Ann Arbor — Carlo Kemp was in a philosophical mood after a Michigan football practice last Friday. He was poised, as always, but deeply thoughtful.
Kemp is all about the moment these days, taking mental snapshots to remember each step of his final season, all while understanding those small details become more meaningful as the long season wears on.
Kemp is a returning starting defensive tackle, a guy who made his move inside before last season count in a big way. He is always chatty with reporters, always sharing what he believes and feels, but after that practice he seemed especially serious and introspective.
This is his last go-around at Michigan, and he wants it all to count. Every bit of it, from the grueling preseason practices, to the grind of the season and, especially, those rivalry games.
“My biggest mindset change has just been, you don’t get these opportunities back,” Kemp said. “Today’s practice I won’t ever get back. I don’t get a camp next year. This day, I won’t have next year. It’s just trying to realize that you don’t get these opportunities anymore. So every single time you go out there, they really matter. When you go out there, you’ve got to make that translate, so you’ve got to build that now. You take that mentality where you make every rep count and you treat it like a game.
“You can’t do that in Week 10 (and say), ‘I’m gonna turn up now. Now I’m going to start doing what I should have been doing the previous weeks.’ That’s not how it works. I’ve been trying to build that and stress that, especially to some of the younger guys, how important every single day at practice is. I know they get long. I know they get repetitive, but these reps are so important because they do translate. When they do translate, they’re gonna lead to big things, especially when you get later on in the season.”
He is the embodiment of that approach.
The 6-foot-3, 286-pound Kemp has turned heads since spring practice, into offseason conditioning and, now, in camp.
“Probably the most improved guy would be Carlo Kemp,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said last week. “Stronger, way faster, confident. Just body language and the whole deal. Leadership. Really playing at a high level.”
Part of that comes from Kemp having been at tackle last season. He understands his role completely and also knows he has the trust of the coaches. His improvement has come from being confident in his role.
“If I believe the play is going to happen, just sticking to it, even if I’m wrong and then just reacting off that,” Kemp said. “Just being able to play confident allows you to play freely. And you’re going out there and you feel like you have no restrictions as long as you’re playing within the defense. Just believing — I see my keys, and I’m just going.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said at Big Ten media days last month he wants to see the interior of the line develop more of a pass rush. Kemp agrees and said he has been watching film of former Wolverine Maurice Hurst to pick up nuances that might help him become more productive in that area. He said he often tries to “mimic” what Hurst did and still does on the NFL level.
Michigan’s defense must replace several starters — ends Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, linebacker Devin Bush and cornerback David Long. Understanding there will be some new starters in the back seven, Kemp said it will be imperative the line as a whole applies more pressure on quarterbacks to allow time for the linebackers and defensive backs to do their jobs.
“I don’t think I did a good job of it,” Kemp said of his role in the pass rush last season. “Trying to take (what Harbaugh said) to heart and realizing that if I do that, I’m able to make this team better. You’ve got to put that on yourself, and you’ve got to realize why you’re doing it. You’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your teammates. If you don’t do that, you put a lot of stress on the linebackers. You’re counting on them now, and then you’re counting on your DBs to be covering for eight seconds, which is hard to do.
“You’ve got to help them in any way you can and try to make their job a little bit easier for them, because they’re working their butts off every single play.”
This all-for-one, one-for-all approach is what Kemp seemed to be constantly getting at.
With that in mind, he reiterated one of his goals is to make sure the younger players understand they should make the most of every minute of every day even when they’re freshmen and sophomores even though they still have plenty of time left in their college careers. This is the philosophy of an older player who is facing his final season, and it certainly is a wise one.
“The biggest thing I’m trying to do now that I’m at my fourth year is just share all the wisdom that I can with all the guys, especially the younger guys, and just telling them and trying to stress how important every single rep is,” Kemp said. “How every single practice is so important. You just don’t get those moments back. And when you’re young you think, ‘Yeah, I’m going to develop. It will be my time. I’ll never be a senior. That time won’t come.' And I swear, in a blink of an eye, here you are — it’s your fourth year and you’ve got one last opportunity to make everything count.
“You don’t get no do-overs. You don’t get to be like, ‘Let’s use that motivation and that pain and that suffering for next year.’ You don’t get that. You’ve got to use everything that you’ve got right now. And I’ve just been trying to stress that because you get one shot at history.”