Some tragic events can make you grow up quicker than you would like.

Paul Wong
Joe Smith, The Daily Grind

For attorney Steven Fishman, his painful fast-forward into maturity came while he was a sophomore basketball player at Michigan in 1967. In the middle of one practice, he was told that his father had passed away.

Fishman’s grave personal loss changed his life, but also helped him bond with his client – Michigan redshirt junior defensive end Shantee Orr – who also lost his father early in his college years.

“When something like that occurs, it forces manhood on you at an earlier time than you could ever imagine,” Fishman said.

Orr definitely understands how quickly something important can be taken away in an instant. And he apparently doesn’t want to take anything else for granted.

Orr’s decision this week to leave the Wolverines and make himself eligible for the 2003 NFL Draft may have surprised many people.

But it shouldn’t bother anyone.

Orr is expecting to graduate in April with a degree in movement science. He’s not abandoning the Wolverines to play in the minor leagues, nor is he leaving the school empty-handed.

He’s actually leaving Michigan in plenty of good hands.

Orr may have been Michigan’s sack leader this year, but the Wolverines still have the “Sack Master” in junior Alain Kashama. Kashama showed flashes of his potential in a couple of game-changing plays at the Outback Bowl. Along with Larry Stevens, Pierre Woods and a very deep defensive line, Kashama should help wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks – much like Orr did during his better moments.

At his best, Orr showed brilliance – his four sacks against Michigan State two years ago and his constant pressure on Rex Grossman in this year’s Outback Bowl. But other times, Orr would disappear, leaving fans wondering which Shantee will show up – man or myth?

But he did spend four years at the University, establishing himself as a solid defensive lineman – he was named to the All-Big Ten Honorable Mention team this year – and will now leave to potentially fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL. Not to mention he’ll have a chance to help his loved ones out financially.

“I think Shantee Orr, like most young athletes, is concerned about the economic future of his family,” Fishman said.

Orr won’t be a first-round pick – he may not even be selected until the fifth round or later. At 6-foot-1, 255 pounds, Orr will likely be an undersized defensive lineman if he’s not moved to linebacker. But some team will pick up Orr – a talented, relentless player with a 4.6 40-yard dash – on his pure athleticism and potential.

At least Orr, who missed two games this season with a knee injury, can now go into the combine healthy next month and take his chances. Even if he came back to Michigan next fall, trying to slightly improve his draft stock, it could be even more of a risk.

That is, the risk of getting hurt. Miami’s Willis MaGahee’s horrific knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl – which probably cost him $10 million and nearly cut his career short – was just one of a string of unfortunate reinforcements this season for Orr that he’s playing Russian roulette every time he takes the field.

He watched teammate and friend Zia Combs’ career end in an accidental collision with Ernest Shazor. He held his breath as Cato June lied motionless for several minutes just two weeks later.

“You’re just a play away from disaster,” Fishman said.

Orr is just a few months away from completing his degree and achieving his dream of being handed a NFL jersey on draft day.

And for Orr, that’s one event that probably can’t happen quickly enough.

Joe Smith can be reached at josephms@umich.edu.

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