UM tailback Tru Wilson slithers way into impact role

Nolan Bianchi
Special to The Detroit News
Michigan running back Tru Wilson runs the ball in the fourth quarter against Wisconsin.

Ann Arbor — Ahead of his team’s rivalry matchup with Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday, Michigan tailback Tru Wilson wants to make something very clear: He is not, in fact, scared of his own pet snake.

The Wolverines' second-leading rusher on Monday disputed the claims of running-backs coach Jay Harbaugh, who said Wilson’s only fear is the pair of ball pythons he and senior teammate Karan Higdon bought together earlier this year.

“I wouldn’t say we’re scared of them,” Wilson said. “They don’t really form a bond with you, they don’t really care if you’re there or not, but like, we love them.”

Harbaugh’s playful comment about the 5-foot-10 junior descended from a flurry of compliments concerning Wilson’s improvement in pass-protection, which was put on display in a viral clip of the undersized rusher putting two consecutive Maryland defenders on their backs during a Week 6 victory over the Terps.

“It’s fun to see all the hard work kinda be on display in a way that everybody notices," said Harbaugh, "because that’s kind of an unheralded thing."

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The inspiration for Wilson and Higdon’s pets was drawn from Wilson’s fascination with eccentric celebrities who own equally exotic animals, namely boxing legend Mike Tyson’s tiger and actor Nicholas Cage’s $150,000 octopus.

Wilson’s python is named Mako (Higdon’s is called Poncho), after his favorite animal and the fastest shark in the ocean. While he admits he’s “not the fastest guy on the field,” he confronts pass rushers as if he’s toe-to-toe with an ocean predator that has the ability to smell blood in the water. 

“If you see that guy coming, and you’re fearful of him, he can sense that, he can see what your body language is like,” Wilson said.

“That’s just another advantage he has to beat you.”

Wilson hasn't been the only pass-protector to step up his game as the season has progressed. Several coaches and players noted that the offensive line has vastly improved, and that every member of the Michigan offense has benefited from it.

But Wilson's journey to holding a crucial role, in any capacity, in Saturday’s showdown at Spartan Stadium is one of the more interesting.

The son of a retired United States Marine, Wilson received little interest from Division I schools and joined the Wolverines as a walk-on after graduating from local high school Warren De La Salle. He was awarded a scholarship over the summer, and has since continued to climb the depth chart.

While he’s impressed with his 6.1 yards per carry in the six games he’s seen action, it’s Wilson’s commitment to perfecting his blocking technique that has kept him on the field.

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“Throughout the spring and fall, playing against the best defense in America,” Harbaugh said, “there were numerous times where he steps up and makes a big pickup.”

“You’re like, ‘Ok, wow.’ This guy’s really worked hard at this and it’s paying off.”

Now, Saturdays in Ann Arbor are narrated by a drawn-out cheer of his first name, “Truuuuuuu,” whenever he touches the ball.

After playing just one snap his freshman and sophomore seasons, Wilson said the thought of making a difference in a rivalry he grew up down the road from is surreal.

“Growing up, just going to school, seeing the green and white and the maize and blue walking through the hallways, and now, having a chance to play in it, it’s crazy,” Wilson said. “Hopefully I can make some of my own memories in this game.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.