'An everything school': Amidst spring football, March Madness gets new meaning at Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It is the middle of spring football for Michigan, but there’s all sorts of madness of the March variety surrounding the players who are focused on preparing for the upcoming season and working to prove last year’s success wasn’t a one-time thing.

Still, while they’re putting in the work, the players are taking time to enjoy NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 runs by the Michigan men’s and women’s basketball teams, not to mention Big Ten championships won over the weekend by the women’s gymnastics and hockey teams, and a runner-up finish in the wrestling NCAA championships with an individual title by UM’s Nick Suriano.

Michigan tight end Joel Honigford reacts after a touchdown by Michigan against Maryland during the first half of Saturday's college football game in College Park, Md. Michigan won 59-18.

Defensive back R.J. Moten said several of the football players attended Michigan’s women’s second-round NCAA Tournament win Monday night that launched the Wolverines into the Sweet 16. Tight end Joel Honigford said he doesn’t like labeling Michigan as a “football school." It smarted when, in 2020 after the football team’s 2-4 season, the program was overlooked.

“Basketball, obviously very exciting to watch, wrestling and hockey it’s fantastic, gymnastics, we’ve been able to watch it here and there,” Honigford said Tuesday during a news conference. “It’s exciting because people like to look at Michigan and say, for example the 2020 season, ‘Oh, Michigan’s a basketball school.’ Well, Michigan’s an everything school, and it’s pretty cool to be a part of that.”

Honigford, an offensive lineman-turned-tight end, was part of Michigan football’s turnround season last year, 12-2, a Big Ten championship, the first for the program since 2004, and a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals where its season ended by eventual national champion Georgia.

More: Hunter Dickinson shining for Michigan basketball on game's biggest stage

That was a large reason why he decided to return for a sixth season, an opportunity, he said, to attempt to close the gap even more with the goal of a national title.

“The main reason is you can't play Michigan football your whole entire life,” Honigford said when asked why he decided to return. “There's certain things in life where it's time-limited. I can play golf up until my 60s and 70s, but I can't run onto the field and slice block guys for the rest of my life.

“Last year was a big year for me, stepping into a new position and finding some success for myself and knowing that I can build off of that this year and also be a part of something great, because last year we made it to where we were, obviously. We closed that big gap, so now the gap is a lot smaller to close, and that is that next step that we have to take. And I think a lot of the guys last year set the standard for where we needed to go, but obviously we need to raise that bar a little bit. I’m not standing here a national champion, and that is the ultimate goal.”

While there are some massive holes to fill on defense, Michigan returns much of its offense from last season, minus Hassan Haskins, whose 20 rushing touchdowns set a program single-season record, center Andrew Vastardis and right tackle Andrew Stueber.

Starting quarterback Cade McNamara returns, as does J.J. McCarthy, whose competition for the starting job is delayed while he rehabs a shoulder issue. Running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards are back, as is a large contingent of speedy receivers, including Roman Wilson, A.J. Henning and Andrel Anthony, as well as early enrollee freshmen Darrius Clemons, Tyler Morris and Amorion Walker, who have received considerable praise this spring. Among the tight ends, Erick All returns, along with Luke Schoonmaker, Carter Selzer and Honigord.

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) started all 12 games last season over J.J. McCarthy (9). According to head coach Jim Harbaugh, the signal-caller battle won't be settled until week 3.

On paper, the challenge would seem to be how to keep everyone happy with touches, but Honigford said that suggests selfishness, and that’s not part of this offense’s makeup.

“The main reason is because nobody’s asking for it for themselves,” Honigford said. “It’s a lot of fun watching other guys do their thing, what they’re good at. We have a lot of different tools, a lot of different guys who are good at different things. Even if you just look inside the tight end room, between me, Schoony, Erick, Carter, we’re all different tight ends. It’s fun to watch and it’s fun to be a part of.

“So I think having that throughout the whole entire offense allows for everybody to be able to share it. We don’t have any greedy guys. We didn’t have any last year either. I think it’s encouraging to see that, with the new guys coming in, that they’re buying into that and they just want to be a part of that success as a unit as opposed to individually.”

More: Athletic director Warde Manuel looks to replace Michigan Stadium's video scoreboards

Honigford said the tight ends, who have a new position coach this season in Grant Newsome, the former Michigan offensive lineman, add another layer to the offense.

“You can't look at our offense and be like, ‘Oh, they only have receivers. Oh, they only have tight ends. They only have running backs,’” he said. “We have a lot of guys who display a lot of different tools, like the tight end room. There’s a lot of different players in the tight end room. I think it's important that our tight ends as well as myself know how to block. Because then when you do run a route, there's no tendency there. You can do both. 

“And that's important. We don’t have one guy who's just like, ‘Oh yeah, they just put them on the field to catch passes.’ Erick All catches a lot of passes, Luke Schoonmaker can catch a lot of passes. But those guys, you see them slice back on defensive ends. They’re hitting them. I think that's important because you can't just pinpoint one thing that we do.”

That, Honigford said, will be the key to the entire offense this season. The Wolverines are working to fine-tune details and sharing the ball while not allowing opponents to determine what the Wolverines do best because they want to do it all well.