Kovacs goes from walk-on to Michigan captain

Kovacs goes from walk-on to Michigan captain

Published Aug. 29, 2012 8:37 p.m. ET

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jordan Kovacs wanted to be Rudy.

He's gotten a lot more than that.

Four years after finishing high school without a single scholarship offer, Kovacs is the unquestioned leader of Michigan's defense, a team captain and one of the best safeties in college football.

"It is a huge honor, and I said that to my teammates right after they made the announcement," Kovacs said earlier this week, after being voted as a captain alongside Denard Robinson. "I think it says a lot about my teammates and a lot about my struggles and what I've had to overcome to get here."

Kovacs was a very good high school player in Toledo, yet not good enough to get a scholarship offer from his hometown Rockets, much less the Wolverines.

That didn't slow him down. His father, Louis, had walked on at Michigan and eventually earned a scholarship, so Jordan wanted to do the same thing.

Jordan Kovacs tried out his first year, however, an old knee injury kept him from making the team. He went to classes, worked on his knee and came back the next fall.

This time, he made it, but didn't register on the depth charts and wasn't expected to contribute.

Somehow Kovacs ended up in an early-season game when a Michigan defensive back got hurt. That was the only chance he needed.

Kovacs has been a starter since his first season, and he's gone far beyond the token career of Rudy Ruettiger at Notre Dame.

Kovacs is on the preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to college football's best defensive player and is projected as a mid-round pick in next year's NFL draft.

His story began during the Rich Rodriguez era, but Kovacs has been happily embraced by Brady Hoke and his staff. When asked which player had been the most consistent during fall camp, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison didn't hesitate.

"There's one player that is always consistent, and that's No. 32," Mattison said. "That young man has had a tremendous camp, and if we graded every play, well, I'd love to see his grades. He just gets better and better."

Those are some of the reasons why everyone involved in the program knew that Kovacs was a lock to be chosen as a captain, even though he didn't take it for granted.

"It really was an honor," he said. "I made sure to thank my teammates for believing in me and choosing me.

"I have to repay them by being the best leader I can be."

That starts Saturday, when Kovacs will lead his defense into Cowboys Stadium to face No. 2 Alabama. Michigan is a double-digit underdog.

"We're playing arguably the best team in the country," he said. "Should we be underdogs? Of course.

"They are the defending national champions. We wouldn't expect it any other way."

When Michigan takes the field, Kovacs plans to give himself a few seconds to enjoy the spectacular surroundings. Then, he's going to focus on winning the game.

"I'm going to make sure I soak it in," he said. "It's an awesome stadium with those video boards that go from the 30 to 30 or whatever it is.

"After all, this is the biggest stage we've been on, but we've also got an incredible sense of urgency when it comes to winning this game.

"Having a chance to win a game like this? That's the whole reason you come to the University of Michigan."