Port Huron — Braiden McGregor likes being first.
The Port Huron Northern defensive lineman, recovering from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee, was the first Michigan commitment in the 2020 class to email his signed letter of intent on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period.
McGregor admitted to getting little sleep Tuesday night in anticipation of this monumental day.
“I kept waking up, ‘Oh my gosh. This is real now,’” he said Wednesday after his signing ceremony at the high school gym with teammates, coaches, friends and family gathered.
His mother, Tara, is a cheery “morning person” and always wakes up her son with some sort of saying. That was easy on this morning as she yelled, “It’s signing day!” as they began what Tara would later describe as a surreal day. Parents and son had strict orders to not hit send on the signed documents until 7 a.m.
“We were holding our phones at 6:57,” she said, laughing.
Three minutes later, McGregor was first.
“As soon as 7 hit, I submitted it,” he said. “I wanted to be the first one, because I’m trying to be the first at certain things. That’s something I wanted to do.”
Why is being first such a big deal?
“I just like being the first in a lot of things,” he said. “I like being the first to run to the drill. I don’t know if it’s leadership, but it’s just something I like doing and being the first person, ’Braiden does this and does that,’ just being able to be the first one to pave the way.”
A few minutes after he paved the way as the first signed member of the 2020 Michigan class, he received text messages from head coach Jim Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Don Brown, tight ends coach Sherrone Moore, who was first to recruit McGregor to Michigan, and defensive line coach Shaun Nua, with whom McGregor has become close.
“It’s a dream come true, honestly,” McGregor said. “I’ve been wanting for three years to be able to sign, and now that I’ve finally been able to sign, it’s awesome.”
McGregor is the second-highest rated recruit in Michigan’s early signing class behind receiver A.J. Henning, a receiver and the No. 1 player in Illinois. He was a three-year starter and two-time captain at Port Huron Northern and set the school record with 227 tackles. Michigan's class is ranked 11th nationally and second in the Big Ten by the 247Sports Composite.
He started the first seven games of the season before suffering a torn MCL, PCL and meniscus in his right knee. McGregor had 32 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and two sacks his final season. Last year, he had 99 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, eight sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions.
“A kid jumped over the pile and as he jumped, my own teammate hit me in the side of the knee,” McGregor said, describing when the injury happened. “When I rolled over — because I landed on my stomach — my leg just kind of dangled. That’s when I knew something was wrong and I tried getting up and I couldn’t get up.”
A week later he had surgery at the University of Michigan hospital. He dealt with the discomfort in those early days, dismissing pain killers because he didn’t like the way they made him feel. His mother described a difficult first couple of weeks when her son, not a video game player but one who prefers to interact with friends and family, before he put all his focus into recovery. He kept weight off the knee for three weeks and now has a brace on the leg, which he will keep until Jan. 5 when he enrolls early at Michigan.
“I’m about a month ahead of schedule,” McGregor said. “At first they were saying I wouldn’t be ready until fall ball, and now they’re saying I’ll be able to do spring ball. That’s a big plus. I start running next month when I get there. I’ll be ready to go by fall for sure.”
He will only be able to participate in individual drills in spring practice, no contact.
As classmates made their way to the Port Huron Northern gym to celebrate with McGregor, one explained that they’ve done this before for other signing days. But nothing, he said, had been as big as this one for McGregor.
Port Huron Northern coach Larry Roelens described his star player as a “gentle giant,” completely unfazed by the attention he has received during recruiting.
“Through this process, he’s had everybody and their brother come through,” Roelens said. “He’s never wavered or changed a bit how he is as a person. In the classroom, on the field with his teammates, his friends, he’s a very down-to-earth kid.”
McGregor said he hasn’t modeled his game off anyone else because he wants to be his own player. He was a longtime hockey player and nearly left football in eighth grade to pursue the game. He stopped playing hockey — he said the aggressiveness used to play that sport, not to mention the footwork, translate well to football — to devote himself to football once he began receiving scholarship offers.
With the “be first” mindset, McGregor said he fully plans to play this fall.
“I’m trying to get on the field as early as possible, no matter what,” he said. “Coach Nua’s been telling me, ‘If you don’t plan on beating (starting ends) Aidan (Hutchinson) and Kwity (Paye), then why are you coming here?’ I’m like, ‘No that’s my plan.’ I know they’re upperclassmen, I look up to them, and they’ve taught me a lot already, but as soon as I get there, I’m excited to be able to compete with get with them in the weight room and get bigger and start getting after it.”
McGregor is an affirmed film junkie and during a visit to Michigan two weeks ago, he watched film with defensive tackle Carlo Kemp. They broke down the Wolverines’ loss to Ohio State.
“Trying to pick things apart we can do better,” McGregor said.
“I love watching film. I just like watching tendencies. I always zoom in on the offensive tackle’s foot and see what he does on certain plays. That’s something I keen in on. I love watching film, especially college film. That’s going to be something I’m going to be on 24/7.”
He attended the Michigan-Ohio State game with several recruits and said he and his fellow freshmen are determined to help snap the Buckeyes’ dominance in the rivalry that includes an eight-game win streak.
“All of us want to beat Ohio State so bad,” he said. “This freshman class that’s coming, our group chat blows up about Ohio State. I think this class is going to change it around.”
That would be another “first” Michigan fans could get behind.