Michigan’s Rashan Gary discusses how he and his family handled the criticism while he was out with a shoulder injury, Nov. 6, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Michigan offensive tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty looked horrible — totally out of place — on the basketball court.
“The first time I saw Juwann,” Chris Partridge said, “he was dribbling a basketball for the basketball team the summer before his freshman year, with two hands, trying to get down the court.”
At the time, Partridge was the head football coach at Paramus Catholic (N.J.) High School. He looked at this massive young man — about 350 pounds — and saw a football player.
“Can I please just have him?” Partridge said to the Paramus basketball coach. “Let’s not waste our time.”
“Go ahead,” the basketball coach said.
Nine years later, Bushell-Beatty is the starting offensive tackle at Michigan, and Partridge is Michigan football‘s special teams coordinator.
“I saw a guy, who through struggles, wouldn’t quit,” Partridge said. “He kept pushing. I saw a determination. He had a strong desire, and he loved the game.”
It hasn’t been a smooth journey for Bushell-Beatty, but it’s an important story because his improvement is at the heart of why Michigan has been so successful this season.
There is a prevailing national narrative about the Wolverines. It goes something like this: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh finally has a quarterback to go with a great defense.
Certainly, there is some truth in that. But that’s not the whole truth.
The real story behind Michigan’s success this season starts with a drastically improved offensive line. Part of the success can be attributed to new offensive line coach Ed Warinner, but it is also a testament to the progress of the five players on that line — both individually and collectively. Each one has his own story.
But today, let’s dig into one story.
About the kid who struggled to dribble a basketball.
A rough start
Bushell-Beatty gave up basketball and went out for the football team at Paramus.
But he struggled.
“I just remember after his freshman year, I sat him down,” Partridge said. “Does this kid want to keep playing? It was a struggle for him early. When I sat him down, I’ll never forget this, I asked him, ‘What do you want out of your football career? What do you want? Do you want this?’ He looked me dead in the eye and he said, “I want to get a college scholarship.’ “
“ ‘It’s going to take a helluva lot of work, more work than a lot of other people are going to have to do,’ ” Partridge said. “Then, from that point on, I knew I could push him as hard or as long as I wanted to. He wanted to be pushed. For the next two years, after practice, he would get on the treadmill and walk and be with the offensive line coach. He got better and better and better. It’s a lot like his college career.”
Yes, it is like his college career.
From a rough start to a fantastic finish.
Bushell-Beatty was redshirted in 2014 and played in only four games in 2015. He appeared in eight games as a redshirt sophomore — mostly on the field-goal unit.
He started seven games as a redshirt junior in 2017 on an offensive line that was among the worst in the Big Ten.
Partridge met with Bushell-Beatty last winter, trying to motivate him to lose weight.
“I made a little wager with him,” Partridge said. “If he wasn’t to this (certain) weight by this date, then he would have to go vegan. He was like, ‘No way.’
“So he cut his weight down.”
Then, they changed the bet.
And he lost more weight.
Now, he is listed at 318 pounds.
“He got it,” Partridge said. “He made every goal. He really didn’t want to go vegan.”
Same line. New identity.
This journey has one more twist.
One last negative before everything flipped.
The Wolverines opened the season with a loss at Notre Dame.
“My thoughts are, ‘You didn’t play well; I’m not satisfied with it,’ ” Bushell-Beatty said. “From that week on, we took the bull by the horns and we knew we had to put better stuff on tape.”
From that point, the Wolverines have been unstoppable, ripping off eight straight wins, taking over first place in the Big Ten East and dominating at the line of scrimmage.
Bushell-Beatty is quick to credit Warinner: “I think coach Warinner has played a big role in getting me to this point,” he said. “I think coach Warinner taking the time to simplify things in the beginning, having a certain mentality about how we play ball and finish.”
Yes, it’s about the finish.
Which is the story of Bushell-Beatty’s nine-year journey.
After the Wolverines beat up Penn State, 42-7, in the Big House, Harbaugh praised Bushell-Beatty. “I know (athletic director) Warde Manuel watches the offensive line intently,” Harbaugh said. “He thought (right tackle) Juwann Bushell-Beatty had his best game of the season. Which is really good, because we were just saying we thought he had his best game of the season two weeks ago.”
Heading home to Jersey
Every now and then, the Jersey Boys meet up in practice.
One on one.
Rashan Gary, Michigan’s preseason All-American defensive lineman, lines up against Bushell-Beatty.
“My Jersey guy, my Jersey brethren,” Gary said. “Juwann, I know when I go against him in pass pro (protection), he’s become more patient, more patient.”
“Sometimes, he’ll be aggressive and shoot his hands, and I’ll get them down,” Gary said.
“But it’s like, ‘Alright, now what are you going to do, Rashan?’ Now, I got to make the move, and he counters it. So it’s a great battle, and he’s getting better.”
“I’m happy to see what he’s doing. He’s out there preforming, playing his best ball.”
Patience is an interesting concept for this offensive lineman, who has been on a slow, steady journey to this place.
“I think that’s probably one of the biggest things for me, just focusing on being patient,” Bushell-Beatty said.
He was talking about techniques, but there was a bigger lesson to be learned.
All that matters is the finish.
Not the start.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.