Mike Danna grew up in metro Detroit, attended Warren De La Salle and had always dreamed of playing football for Michigan.
But after suffering a broken leg early in his senior season, he fell off the recruiting radar as teams lost interest. Except Central Michigan. Danna, a defensive end, was a first team All-Mid-American conference defense selection after his performance with the Chippewas last fall. He finished with 65 tackles, including 14 for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also had two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.
After graduating from CMU in May with a degree in entrepreneurship, Danna will relocate to Ann Arbor. He announced this week he will play his graduate transfer year at Michigan, where he will be immediately eligible this fall.
“It’s a blessing,” Danna said Wednesday night. “As humble a person as I am, I’m taking it as an opportunity to prove to everybody what I can do on the field and off and show who Mike Danna is on off and the field.”
And who exactly is the 6-foot-2, 257-pound defensive end?
“I’m a genuine, humble, respectful person,” he said. “My parents instilled respect in me at a young age, and that’s one of my core principles. I’m a down-to-earth person willing to help anyone or anything. I feel you have to give back, and that’s who I am. Good things happen to good people.”
On the field, however, nice-guy Danna transforms.
“When the helmet comes on, it’s a complete 180,” Danna said. “It’s a different guy. I don’t try to make friends when I’m on the field.”
Danna feels he has more to prove. After entering the transfer portal, he drew considerable interest but narrowed his choices to Michigan and UCLA. After visiting Michigan this month with his family, he felt like this was the place where he could blossom even more. He met with defensive coordinator Don Brown and new defensive line coach Shaun Nua, and spent time with head coach Jim Harbaugh and several of the players.
“Don Brown is a wizard,” Danna said. “He’s smart guy. Had a chance to sit down with him, and he told me what I can do for Michigan football and what Michigan football can do for me. And Nua, that’s a really down-to-earth dude. A real genuine nice guy. He looks at you as a family member and not just a coach. He talks to you about real-life things, not just football. He’s an incredible guy. He has a good aura around him.”
He will add depth to a position group that needs a veteran presence now that Rashan Gary, who had one year of eligibility remaining but is projected as an early first-round NFL Draft selection, and Chase Winovich, voted the team’s MVP last season, are preparing for the next stage of their football careers.
Danna will join a group that includes Kwity Paye, expected to step into the role vacated by Gary, and Josh Uche, along with Aidan Hutchinson, who earned playing time last season as a freshman.
He understands there are no guarantees but is confident he can be a starter.
“Of course,” he said. “I think I have a good chance. But Coach Harbaugh let it be known everything has to be earned. That’s my language. I’m about competing, I’m about hard work. I don’t want the starting job handed to me. I want to shed my blood and sweat to feel I earned it.”
There’s always room for improvement, and Danna knows he’s far from a finished product. He said he wants to work on being a more consistent player.
“Everyone can be more consistent at what they do to be more efficient and effective,” Danna said. “I want to work on being a grinder, a person who hustles every single play and be a fighter. Not that I’m not a fighter, but there’s always more than can be added to arsenal. I’m open to coaching, and to adding tools to my toolbox.”
Now that he’s no longer part of the Chippewas program, Danna is on his own working out. He can’t use the CMU facilities and won’t be participating in spring practice.
He said he has no problem being disciplined and gets up early for a workout, goes to class, and then gets in another workout in the evening.
“I try to work out twice a day. Why not?” he said. “It’s all about me and about me wanting to do it myself. I shouldn’t have to have someone tell me I have to work out at a certain time. I have to do it on my own. That helps me mature. In the NFL, you don’t have team activities in the offseason, and this time now is like how it would be in the NFL in the offseason. You have to get it done yourself."
Danna will be in Ann Arbor this week to begin getting acclimated to the program and his new teammates. He plans to attend the Michigan-Michigan State basketball game at Crisler Center.
He has never been to a game at Michigan Stadium. Danna, who will wear No. 4 for the Wolverines, said he can’t comprehend what emotions he will experience when he finally runs out of the tunnel wearing the winged helmet.
“I have no idea what it will be like, but I can’t wait to be a part of something like that,” Danna said.