Hagerup's letter helps inspire Wolverines' about-face
Ann Arbor — The week of Michigan's night game against Penn State last month, on the heels of a three-game losing streak, fifth-year senior punter Will Hagerup decided he had to do something.
He considered calling a player's only team meeting.
But then he chose to write.
He penned a letter to his teammates, and spoke about playing with pride and forging through adversity together. Hagerup knows something about dealing with challenges during his time at Michigan.
He has been suspended three times during his career and was held out all of last season after an undisclosed violation of team rules. Hagerup worked his way back and coach Brady Hoke reinstated him to the team for this, his final season.
Hagerup posted a copy of the letter on each of his teammate's locker before the first practice that week.
Michigan, now 5-5 with two remaining games and needing a victory to become bowl eligible, beat Penn State. The Wolverines are 3-1 since snapping the losing streak.
"I had a lot of things on my mind," Hagerup said Tuesday night after practice, the first time he has met with media since he wrote the letter. "I'm so incredibly passionate about this team and about this season in particular, and I had so many things I wanted to say that had just been eating at me.
"I wanted to be able to put everything down on paper in the exact way I wanted it said. It got out to people beyond the team, which in some ways is a little upsetting. I wanted it to be something that was about the team and was intimate to the guys on the team, but I do appreciate some of the feedback I got for it. It was a way to get my thoughts on paper as a guy who has been here five years."
Teammates and coaches approached him that week and thanked him for the letter. Hagerup is not soliciting credit for motivating his teammates, but he is hopeful that maybe even one player practiced a little harder that week after reading his thoughts and convictions about this team.
In one portion of the letter, he questioned how these players will want to be remembered.
"When you come back to Ann Arbor in 10 or 20 years for an alumni visit, inevitably you'll represent this team," he wrote. "Do you want to look down at your feet and mutter, 'I played for Team 135, the team that gave up halfway through the season?' OR do you want to say with pride, 'I was on the team that had a rough six-game stretch, but we fought and clawed our way to win every game there on out?'"
Hagerup is the first to say his story at Michigan has been told and retold. The fact he remains a part of the team and will play his final game at Michigan Stadium on Saturday has taught him plenty, and that is the genesis for the passion he has for this team.
This season clearly has not gone the way anyone part of this program imagined, and that goes beyond wins and losses with so much happening off the field.
But there have been lessons absorbed.
"There's been so much learning that's gone on here that won't get reported, there's so many positives that have happened this year that won't get reported, and I understand that," Hagerup said. "But so many guys on this team, whether you're a freshman who has four, five years to play or you're a guy playing his last few games, you've taken something away from this season that will help you for the rest of your life, I really believe that."
Hagerup shared in that letter what he has taken from his career.
"When things get hard and things don't go the way you envision them going, you put your foot down, you fight even harder," he said. "I think that we came out against Penn State with that, with the media around us telling us how bad we were, with some of the support was lost in Ann Arbor, which is understandable.
"With so many things going wrong, it was easy at that point — and I think that was a turning point for us — to lay down and give up and sort of coast through the season. But something I learned is that it's so much more fulfilling when you fight through those times. I think that's something I've learned, I think that's something everybody on the team has learned. We haven't given up. If you look at our body language in games where we've been down, we haven't given up one time."
That body language stems from the chemistry Hagerup said the team developed in the winter but especially during preseason camp. Each day Hoke took away the players' cell phones, and they were returned in the evening. He said they jokingly referred to it as "clocking in," but not having the phones forced the players to communicate.
"At first we complained, but really, looking back, guys talked and got close with one another and began to really love one another," Hagerup said. "When you're close as a group or an organization or whatever you're doing and things go wrong, you're not willing to give up. If we weren't a close group, if we didn't have chemistry, we would have given up a long time ago. While our execution at times has not been there, and that's something we're not happy about and we don't accept, our team effort and our love for one another has not wavered the entire season.
"I think it was really, really important. I think it was genius on coach Hoke's part to do something like that."
Michigan has designated the final home game of the season on Saturday as a fan appreciation day.
Fans will be allowed on the Michigan Stadium field for a half hour about 30-45 minutes after the game against Maryland. Season ticket holders will have access to special $5 concession packs.
The first 2,000 student season-ticket holders will receive a voucher for a free hot chocolate.
Michigan football will honor the Wolverines' 12 seniors during a Senior Day ceremony, which will begin 25 minutes before kickoff.
In the aftermath of Hoke's dismissal Monday of senior defensive end Frank Clark, charged with domestic violence and assault in Sandusky, Ohio, following a violent incident Saturday night with his girlfriend at a hotel. Hagerup said he supports Hoke's decision.
"It's a privilege to play here," Hagerup said. "There are rules when you play here that you follow and there's conduct you follow and when you don't follow it there's consequences. In this case, coach Hoke has made it incredibly clear, which I hope any head coach would, that there are certain rules that if broken, that's it.
"It is fragile the opportunity we have here, and there are lots of ways to screw up the opportunity and obviously I've had my issues and I hope Frank can turn things around and make improvements in his life. But I support coach Hoke's decision and what he did and don't support the actions that took place at all. I'm glad we don't tolerate violence against women at this school."
Maryland at Michigan
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: Maryland 6-4 (3-3 Big Ten), Michigan 5-5 (3-3)
Line: Michigan by 4 1/2
Did you know? Maryland played Michigan in football three times between 1985 and 1990 and lost all three.