Ann Arbor — This is a last-chance season for Patrick Kugler, a fifth-year senior offensive lineman at Michigan whose motivation is to leave his lasting imprint on the program.
Kugler could have left before this season, headed to UTEP where his father, Sean, is the head coach. But he is competing to start at center — although like the other linemen he is rotating through different positions during preseason camp — and has fully embraced doing everything it takes to win the job.
“I just didn’t want to be that guy that left,” Kugler said last Friday after practice. “I wanted to make a legacy here at the University of Michigan. Understood that I’ve gotten beat out a couple years in a row. I didn’t want that to be my legacy here. I wanted to be the guy who stuck around and then eventually led this team to something great.”
Kugler played in five games last season and made his first collegiate start at left guard in the opener last season against Hawaii. His playing time has been limited throughout his career.
With freshman Cesar Ruiz, the nation’s top-rated center out of IMG Academy, enrolling early, Kugler has had plenty of competition during the spring and this preseason camp. He has performed well while helping develop the immensely talented Ruiz into what he called the “next great Michigan center.”
Leaving Michigan was never an option.
“I was talking to my dad about it,” Kugler said. “He coaches down at UTEP and everyone thought I was going to go there. But, no, I wanted to come to Michigan. I came here for a reason and that’s to leave a legacy here at Michigan.”
Kugler has been confident since the spring, saying he believes he’s a starter and offered his theory behind that.
“If you don’t think you’re a starter, then why are you here?” he said. “So you’ve gotta attack every day like you’re a starter even if you’re third string right now.”
With that mindset, Kugler has excelled in camp. In the offseason, he joined many of his teammates in weekly “improvement day” yoga sessions to work on his flexibility.
The offensive linemen have been consistent in their responses when asked about the line entering this season. The players have been working at the different positions to build versatility to allow Tim Drevno, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, along with Greg Frey, who coaches the tackles, to determine the best five.
“Nothing’s set in stone right now,” Kugler said. “We’ll know and we’ll be ready and then we’ll start molding those five to work together and be cohesive together.”
He has received high marks from coach Jim Harbaugh.
“Kugler has had a nice camp,” Harbaugh said last Friday. “He’s giving us a lot of confidence there.”
This is why Kugler remained for a fifth season — it is all about this opportunity.
“It’s my last year. I’ve got to make a legacy here,” Kugler said. “I don’t want to be the guy who sat on the bench for five years. We’ll see. We’re going to put the best five out there. If I’m in it, I’m in it. If I’m not, I’ll do the best of my ability to be a leader on this team.”