Fearless Wolverines set sights on 'magical' season

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan tight end Jake Butt said the Wolverines don't fear or worry about any other team.

After months of hype and lofty projections from some national college football pundits, the season finally begins for Michigan.

The No. 7-ranked Wolverines open their season Saturday against Hawaii (0-1) as nearly six-touchdown favorites — give or take a few points — at Michigan Stadium. It’s the first of five straight home games for the Wolverines.

Michigan players have heard all the preseason chatter, some saying UM is a national playoff contender, while others have tempered expectations and say the Wolverines are a year away.

They’re not paying attention to any of that.

“You can’t win the Big Ten championship without winning the game right in front of you,” senior tight end and co-captain Jake Butt said. “You can’t get to the College Football Playoff without winning Game 1. We’re going to have a target on our back this fall and we know that. Everyone that comes into our stadium is going to be playing their best against us and trying to knock us off. We saw that last year. We fought in some really close games. Some of them we lost, some of them we won. The goal this year is to win them all.

“I don’t think we’re chasing anybody. I don’t think we fear anybody or we worry about anybody or we’re trying to play catch up. I think we realize we probably do have a target on our back just from how much attention this program gets for different things we’ve been doing. Even before that, even in my first two years, teams would come into Michigan Stadium and it would make their season to beat us. That’s what we expect.”

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Senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis said the Wolverines have concentrated on their work during the preseason. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh kept the players on their toes throughout camp by not informing them what the next day of camp would hold until they received a text each night, usually close to midnight.

Sure, they’ve heard the hype, but they don’t dwell on it.

What’s the point? They actually believe they’re pretty good, so why do they need to hear it from outsiders?

“We play football,” Lewis said. “We don’t look at the media. We don’t do anything to add fuel to the fire. We go out there and work. That’s what we do every single day. We practice and we go out there and play on Saturdays. Everything else, outside influences, they don’t really matter because everything that matters is everything that happened Monday through Friday.”

Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten championship since 2004. They’re coming off a 10-3 season in Harbaugh’s first season and have bought into his methods.

At the top of that list is the grueling four-hour spring practices and the football immersion in preseason camp, both implemented by Harbaugh last year.

“He doesn’t take any days off,” Butt said. “He doesn’t ask any of us to do anything he’s not willing to do himself. He forces us to be tough. When you’re out there practicing four hours smashing into each other, you don’t have any choice but to be tough.”

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For a program and a group of current seniors eager to win and fulfill their promise, the four-hour practices have become a symbol of toughness and durability as well as intense bonding and learning.

They eagerly followed Harbaugh’s methods their first spring together and won 10 games, although there were losses to rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. Based on that success, the players are firm believers and ready to take another step forward this season.

“You’re going through four-hours of practice, you’d better get it together or you’re going to injure yourself if you don’t perform to your best ability,” Lewis said. “He forced us into that madness, that genius. That’s something I will be appreciative of, because it brought something to the table that I hadn’t seen.

“I knew he wasn’t doing those four-hour practices for no reason. I knew there was a method to his madness. After you saw those 10 wins we knew we could be something special and once we knew that, we bought it. We saw like, ‘Yeah, these four-hour practices aren’t so bad when you tally up wins.’ Trying to be a part of something special and that’s what he’s bringing back, something magical in Ann Arbor.”

If the Wolverines are to experience that magic, it begins Saturday against Hawaii.

“I’ve been with most of the guys in my class three, four years,” Butt said. “This is the reason we all came together as a class. If we put in the work this year, we work hard, we prepare the way I know we’re capable of, we can have a real special season.”

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