Jim Harbaugh praised Michigan football’s coaching staff during the news conference on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Ann Arbor.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Brady Hoke’s final recruiting class has seen it all.
They were freshmen when Michigan hit rock bottom in 2014, finishing 5-7 and missing a bowl game. They watched as the coach who recruited them was fired.
They’ve seen plenty of highs, too. They’ve helped rebuild the program. Now, the end of their time at Michigan is in sight. This Saturday, they’ll be honored before their game against Indiana as part of Senior Day.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” said defensive tackle Lawrence Marshall. “It still hasn’t hit me yet. I know once that happens, touching the banner for the last time as a player, I might cry. You never know.”
There are many phrases one might associate with former head coach Bo Schembechler.
The most famous of them all: ‘Those who stay will be champions.’
In the past, that phrase rang true more often than not. That changed over the past 15 years as Michigan waits for its next Big Ten title.
This group of seniors? They’re in position to accomplish everything they hoped for when they returned.
“It feels great. You definitely know what the bottom feels like, and you’re getting a taste of what the top feels like,” said fifth-year fullback Jared Wangler. “You really just want to keep that momentum going and do something special that we’ve never done here and none of our teammates have done here. Our goals are ahead of us, and that’s what we’re working to accomplish.”
Of the 17 players who signed with Michigan in 2014, just seven remain: Marshall, Wangler, Chase Winovich, Brandon Watson, Bryan Mone, Noah Furbush and Juwann Bushell-Beatty.
It’s a unique group. When Jim Harbaugh arrived, none of the seven saw the field right away. There were opportunities to transfer to greener pastures.
Last winter, Marshall found himself weighing the pros and cons of returning for a fifth year.
The argument against coming back for another year meant potentially sitting on the bench and not producing.
But there was also a shot at winning the Big Ten title — something that hasn’t been seen in Ann Arbor since 2004 — and a national title.
Marshall saw Winovich’s decision to forego the NFL draft and return for another year. He saw Shea Patterson announce his transfer from Ole Miss to Michigan. On paper, Marshall said, he thought Michigan would have a ‘great team.’
When he spoke with Winovich, Wangler and Watson, it became clear they were all on the same page.
“We all just came up with a plan,” Marshall said. “Our plan was to beat Michigan State, beat Ohio State, go to the Big Ten championship, win that, go to the playoffs, go to the national championship, and we have all that at stake right now.”
When Marshall was still deciding whether to return for his fifth year last winter, Mattison — his position coach — told him a story.
In 1996, Mattison, Michigan’s defensive coordinator at the time, left to take the same job at Notre Dame. The very next season, Michigan won its first national championship since 1948.
“He told me that story, and he said, ‘Lawrence, you don’t want to feel that way leaving and Michigan winning a national championship and you left at the wrong time,’ ” Marshall recalled. “I was like, I don’t want to be that person.’ ”
The conference and national championships have yet to come. But Marshall says his decision to return has already been validated. And if Michigan and its fifth-year seniors do accomplish their goals for the season?
Well, Marshall won’t be telling others the same story Mattison once told him.
Contact Orion Sang: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.