It was there before they arrived, and it will be there after
they’re gone. They don’t know who started it, but they believe in
it. The members of the Michigan secondary have a saying, a mantra:
Go to the next play.

Janna Hutz
Veteran cornerback Jeremy LeSueur hopes to make his last season his best. After a tumultous start to his career, he has earned the respect of his teammates. (TONY DING/Daily)

“It’s a mentality you have to have as a defensive back, because
you might get burned this play, but you have to have your head
ready and play the next down,” safety John Shaw said. “If you don’t
know it, you have to learn it, because if you sit there and dwell
(because) you got beat on this play, you’re going to get beat
again.”

Nobody on the secondary knows that better than Jeremy LeSueur.
Nobody has struggled with the credo more, and nobody has relied on
it more. For LeSueur, those aren’t just words to play football by;
they’re words to live by.

Beginning his fifth and final season at Michigan, the veteran
cornerback is one of the leaders on the defense. He’s coming off
his best year, one in which he solidified his role as a starter. He
recorded a career-high 52 tackles and his 583 kickoff return yards
set Michigan’s single-season record. In the 2003 season opener last
weekend, LeSueur grabbed his third career interception.

“He’s going to be a guy that will have some postseason honors if
he has a season like he’s capable of, because he has tremendous
ability,” head coach Lloyd Carr said.

That’s the kind of player LeSueur was expected to be coming out
of Holly Springs High School in northern Mississippi. But it has
been a long road to get this point, and it’s fair to say he has
taken the scenic route.

In 1999, the talented 6-foot-1 cornerback was a cocky kid whose
season ended on a fluke injury in practice. LeSueur tore his ACL
and was forced to redshirt. He lost some of his confidence after
that, and he lost more as he struggled through the following
season. LeSueur was a highly-touted recruit and his first two years
were disappointing. But his lowest moment came in his third
year.

In the final minutes of Michigan’s 2001 matchup with Michigan
State, LeSueur all but handed the game to the Spartans when he
committed a blatant personal foul on Michigan State receiver
Charles Rogers. The Spartans won on a last-second touchdown and the
fans and media blamed LeSueur. One columnist called the play a
“brain freeze,” – a comment that LeSueur took personally because
his younger brother Jeremane is mentally disabled.

His struggles on the field continued, and in the offseason, he
was arrested for soliciting a prostitute and subsequently suspended
from the football team.

Of all of his problems – on the field and off – LeSueur said the
aftermath of the 2001 Michigan State game was the toughest thing to
deal with and that “people didn’t understand” how hard it was. He
admitted that it stuck with him for a long time.

“You never forget that, but you’ve got to learn from it,”
LeSueur said. “There’s nothing you can do about it so you have to
move on.”

LeSueur’s teammates and coach say they’ve seen him change a lot
since his freshman year. They describe him as a much different
football player and a much different guy now.

“He had some adjustments to make, and he had to learn how to
compete,” Carr said. “He had to learn how to compete every
day.”

LeSueur’s teammates attest that he has done that. Cornerback
Markus Curry said the two things that stand out about LeSueur now
are his toughness and his competitiveness, and receiver Tyrece
Butler has seen those qualities first-hand while practicing against
him.

“He hates to lose battles,” Butler said. “To get a pass caught
on him – he hates that. We worked over the summer, one-on-one.
Like, I run a route and he’s, ‘Hey Tyrece, if I play this way, will
I stop you?’ Or, ‘What can I do to make myself better?'”

Butler added that that is a big difference from the LeSueur who
“came in with a lot of attitude as a freshman.”

But dropping the attitude and playing hard all the time have not
been the biggest lessons of LeSueur’s Michigan education.

“How to handle adversity, being a man, just growing up and just
taking on life – that’s the best thing I’ve learned,” LeSueur
said.

Butler, another fifth-year senior, said even though he likes to
tease his classmate about his lingering Mississippi accent, LeSueur
has come a long way from the “country boy from Holly Springs (who
had) never seen much.”

“He was almost like a little kid, but now he’s grown up into a
man,” Butler said. “He’s a Michigan man, and everything he does, he
thinks first. He’s a guy I like.”

It was Jeremy LeSueur the boy that let down his teammates and
embarrassed himself and the program. It is Jeremy LeSueur the man
that Curry called a leader on the team and Jeremy LeSueur the man
that the coaching staff relies on in big games and on crucial
plays. For a while, it looked like LeSueur’s career would be
defined by one bad play, so having the trust of his coaches means a
lot to him.

“That’s a really good feeling. You always want to have the
coaches behind you and know everything is going good.”

Like the rest of the secondary, LeSueur likes to look forward
rather than backward, but when he does think about his career, he
doesn’t dwell on regrets.

“I never thought it would be easy,” he said. “You know, you
never know what the future holds and everything (happens) for a
reason, but you learn from it and you move on. I’m glad I came
here, and I’m glad I made that decision. I just learned from
it.”

LeSueur certainly couldn’t have predicted the challenges of his
first four years, but he does picture an ideal way for his last
year to play out.

“Just getting to the mountain – the national championship. Just
taking it one game at a time, winning each game, and it comes down
to that game. Yeah, it would feel real good. Just learning from
what you’ve been through and just coming out at the end on
top.”

LeSueur is still pretty far from the summit – the Wolverines
have played just one game – and it’s a rather imposing mountain.
But then, Jeremy LeSueur knows something about long, hard
climbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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