ANN ARBOR, Mich — Many Michigan fans had themselves believing that Derrick Green’s arrival in Ann Arbor last year would be punctuated with a walk across the Huron River.
He was heralded as the savior of the Wolverines’ mundane running game in 2013.
Unfortunately for the Michigan and its fans, the nation’s top-rated running back coming out of high school didn’t make a significant impact on the Wolverines program during his freshman year.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound native of Richmond, Va,, appeared in all 13 games for the Wolverines last season, with a final stat line of 83 carries, for 270 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 3.3 yards per carry, and his longest run from scrimmage was 30 yards.
His first career start was the last game of the regular season against Ohio State, and he didn’t catch a single pass all year.
Green says part of the reason for those disappointing numbers was his adjustment to college life, which was a little more complex that he originally thought.
"It was a really big change," Green said. "I wasn’t use to playing in a really big stadium. It was a really big transition, the speed of the game, learning a whole new playbook, coming in with a whole new group of players.
"Coming here was for the better. I knew when I committed here I was going to learn a lot from the great coaches and players. I think the transition went well."
Not well enough, though, and what Green experienced as a freshman is something that dawns on most college student at some point during their first year of study.
When I came in, I didn’t do what needed to be done physically.
Derrick Green on his freshman season
School is what you make of it. Whether you’re at Michigan, Harvard or Wossamotta U, the competition is fierce in the classroom and on the field. And if you cut corners, you’ll soon fall behind.
"When I came in, I didn’t do what needed to be done physically," Green said. "I was 248 (pounds). I wasn’t as fast I as I was. I wasn’t able to make the cuts I use to make and hit the holes. I didn’t have my explosiveness.
"I had to come into this season with a clear mind. I knew what I had to do to get the spot (No. 1 tailback). I had to do a whole 360 and make sure I was in the best shape possible, and staying in the film room and learning as much as possible."
At Michigan football media day on Aug. 10, both coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier raved about Green and his dedication to becoming the best back he can be, yet Hoke also said that Green was the No. 3 tailback on Michigan’s depth chart.
But after a good week of practice and an impressive midweek scrimmage, Green had vaulted to the top of the depth chart and was Michigan’s starting tailback in last Saturday’s night scrimmage, which was open to the public.
"The competition is going real well … De’Veon (Smith), Drake Johnson, Justice Hayes and we just got Ty Issac, so there’s competition everywhere," Green said. "Everybody is pushing to get that No. 1 spot. "But at the end of the day, we’re brothers. We love each other, and we’re going to continue to push one another to be the best that we can be."
Green is also upbeat about Nussmeier’s new offense and his intense coaching style. Green is encouraged about the play of Michigan’s offensive line, despite the Wolverines losing two starters to the NFL.
"Our offensive line is doing really well," Green said. "The chemistry is there, and they know their assignments. Coach Nussmeier’s offense fits every position.
"Coach Nuss just isn’t helping the quarterbacks; he’s helping every position on the field."
Even if you’re a gifted college athlete, sometimes there’s a period of growth into maturity and an understanding of your new surroundings.
There isn’t an exact timetable of when that realization kicks in. We all learn at our own pace.
Green’s mindset is completely different as a sophomore than it was as freshman at Michigan. He wants to become one of the storied players in Wolverines football history.
Whether he gets to that level or not, he seems committed now to doing everything he can to give himself the chance.
"I’m now 220 (pounds), 9-percent body fat, and I’m feeling as great as I ever have," Green said. "I promise the Michigan fans, you’re going to see a whole new Derrick Green."