It happened 10 months ago, but Ondre Pipkins remember it just like it was yesterday.
“I was running to the ball,” said Pipkins. “It was game five I believe, the Minnesota game. I was running to the ball and I got clipped on (the right) shoulder. While I was running I was getting hit (and) my left knee was planted in the ground. So it just tweaked and it popped and tore my ACL.”
The work that Pipkins put into his return is evident in his slimmed down physique. He now tips the scales at just over 300 pounds, a weight he says he hasn’t seen “since middle school.”
“It was a mindset thing,” he said. “Another thing… it was just coming out ready to work every day and giving it your all. Sometimes you have to do a little extra to keep that wind up. I feel pretty good at this weight and I feel like it is going to help me (to have more) endurance and go longer and play a couple of more plays at a time.”
But that’s not his only area of improvement. Pipkins also spent some his rehab time refining his technique, and now he is reaping the positive dividends in practice.
“(I) didn’t have as good of hands last year as I feel like I do now. Running to the ball, that can get better. Playing the blocks and getting off blocks. If you watch film from last season, I really couldn’t get off blocks as good. Now we’re working on getting off block, shedding blocks a lot more every day in practice. That is where I took the next step and that is why I feel like I’m a better player than I was last year. I’m getting my technique down instead of just going, I’m planning my technique now.”
“I feel like I’m back and I feel like I’m better than I was before I left. That’s always a good thing. I compare my film last year to this year’s film and camp, I feel pretty good and I feel like I’m definitely ready to take that next step to help this team win.”
Michigan headman Brady Hoke mentioned his plan to limit Pipkins during two-a-days, but the third-year lineman insists that that is strictly a precautionary measure. He believes the physical aspect of his recovery is complete. What’s left is mental, and he has made great strides there also.
“It feels great,” stated Pipkins. “I can’t explain it. I’m just happy to be out there with my team… back out there playing football again. It’s a blessing to be back.”
“The first day I was more like… hesitant a little bit, but I was like, ‘okay it’s fine now… you’ve got to run.’ So the first day back I was just focusing on running to the ball. Now I’m focusing on getting off the block and using my left leg more. It’s the mental part that you’ve got to get past and it’s still a current thing every day. I’ve just got to keep going every day and keep giving it your best.”
That approach has put him in prime contention for a prominent role on a newly deep defensive front. Based on what he has seen in camp thus far Pipkins expects his unit’s development, and that of the entire defense, to mirror his own.
“Just about everybody (is standing out),” he said. “Willie Henry… that guy can play. Of course, the leaders on the defense as far as Frank Clark, Raymon Taylor, Blake Countess, Jake Ryan, Brennen Beyer. All those guys, when they come they put in their timecards every day and try to come in and work. That’s what you need on this defense. The young guys see that and they’re following suit. They are coming in and working this year.”
Ondre Pipkins and Willie Henry
That too signifies improvement according Pipkins.
“We’re together,” he said. “We know how to communicate. We just go out there and do what we do. We run to the rock and we try to pride ourselves on pad level, good technique, using our hands. As a whole we are all just out there enjoying each other. Being around each other makes us happy. We’re just like a big clique. We roll together, we talk, we eat together. It’s just more of a (family) environment. You don’t have a set of guys over here, a set of guys over there. There’s leadership all around from the young guys up to the older guys. That is what you need on defense to win. If somebody has to take a play out, naturally (the next guy has) got to come in and give the same effort if not more. That’s how it is.”
“That’s how our defense is this year.”
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