amen” to Leach’s comments and was optimistic for the future.
“Even though there were maybe some disappointments, I’m not disappointed,” Rodriguez said. “I’m encouraged. Those 15 seniors and the rest of the guys sitting in front of you laid a foundation built in stone and concrete, not on mud or sand.”
Each of the seniors received an ‘M’ ring, presented each year since 1921 by the University of Michigan Club of Detroit. Rodriguez emphasized the seniors will always be part of the Wolverine family.
“Tonight is not goodbye,” Rodriguez said. “It’s see you later.”
Complete list of awards:
Bo Schembechler MVP as voted by the players: Graham
Dr. Arthur Robinson Scholarship Award for the top senior student: Johnson
Bob Ufer Bequest for the senior who shows the most love and enthusiasm for Michigan: fifth-year senior tight end Mike Massey
Roger Zatkoff Award for the top linebacker: redshirt sophomore Obi Ezeh
Hugh R. Rader Award for the top offensive lineman: redshirt sophomore Stephen Schilling
Dick Katcher Award for the top defensive lineman or outside linebacker: fifth-year senior defensive end Tim Jamison
Special Teams Award: redshirt sophomore fullback Mark Moundros