De La Salle's Tru Wilson seizes walk-on label and runs with it for Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Initially, upon his arrival at Michigan in 2016, Tru Wilson admits it was intimidating being a walk-on out of nearby Warren De La Salle, not recruited by the Wolverines but determined to make a mark on the football team.

Michigan running back Tru Wilson runs the ball in the fourth quarter.

Wilson has tried different roles, but Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh suggested he move to running back. That has paid off. The 5-foot-10, 202-pound junior earned a scholarship, awarded during preseason camp, and had six carries for 54 yards, contributing to the 308 rushing yards the Wolverines had last Saturday against Western Michigan.

Michigan had 74 players play against WMU, including 18 who started their careers as walk-ons.

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“He was going to be a defensive back and then after some weeks he said he really wanted to concentrate as a running back,” Harbaugh said of Wilson during his weekly Monday news conference. “We don’t mandate what position a guy plays. He went over at running back and just started climbing the depth chart ever since that early move from defense to offense. He had a real inflection point hit right around spring ball, early spring ball where he just was getting better and better, running well and physically running good, through arm tackles. And that progressed.

“I thought his vision got a lot better in training camp. He really was taking coaching early through training camp and he hit another spot, inflection point, where he just went straight up. Those two times of the year really stand out, early spring ball and about eight, nine days into training camp. He’s really seeing things well. Big improvement. He’s not running into the thick of the defender anymore. He’s able to see the hole. He’s able to go for the soft shoulder of the defender rather than try to take him right down the middle. His pass protection is very good. It’s all been good. Continuing to improve. A team favorite.”


Wilson decided to walk on because he needed to find out for himself whether he could do this at a program like Michigan.

“It was a great opportunity to prove to myself and to the world what I’ve got, what I can do,” Wilson said Monday. “I was just ready for it. I wanted to do it.”

He wanted to prove he could play football at this level. He always knew it wouldn’t be easy.

“You’re not the man when you come here. You’ve got to earn that,” he said. “You’ve got to be patient and know your role at the time and know that there are going to be times you’re going to be able to build off it.

“It’s not easy to come in as a walk-on because nobody expects you to do well with the guys they’re bringing in. You’ve got to be consistent with everything you do. You have to make the most of the opportunities you’ve got because you’re not going to get that many. Once you have one opportunity, you make the most out of that one and it keeps building and building and building. You’ve got a lot of opportunities in spring ball and fall camp, all that. It’s not easy, but you’ve got to be mentally and physically prepared for it.”

There have been a lot of ups and downs, he said, but Wilson said his approach has always been positive. He has relied on his parents for their support, venting to them when he’s needed, and always he has rebounded.

Never, he said, has he thought he made a mistake going to Michigan as a walk-on.

“I wouldn’t say I second guessed it,” Wilson said. “I knew there was going to be a lot of troubles coming here as a walk-on because you’ve got to make the most of every opportunity. I would never second guess it because I feel this is the best place for me to be here academically and with football. This is definitely the best place for me.”

And he never considered moving on when times were tough because that’s not how he was raised. No one in his family, he said, has quit anything.

“My parents had me when they were 18,19, so they’ve led the way for the person that I am,” he said. “So I couldn’t quit knowing what they’ve been through to get me where I’m at.”

Wilson said he knew in the spring he’d get playing time, and that was reinforced during preseason camp.

“I guess I would say spring that maybe it’s a possibility (to play),” Wilson said. “I didn’t know how many guys are going to rotate, I didn’t know where I’m going to end up falling in the depth chart. I just play it game by game wherever they need me. The Notre Dame game I didn’t get any carries. Western Michigan once they told me I’m going to get some carries, I just knew I had to make the most out of my opportunity like I have been since I’ve been here.”

Also during preseason camp he learned he had earned a scholarship. Harbaugh had mentioned that possibility early on, and Wilson worked harder to make that a reality.

Wilson found out about the scholarship during a team meeting.

“Wow, it’s really paying off, all this stuff I’m doing, all the extra work,” Wilson said of his reaction when Harbaugh said a scholarship was a possibility. “I really took it to heart and wanted to get on scholarship and wanted to get on the depth chart and really work my way up. I was of course happy I got one. It’s helped with a lot of stresses that could have been (for his family).”

Informing his parents of the scholarship was a highlight, but he gave his father another gift after the team’s spring trip to Paris that included a visit to the D-Day beaches of Normandy. His father, Mike, recently retired from the United States Marine Corps.

Wilson brought his father some sand from the beach and also presented him an American flag, one of two that the Wolverines took to the American cemetery at Normandy.

“It was a humbling experience, and to give that to him and share that with him,” Wilson said, “there’s nothing like it.”