Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye on the challenge of playing Alabama in the Citrus Bowl. The Detroit News
Winter Park, Fla. — It was old news for Aidan Hutchinson when fellow Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye announced Thursday night he will be returning for his final season.
Hutchinson had seen the graphic Paye wound up using on social media to share his decision a week ago, so the big reveal was something they already had enjoyed.
“I'm thrilled, I'm thrilled,” Hutchinson said Friday after Michigan’s first practice in Florida preparing for the New Year’s Day Citrus Bowl. “It's really cool to have him back and to resume the Salt and Pepper era.”
Paye said early in the season that Salt and Pepper was the nickname he and Hutchinson shared.
“I want to continue to be a contributor for this team,” Paye wrote in a statement on Twitter. “I want to grow my game and help my teammates grow theirs while learning all I can from our coaching staff. I want to finish my degree next fall, earn a third academic All-Big Ten award and continue to experience college life.
“I want to help this team win more games and push for even bigger and better things. Most importantly, I want to finish my last year at Michigan with my brothers.”
Paye and Hutchinson shared the team award as best defensive lineman this past season. After the awards show, Paye told reporters he would submit for an NFL grade from the College Advisory Committee. But he said he was leaning toward returning to Michigan.
Hutchinson, a sophomore, is completing his first full season as a starter and is tied for third in tackles with 63, has 8 1/2 tackles for loss, 4 1/2 sacks, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Paye has 49 tackles this season and 12 1/2 tackles for loss and 6 1/2 sacks
“We're returning, what, nine of 11 maybe,” Hutchinson said. “It's going to be really fun to watch next season. I'm really excited”
There have been strong indications defensive tackle Carlo Kemp will be back for another season. Kemp, according to Paye, played in the Ohio State game on badly injured ankles and feet. During the brief practice session media watched Friday, Kemp was doing individual work.
Hutchinson was coy when asked about Kemp returning. He smiled and decided a non-answer answer would be his best option.
“I don't know, I don't know,” Hutchinson said, smiling. “That's his news to share if he's coming back or not. I don't really know.”
Having Kemp, a co-captain, return would be a boost for Michigan which is thin at defensive tackle.
“It would be huge,” Hutchinson said. “He's really the anchor of our defense. He doesn't get any of the love because he's taking double teams, but he does a phenomenal job and it goes unnoticed a lot of the time.”
'Bring the popcorn'
Cornerback Ambry Thomas on facing leading Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith: “It’s going to be a great matchup for me. I’m not backing down. I expect him to come ready to play just (like) I’m ready to come to play. It’s going to be a great game. Bring the popcorn and all that.”
Practice, then fun
The Wolverines had a team outing at Universal Studios after practice. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is featured at Universal, and Hutchinson was eager to visit.
“I'm pumped. I'm so pumped. I can't wait,” he said. “I love Harry Potter. I've been here before.”
Hutchinson was asked if there’s anyone on the team afraid to go on rides at the parks.
“(Dave) Ojabo was just telling me he was scared as hell,” Hutchison said. “Yeah, he just told me when we were stretching. He thought he was weird because he was the only one who was scared of roller coasters.”