Michigan's Winovich working to be a 'shark in a game of guppies'
Ann Arbor — He has become a menacing Thor-like presence on the field, with his long, blonde hair flowing from his helmet and a vice-like grip as he disrupts the opposing backfield.
Fifth-year senior defensive end Chase Winovich decided to return to Michigan rather than pursue the NFL after last season, and he has taken his game up a notch through five games this season. Winovich leads the Big Ten and is tied for first nationally with 10.5 tackles for loss.
He was the Big Ten co-defensive player of the week for his performance against Northwestern last week, which included three tackles for loss and a sack.
“Would not want to play against Chase, that’s for sure,” Michigan defensive tackle Carlo Kemp said this week. “Having that gold, long hair run after you every play would not be something I would want to see.”
Quarterback Shea Patterson is Winovich’s roommate this year, and while he called out his Fortnite skills — Patterson said Winovich is the “biggest Fortnite player in the world” but “definitely not the best” — he did pile on the accolades for his football ability.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with,” Patterson said on the "Inside Michigan Football" radio show this week. “The motor he has every single play, it’s contagious. The plays he makes on defense, just his leadership qualities really spread great energy throughout the team and I think that really helps us a lot.”
Winovich led the Big Ten last season with 18.5 tackles for loss and was third with eight sacks.
"I feel like I’m definitely playing better, and some of my best football," Winovich said this week. "But I still feel like I haven't played my best football.
“I'm setting myself up for that game where it's like, 'This is Chase Winovich.’ I don't think I've played that game yet. I think it’s coming.”
He was asked what that game might look like.
"The way I see it in my head, if I had to look at it from a numbers standpoint, I would look at it and say multiple sacks, just from a grading-out percentage, from a pass-rush point of view, I'd say just simply unblockable. That game where it's just like no matter what they did, no matter how many people they put on me, in my head, that’s what I’m chasing. Whenever I come out and I have a good game and a lot of people tell me how great it was, in my head it could be better.
“I want to be a shark in a game full of guppies. I'm working toward that."
With defensive end Rashan Gary in out and out of the Northwestern game with an apparent injury to his right shoulder, Winovich drew more attention and double teams.
“There was one time he got three guys paying him attention and that's ultimate respect for a defensive end or a pass rusher and he's earned it,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He's all over the field. He was our player of the game again this week. They’re gonna cut, try to hold, chip, double team, all those things. Those are ultimate compliments to a defensive end, to a pass rusher, so just keep doing what you're doing, Chase. Doing a marvelous job. Really having a sensational start to the first quarter of the season."
Winovich said he enjoys the attention.
"I love the smoke," Winovich said. "It's a great opportunity for my fellow defensive linemen. Kwity Paye really stepped up; Josh Uche, great game as well. That’s the great thing about our defense. One difference between this year and last year, is we’ve got guys that, if you know how Rashan unfortunately went down and had a shoulder problem, other people stepped up. The attention shifted away from him and maybe a little bit more onto me, and somebody else is there to make plays.”
Defensive coordinator Don Brown said Winovich has taken his game up another notch.
“He’s playing way more physical in the run game,” Brown said. “He’s active, more active in the run game than he’s been. I feel him more when people are running the football. His TFLs, it’s not just the chasing of the quarterback, it’s the impact that he has in opponents’ backfield.
“That’s a valued deal when you can get them off-kilter now. It netted 29 because of the sacks and the TFLs knocking him back. That’s part of the equation we’re so deeply immersed in that’s important to us at the end of the day. Put them in bad situations and get yourselves off the field.”
Perhaps Winovich was also inspired last weekend because his friend and fellow Michigan student, Kate Palermo, is hospitalized with cancer. They met in a Chicago hospital in July when Winovich was there for Big Ten media days.
After every big play against Northwestern, Winovich took his hands and made a crown, the sign associated with Palermo’s Michigan sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha.
He said they spent a half hour together and he learned her story and her passion for Michigan and the football program.
“Everything about it inspired me,” Winovich said. “I left with a great appreciation for not only life but the mission this team was on. I knew we were playing at Northwestern and she probably wasn’t going to be able to go. I knew I wanted to do something to help make it special. So I threw up the crown, which is her sorority at Michigan, Zeta, that’s their sign. For me, it’s nothing to throw up something after a sack, but I knew it meant a lot to her and I wanted to make it special for them.”
Winovich is working to continue making this a special season for himself and the Wolverines, who are 4-1 (2-0 Big Ten) and are preparing to face Maryland on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
He does not hide the fact he knows NFL scouts are watching. Winovich (6-foot-2, 255 pounds) is ranked 47th on the CBS Sports 2019 NFL Draft tracker.
“It’s always on my mind,” Winovich said. “It’s one of those things where in the pecking order of things to do, it’s relatively somewhere in the middle. Everything else has to take care of itself.
“For me, I try to go out there and be the best football player I can every day in practice and on the field on Saturday and be the best teammate. Whatever that yields, is what it yields. The trajectory and what I’ve heard and gathered from people is that the trajectory is ascending pretty quickly. So I’m just trying to do my part to make sure it stays that way.”
And he does that, he said, by playing hard. That’s something his teammates notice.
“Chase brings a really gritty attitude,” said Jordan Glasgow, who plays the viper spot. “He’s an extremely hard worker, one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen, and to see that hard work go into the performance he brings every week in practice and in games, obviously, it’s really inspiring as a player that’s looking to become a great one.”
Having that approach is not difficult for Winovich.
"It’s in my blood, it’s in my DNA. I just view myself as a workhorse," Winovich said. “I'm out there working. I'm out there trying to get after it. My parents are really hard workers, probably harder workers than I am. My grandparents were harder workers than me. My great grandparents, working the mills and stuff.
"I take inspiration in all of that. It's not even a choice — it's just who I am. I go out there. Maybe I could ask to come off the field, but I had a job and I intended to do everything in my power to finish that."
Maryland at Michigan
Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
TV/radio: ABC/950 AM
Records: Maryland 4-1, 1-1 Big Ten; Michigan 4-1, 2-0
Line: Michigan by 17