Michigan walk-on Tyler Cochran cherishes making big play in front of proud father
Ann Arbor — Tyler Cochran knew the decision was up to the refs reviewing the play, but he shared the opinion of most in Michigan Stadium — Tre Avery wasn’t on the ground when he forced and recovered the fumble on the kickoff to open the second half.
His Michigan teammates were celebrating with him, even as the officials reviewed the play in last week’s rout of Rutgers. But somewhere in Michigan Stadium, his father, Brad Cochran, a former Michigan All-American defensive back, anxiously awaited the call.
“I sat there with my head down going, ‘Just give it to him’ when they were doing the review,” Brad Cochran said. “I was just like, ‘Please give him this one.’”
Brad Cochran, in that moment, shed some tears as he watched his son being celebrated by his teammates, much as he had been so many years earlier as a starting defensive back for the Wolverines. Cochran made 36 starts for Michigan from 1983-1985 and had 11 interceptions.
“It was definitely one of the best days of my life,” Tyler Cochran said this week during a break in Michigan's preparations Saturday's game against Iowa. “And really just getting the embrace from my teammates, and Coach (Chris) Partridge, my dad after the game. It was a really good moment. I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life, for sure.”
There are six players on this current Michigan team whose fathers played for the Wolverines, including Aidan Hutchinson (Chris), Daniel Jokisch (Dan), Caden Kolesar (John), Jon Runyan (Jon), and Michael and Will Sessa (Mike).
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play here,” Tyler Cochran said. “Wanted to be like my dad growing up.
“Like a lot of sons, my dad was my hero growing up. I thought my dad was the coolest guy in the world. Played for Michigan, had a chance to play in the NFL for a little bit. I always wanted to be just like my dad. Getting the call from Coach (Jim) Harbaugh as a senior in high school, being able to put on a Michigan uniform just like my dad, it’s really, really special, and I know it’s special for a lot of the other guys that have dads that used to play.”
Growing up, Tyler wasn’t regaled by stories of his father’s on-field achievements. In fact, they haven’t sat down together and watched his highlights. That’s not Brad Cochran’s style. The Michigan team co-captain never boasted of his career, but he did tell his son and daughter, Morgan, now playing soccer at Grand Valley State, about the people he played with and the coaches who groomed them. That’s why he thinks so many sons want to follow in their father’s footsteps.
“It’s a tribute to the program and to Bo (Schembechler) and to Lloyd (Carr), (Gary) Moeller, coaches I loved, Jerry Hanlon, my favorite,” Brad Cochran said. “Guys that came from those programs, that’s what they told their kids about, and who wouldn’t want that?”
Tyler Cochran had a lot of options coming out of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, where he not only helped the team to two state football championships, but he also distinguished himself in track, which he also could have pursued in college. He was a four-time all-state runner in the 400-meter dash, and anchored two championship relay teams. He also was a skilled hockey player who considered going that route.
“He had that opportunity, he was good enough,” Brad Cochran said. “But in the end, he said, ‘Hey, Dad, I’m playing football.’”
Tyler and Morgan mirrored their father’s work ethic. He helps train young athletes and said he has never had to tell his kids to train. They just always did.
“He’s a wonderful kid. He’s way advanced from where I was at his age — I was a little more of a degenerate than him,” Brad Cochran said, laughing. “I didn’t give praise unwarranted. I worked him very hard. (Tyler and Morgan) spent a lot of time with me on the hills and training along with other kids. From an early age, he worked very hard.”
Cochran didn’t do the football camps circuit because he had track and hockey. Still, he and his father visited Yale, which was interested in having him play football there. Air Force offered him a scholarship, and Notre Dame offered him as a preferred walk-on.
“He said, ‘Hey, Dad, Notre Dame fight song. I don’t know,’” Brad said with a laugh.
Finally, Harbaugh, once Brad Cochran’s roommate at Michigan, called Tyler.
“I honestly didn’t think Michigan was an option for me,” Tyler said. “Being a walk-on, it’s difficult. Other places are giving you money, but at the end of the day, I just felt like I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to play here. It was worth paying a little extra money. I had to come here. This was my dream since I was little. When I got the opportunity, I just had to take it.”
Tyler is in the Ross School of Business and will have a year of eligibility remaining after this season. It’s unclear what his next step might be, but he definitely wants another year of football, his father said.
“It gets a little tough; you think you’re going to get more action than he has,” Brad Cochran said. “Being a walk-on is a tougher road to hoe, but he’s enjoyed his time there."
Tyler played in every game last season on special teams and was named the Wolverines’ Most Improved Player on special teams. He gets revved up talking about how important and often overlooked special teams are to the game. On a side note, he said he hates fair catches and wants the returner to take the ball out every play because, well, it’s just more fun that way.
“Field position is a big deal in football, obviously,” Tyler said. “So the kickoff team has a chance every time we kick the ball off to pin them deep as possible. That’s really the goal. Everything else, balls on the ground, big hits, that’s secondary. Field position is the main thing on kickoff and all special teams.”
Partridge, who coordinates special teams, loved seeing Cochran make that play last week. It was a reward for everything he has seen Cochran give the team.
“What else can you ask for as a coach?” Partridge said. “A guy who has walked on here and worked his butt off on scout teams and found a niche, right? Well, how am I going to help this football team if you’re Tyler Cochran. He found out it’s kickoff.
"Then he just worked at it and worked at it and for him to be able to go down and make a huge play like that, you’re proud, you’re happy, you’re gratified he was able to find that niche. Now you’re like, how many other guys can I get, give that opportunity and can seize that opportunity.”
Forcing and recovering the fumble was a highlight for Cochran. Sharing the moment with his father was even more memorable.
“My dad doesn’t say a lot, but you know when he’s proud, and you know when he’s happy,” Tyler said. “He doesn’t give unwarranted praise, so you gotta earn it. Getting that big hug from him definitely meant a lot.”
Brad Cochran finally had an opportunity earlier this week to watch his son's interview. Watching how poised he was and hearing his answers touched him in a way no athletic accomplishment ever could, ever will.
“I’m happy for him. I’ve always been proud, but I’m happy that he had some success. He’s earned it for sure," Brad Cochran said.
"Everybody always says, ‘You must proud,’ and I always have been. I’m more proud of how he answered questions and how he’s turned out. I’ll take that over a fumble recovery any day."