Michigan surprised many observers when they announced they would have four captains this year.
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As it turns out, they are going to open the season with just two.
Linebacker Jake Ryan is out until at least October as he recovers from a torn ACL, and Brady Hoke said Monday that safety Courtney Avery is expected to miss two weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery over the weekend. Avery found out that he had been named captain the day after his operation.
”That was a great pick-me-up, to find out that my teammates had shown that kind of faith and trust in me,” he said. ”But in a way it will make Saturday even harder, because I want to be out there even more. I feel like I’m letting everyone down by being on the sidelines.”
Avery said that the injury has changed his leadership style.
”When I was practicing, I was teaching things to guys during drills or after plays,” he said. ”Now I’ve had to behave more like a coach – I’ve been pulling guys aside and talking to them on the sidelines.”
For Ryan, who has been sidelined since spring camp, the honor was a bit of a shock.
”I was surprised, because I’m only a junior and I’ve been hurt,” he said. ”I think that makes it even a bigger honor.”
Ryan hasn’t really had a chance to lead his teammates, because of his rehab process.
”From what I’ve seen, we’ve had a really good camp, but I’ve not been there for a lot of it, which is even more frustrating,” he said. ”But I know that if I want to be back in October – and that’s still my goal – I know that I have to be doing my own work. Right now, that’s a lot of running and a lot of cutting with the trainers, and a little bit of work with my teammates and the coaches.”
The injuries to Avery and Ryan leave linebacker Cam Gordon and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan as the only healthy captains while the No. 17 Wolverines prepare for Saturday’s opener against Central Michigan.
”It’s a game week, so we are all excited,” Hoke said. ”Our players and our staff have worked very hard since January to get to this point, and now we’re here. It kicks off when you vote for your captains, and I think Jake, Taylor, Cam and Courtney are all very deserving of the honor. ”
Hoke didn’t explain why the Wolverines picked four captains instead of the usual three, just saying that was how the votes turned out.
Both Gordon and Lewan have embraced the role of teacher, and both see their elections as a representation of Michigan traditions.
”I didn’t expect us to have three defensive captains, and especially two linebackers, but Michigan is famous for defensive players and defensive football,” he said. ”I was surprised and honored to be chosen, but as a senior, I know it is already part of my job to help the younger guys. I think my teammates saw that, and saw the way I work day in and day out, and I guess that’s why they picked me. I can’t thank them enough.”
Lewan is the only official offensive captain, but both he and Gordon know that junior quarterback Devin Gardner will be filling much the same role.
”Devin knows exactly what he has to do, and he’s been great,” said Gordon, one of Gardner’s closest friends. ”We have seniors, and we have captains, but the quarterback always has to be a leader, and he’s grabbed on to that.”
Lewan, of course, was the least surprising choice in the group. He turned down a shot at being a top pick in the NFL – and probably would have been chosen first overall – to return to Michigan for his senior season. He will be the anchor on offensive line that will have new starters at both guards spots and at center.
”The three guys that have earned that spot have all worked really hard, and they are ready to be starting offensive linemen at Michigan,” he said. ”But that doesn’t mean they are Michigan linemen. That’s something you really have to earn, and not everyone can do it. We pride ourselves on Michigan linemen at this school. Those are special players, and these guys are going to have to keep working to do it.”
Like all his teammates, Lewan was impressed during last week’s visit by Tom Brady, who said that being a two-time captain at Michigan was the greatest honor of his football career – even ahead of his MVP trophies.
”That was amazing, but when I found out that I had been selected, I started to understand,” Lewan said. ”There’s 133 years of great football tradition here – something no other school has – and you’ve been chosen to lead the 134th year. I can’t even begin to explain what kind of honor and what kind of responsibility that means.”