When Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn lined up under center for the first offensive play of Saturday’s game, Michigan cornerback Morgan Trent figured the ball was coming his way.
And, just as the junior predicted, Quinn lofted a deep bomb intended for wide receiver Jeff Samardzija down the sideline.
What the Irish quarterback didn’t anticipate was Trent running step for step with Samardzija. Quinn ended up overthrowing his well-covered receiver.
“I knew coming in, especially in the last game (against Notre Dame) that they were going to pick on me,” Trent said. “The first play of the game, I knew they were going deep to Samardzija. They tried to set the tone. You got to be fundamentally sound, playing across from a guy like Leon (Hall).”
When Trent came to Michigan three years ago, he didn’t anticipate that he would make a name for himself defending passes. The Brighton native was recruited as a wide receiver before ultimately making the switch the cornerback.
It started in the spring practice before Trent’s redshirt freshman season. Coming off his redshirt year, which he said was the toughest part of his time at Michigan, Trent eagerly awaited his chance to contribute to a team he had been forced to watch from the sidelines.
Then Michigan coach Lloyd Carr approached Trent with the idea of switching to cornerback. With the speed Trent brought to the table, Carr wanted to get him on the field and thought cornerback would be a perfect fit. But Trent had his doubts.
“Me being a receiver guy, I wasn’t sure being out there on defense and hitting these big running backs,” said Trent, whose father played cornerback at Nebraska.
The original plan had been for Trent to split time at cornerback and wide receiver. That is, until a freshman class that included Mario Manningham arrived in Ann Arbor.
“We kept getting good recruits that are getting on the field earlier and playing,” Trent said. “If I can be out there and focus on what I need to on defense, there’s no need for me on offense when you got guys playing like that.”
After learning the ropes of the defense last season, Trent entered spring practice and training camp this year in a fierce competition with Charles Stewart for the starting cornerback spot, vacated by the graduated Grant Mason.
Trent didn’t start in the season opener against Vanderbilt. Instead, Stewart got the nod to line up on the opposite side of Hall. But that didn’t stop Trent from continuing to work on his technique and comfort level in the defensive backfield.
“You really got no time to be down because your number is going to be called, especially with the defense we play,” Trent said. “Our corners are going to be on the field, so if you’re over there pouting about this and that, then when you come to the field, it’s going to show. You got to be ready to play.”
Against Central Michigan the following week, Stewart didn’t trot out there on the Chippewas’ first offensive possession. Trent had finally moved into the starting role.
He shined even brighter against rival Notre Dame, enjoying arguably his best game as a Wolverine. Trent recorded six tackles and had several pass break-ups.
Even though Trent’s newfound comfort showed through in his solid play on the field, he pointed to the Fighting Irish’s Rhema McKnight’s fourth-quarter touchdown as his best play of the game. Quinn had lofted the ball into the end zone, and Trent appeared to catch the ball until McKnight grabbed it out of his hands.
“I was in the right position, but I could have played it a little bit better,” Trent said. “I could have turned better. I think it’s going to help me a lot; it’s something to learn from.”
Trent lists his inability to showcase his speed as one of the few downsides to his move to the secondary. Speedy wide receivers Manningham and Steve Breaston are hogging the spotlight, and Trent said he feels a little left out when conversations about which player has the best backburner pop up.
But he’s still confident in his ability to outrun anyone on the team.
“It depends on who you ask (about the fastest person on the team),” said Trent, who runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. “I’ll stick to that until the day I die. I think we should orchestrate a little race, and we could find out.”