Connor Jaeger isn’t as visible as Denard Robinson, though he’s been just as effective. He’s not a professional prospect like Tim Hardaway Jr., though he has the skills. And no, he’s not a household name at Michigan like Shawn Hunwick.

He should be.

The sophomore has been a vital part of the No. 4 Michigan men’s swimming and diving team. Swimming butterfly and freestyle events for the Wolverines, Jaeger has tallied three event wins in the past two meets.

Swimming was always second nature to Jaeger. Growing up in Fair Haven, N.J. , Jaeger lived close to the beach and joined a beach club, which furthered his enthusiasm for swimming.

“My parents had me take swim lessons, so I knew how to swim from a pretty young age” Jaeger said. “And at these beach clubs they actually had swim meets against each other… so I was on that at a really young age, competing for the beach club.”

Jaeger carried his passion throughout his childhood and into his adolescence. When high school rolled around, Jaeger seriously entertained the notion of becoming a collegiate swimmer. Junior year, when thinking about where to take his talents, Michigan emerged as his first choice.

“I was always impressed with Michigan athletics,” Jaeger said. “When I started taking my trips, I was always comparing everything else to Michigan.”

The transition was not easy. College brings about its own set of challenges: adjusting to new locations, people and classes. Amid the hype and expectations, fans tend to forget the fact that student-athletes are mere mortals too, regardless of what they do on the field or in the pool. Jaeger faced the same rough waters as other freshmen.

“Freshmen year was definitely hard, adjusting from my easy club practices,” Jaeger said. “And obviously school was a lot harder, so that was a lot to adjust to.”

What helped Jaeger adjust, though, was what he described as a big-brother system. It was a support system to help everyone settle in with the team, give advice, monitor progress — in essence, have each others back. His big brother happened to be senior and current captain Dan Madwed.

And the rookie was able to adjust very well: Jaeger was named to the 2011 All-Big Ten first team after his freshman campaign and was part of the 800-yard freestyle relay that won the Big Ten Championship. As with all athletes, though, he wanted more.

“I was expecting a lot from myself at the end of the year,” Jaeger said. “Guys on the team were stepping up and helping me out when I couldn’t really perform the way that I should have been able to.”

Using this as motivation, Jaeger was determined to come back stronger. The turnaround began in the off-season.

“(Last season’s performance) actually did motivate me to work harder because I did not want to be in that position again…I didn’t want to feel that helpless to the team,” Jaeger said. “Hard work with the team this past summer has given me the confidence to go on and race the way that I do now.”

It was evident Jaeger had left the past behind in his meet against Notre Dame this season. He won the 1,000-yard freestyle by shattering his best time by an astonishing 15 seconds and added a first-place finish in the 500-yard freestyle, helping Michigan to a 55-point win.

Since then, Jaeger has continued his fine form. He is one of the few swimmers to win multiple Big Ten Swimmer of the Week honors, the most recent of which came Jan. 18 after a lone event win on the final day of the SMU Classic helped Michigan edge out No. 5 USC by six points.

He asserted his dominance with an exclamation mark this past weekend, out swimming Ohio State’s Alex Miller in the 500-yard freestyle — an event in which Jaeger is ranked second in the nation — by four seconds. This may not seem like much, but in a sport where winners and losers and determined by hundredths of a second, four seconds is a blow out.

But Jaeger isn’t done improving quite yet.

“I wouldn’t describe this as my breakout year because the year isn’t finished yet,” Jaeger said. “All of how I’ve swam so far doesn’t really mean anything unless I swim fast at the end of the season.”

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