Grateful Mike Danna cherishes his only season with the Wolverines

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It was only a few months ago Mike Danna arrived at Michigan, a graduate of Central Michigan with one year of football eligibility remaining.

Playing at Michigan had always been his dream when he was growing up and through his years at De La Salle, and here he was, finally.  It wouldn’t have been shocking if he had pinched himself a few times just to make sure it was all real.

Mike Danna

The Wolverines have two remaining regular-season games and oh how the weeks have flown. It seemed like a few days ago they were getting ready for the opener and now they’re preparing to play at Indiana on Saturday before returning for the final game against arch-rival Ohio State. For Danna, it has been about improving at his play at defensive end, but mostly it's been about absorbing it all, seizing the day and taking mental snapshots of all he has gone through since joining the team this summer.

“Oh yeah. I always try to live in the moment,” Danna said this week. “That started from the early summer. I knew it was flying by fast. I don't worry about what's going to happen next week, what's going to happen the next day. I just try to worry about what's in front of me right now and kind of just live that moment out. What happens today is gone tomorrow so I just try to live it out and give it the best I can.”

Danna learned to embrace perspective early. After suffering a broken leg early his senior year in high school, he fell off the recruiting radar as teams lost interest. Except Central Michigan.

With the Chippewas last season, Danna won the team’s Herb Deromedi Most Valuable Player award after finishing with 66 tackles, a team-high 15 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks and was first-team All-MAC defense. When the opportunity was presented to attend Michigan for a year, Danna, who earned a degree in entrepreneurship, didn’t have to weigh options. He jumped at the chance.

“As humble a person as I am,” Danna told The Detroit News in February, “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 and off the field.”

Danna no longer needs an introduction. The 6-foot-2, 261-pound senior has proven plenty during his brief time in Ann Arbor. As a defensive end who rotates in significantly and has become extremely versatile during this season under line coach Shaun Nua, he has 30 tackles, three for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble.

“He came in here, everybody thought he was a pass-rusher only,” Nua said Wednesday. “How he’s handled the run game and the role that he’s playing, it’s hard to not start and go in there cold. He’s doing a great job. It comes from his heart of gratitude and the way he approaches things that way.”

Mike Danna has 30 tackles, three for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble.

Danna has enjoyed every minute of the journey with Michigan, that’s evident in his media interviews and his time with teammates and coaches.

“Gratitude is a very special thing and that’s exactly what Mike Danna has,” Nua said. “He appreciates every single thing he gets. Every single moment we go through good or bad and he learns fast from it. I just wish I had him for four more years.”

He speaks with the wistfulness of someone who knows that when people say time flies like a blink of an eye, there really is some deep meaning to that — it’s not just some well-worn cliché.

Danna knew immediately he had made the right decision to be at Michigan and that was only confirmed with the season-opening victory and every game since.

“Just after every win and being able to be with the team in the locker room, it just doesn't get any better than that, just being able to celebrate a ‘W’ in the locker room with the team, with the coaches, and just being around it,” he said. “You just can't beat it.”

Developing greater versatility has also been Danna’s focus this season. He was always an outside rusher at CMU but has moved around at Michigan under Nua’s tutelage.

“Kind of in all different aspects, whether it's pass, pass rush, running, run stopping,” Danna said, when asked where he’s improved. “I feel like my game went to another level. I feel comfortable playing out there, I feel great now, and I feel like there's no hesitation in my game which allows me to play at the fastest pace I can play at. My pass rushing, I feel like, has upgraded, my run stopping, I feel like, has upgraded, so I say all around.”

He is by no means done learning.

“The way (Nua) prepares us for the week has been great,” Danna said. “He's been doing an outstanding job for us. It's what, Week 11? We still got bowl camp, we still have two weeks left. There's still a whole lot more we can do.”

Still a lot more time to grow and develop but it is going quickly, and if anyone on this team understands that, it’s Danna.

“I had big expectations, big team goals, and individual goals,” Danna said. “But just being here has been great. There's nothing I regret. I love being here, I love putting in work with this team, playing for the coaches, playing for my teammates. It's a great environment.”

Michigan at Indiana

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.

TV/radio: ESPN/950

Records: Michigan 18-2, 5-2 Big Ten; Indiana 7-3, 4-3

Line: Michigan by 8.5