Ann Arbor — When Michigan tight end Jake Butt told reporters earlier this month he was “50-50” whether he would stay for his final year of eligibility, he was just buying some time until he confirmed his gut feeling.
Butt, the Big Ten’s Tight End of the Year, deep down knew his plan was to remain in school, delaying his NFL career another year, but he wanted coach Jim Harbaugh’s input. Harbaugh, after all, was a veteran NFL quarterback and coached the San Francisco 49ers for four years.
So, a day after saying he was 50-50, he revealed he was 100 percent returning to Michigan.
“I kinda knew. I thought I was doing a good job of keeping it like 50-50,” Butt said, laughing while speaking to a small group of reporters Tuesday night after the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show. “I knew I was talking to coach Harbaugh the next day, and I was leaning toward staying the whole way, but I wanted to say 50-50 in case he told me I’d be crazy to stay. He didn’t tell me that.”
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Butt was second in receiving this season for the Wolverines in Harbaugh’s first season as coach. Harbaugh’s offenses have emphasized the tight end, and this season was no different. Butt had 620 yards and three touchdowns during the regular season. He averaged 51.7 yards receiving per game this fall, more than double what he earned the previous season.
Michigan (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten) is preparing for the Citrus Bowl against Florida in Orlando on New Year’s Day. The Wolverines depart Saturday.
Among the reasons Butt said he wanted to return was another opportunity to finally beat rivals Michigan State and Ohio State, he wants to improve his overall game, and he enjoys being around this team.
“My heart’s been with Michigan the whole entire time,” Butt said. “I just love my teammates, my roommates. I love Michigan. I really wanted to stay. I don’t know what it’s like in the NFL. I had no idea if I was ready, if it was the right time for me to go. Unless coach Harbaugh told me I was crazy for staying, I was going to stay.”
Harbaugh on Tuesday said he didn’t want to share his conversation with Butt.
Butt said Harbaugh presented himself as a resource only, not as the ultimate decision maker regarding his future.
“He told me he’s confident in me,” Butt said. “He didn’t want to tell me what to do. I trust him and I spoke to coach (Jedd) Fisch and coach Jay (Harbaugh). I just really wanted to hear what they had to say.”
Harbaugh did offer advice.
“He said there’s some room for improvement, I could fine tune my game a little bit more,” Butt said. “The NFL’s a complicated thing. Depending on where you’re drafted, it can affect a lot of different things. He wanted me to come back a year, work on my blocking, get a little faster, a little stronger. Solidify myself in some of those top rounds.”
Butt opted to not go the route of filing paperwork with the NFL Advisory board to find out his draft potential. He was in the process of working on it, but decided he wanted more tangible opinions and advice.
“I had coach Harbaugh talk to some of the GMs and I figured rather than get a draft grade I’d just hear what they were saying and gather that information,” Butt said. “I think the draft grade went first round, second round and then go back to school. They’re usually way on the conservative end of that, so I figured rather than apply for that, I think each school only gets five and I figured let some other guys get that because I’d rather have the advice from the GMs and coaches on what I needed to improve on.”
All of this confirmed his gut feeling all along. He discussed options with his father late in the season and created a plan and a list of pros and cons.
“The last couple weeks of the season, I kinda knew I was going to stay,” he said.
Cornerback Jourdan Lewis, like Butt an All-American this season, also has said he will return to Michigan next fall.
Rounding out the early enrollees
Carlo Kemp, a defensive end from Colorado, on Wednesday became Michigan’s seventh early enrollee. They will enroll in January and can participate in spring practice.
Kemp, a 6-3, 250-pounder who could play defensive line or linebacker, was officially welcomed to the program via Harbaugh’s Twitter page.
Michigan is not expected to add any other early enrollees. Those who will be on campus in January: quarterback Brandon Peters, running back Kareem Walker, linebacker Devin Bush Jr., receiver Ahmir Mitchell, tight end Sean McKeon and tailback Kingston Davis.
As of Wednesday afternoon, McKeon, Mitchell and Kemp were in the university’s student directory.
They all have a lot in common,” Harbaugh said Tuesday. “They worked very hard in high school to be in this position to graduate early. Some are the first in their high school to do it. I really like them as people and have gotten to know their families.
“Very talented young men. They’re exactly what you’d expect, what you’d hope to see. They’re 18 and attacking the world.”
Michigan vs. Florida
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Jan. 1, Orlando (Fla.) Citrus Bowl Stadium
Records: No. 14 Michigan 9-3, No. 19 Florida 10-3
Line: Michigan by 4
Series: Michigan leads 2-0 (