On Jason Avant:
“You know, Jason is one of those guys that you can count on. He is a spiritual leader, so he is always there. He is always spending extra time. You might come into the building at 9am to watch some film and Jason is in the training room sleep or something. Jason is one of those guys that is dedicated to Michigan Football through thick and thin. He’s just one of those guys that you aren’t going to have to worry about telling anything to. He is going to know his stuff on Saturday. You are going to have to go to HIM to figure some things out. Jason is ready this year and he is going to be better than he was last year. Last year was his first year starting. Now that he has that game experience, he is just going to have a ball with it.”
Where are you at in your studies? Will you graduate before you leave?
“Yes, definitely. I’m actually on pace to graduate in three and a half years. I’m going to graduate in December. My grade point is over a 3.0.”
What is your major?
“African American studies with a minor in communications.”
Did that play into your decision to come back?
“Definitely. I was so close, so I felt that coming back would be a great thing. It actually worked to my advantage. In the fall term I got a 4.0, so it is going good for me right now. It will be over soon.”
Will you guys be rolling Gutierrez out a lot and using his mobility to your advantage?
“Definitely, because that is a strength that Matt has. He’s able to use his feet and run. If you have a guy that can move his feet, they are going to design more roll-out plays. John was a stand-in-the-pocket kind of guy. He was the type of guy that was going to stand in there and take that hit… and he was a big guy. Sometime they would hit him and he wouldn’t go down. Matt Gutierrez is a guy that knows he can roll out to the sideline and try to make something happen on the backside, so extra roll-out plays are definitely in there.”
What do you feel like you had to work on to make yourself a better player this season?
“More so the mental aspect of it…taking the mental approach. Physically, everything was there for the most part. I have been here for 3 years so the lifting the running has already been played into me. So the mental approach and getting into better conditioning were the main things. During the off season I used to run a lot of sprints to try and keep my speed up, but never my endurance. That plays a factor in the early season. When you get into the 4th quarter, like in the Oregon game, and you have been running the 2 minute drill for an entire quarter, you get a little winded. You have to be able to go 4 quarters. I ran a lot more miles this summer and I got my endurance up.”
On the receivers helping Gutierrez out this year:
“I think we’re a great safety net. He really doesn’t have too much to worry about. He can pretty much make a bad play, but with the guys around him, it can turn into a decent play…and it won’t ever look like he was lost. With me, Steve, Jason, and not to mention the running game, it’s going to help him out tremendously. A lot of guys that are starting for the first time have to worry about a sub-par line and defensive linemen in their face, on top of being young and trying to learn on the fly. We have a good line so he won’t have too much to worry about there.”
Did you see Ecker and Massaquoi come along last year?
“Definitely, especially Ecker. He had just come back from his mission, and he was out of football for a while. For him to come on like he did… he had that huge catch against Ohio. That pretty much sealed the game for us. He’s one of those guys that we can depend on…one of those guys that will get the ball in his hands and will make something happen. And as for Massaquoi, he is more of the athletic type. He’s faster and he played receiver, so he still has that receiver mind-frame where he will catch the ball and score. That is really not the tight end mind set, but it will work for us.”
As a guy that does rack up numbers and can get attention, do you admire a guy like Dudley, that basically doesn’t and just gets in there and blocks all the time?
“I think Kevin Dudley is the most under appreciated guy on our team through the media aspect of it. Kevin Dudley is a phenomenal guy. He lays his neck on the line every play he’s in there. He has laid into some linebackers, and he made some plays on the outside. Kevin Dudley is one of those guys that inside the program, we really appreciate him.”
More on why he came back:
“I felt that my legacy was incomplete. I wanted to leave a strong mark in the Michigan tradition. When my name is called among those before and after me, I wanted to make sure that my name was right there in a positive light.”
It was written that after the Oregon game you realized that the #1 on your jersey was for Michigan and not for you. What happened to make you realize that?
“That’s something I realized off of the bat. I didn’t just figure it out then. I think that was more so a media perception based on something that was thrown out there. It escalated after that. I avoided the media for a long time after the Oregon game because I told reporter that I messed my finger up during the game. He asked me about what happened and I told him that I tore ligaments in my finger. The next day I read the paper and it said ‘Braylon Edwards makes excuses for the Oregon game.’ It got to the point where I was frustrated. It took me a long time to talk to the media again. But once I stopped thinking about the media and stopped thinking about everything else other than football, things got better. I was never selfish. It was more that I was thinking about too much. I was thinking about trying to make too many plays, trying to be a leader, and just trying to do too much. All I had to do was play football. Once I realized I just needed to play football, I started to be more successful.”
On if he and his teammates like being preseason favorites:
“Definitely, we like to be the target. Everyone is gunning for us. They see the winged-helmet or the maize and blue and they attack. We’re always the main highlight of every team’s schedule. What it does for us is make us go into each game prepared. It doesn’t make us think that any game is less important than another. Being on everyone’s hit list, it keeps us where we need to be. It never makes us not think about what we need to do to get it done. We always come prepared, and we always play every team like they are Ohio State.”
What is it like playing at Ohio State?
“It’s a crazy environment. The fans in Columbus really don’t care about anything but Ohio State football, so they will say anything to throw you off your game. And when you come to the stadium, they let you know what it’s about. They are screaming and they are ready. You can’t really prepare for that atmosphere if you’ve never been there. I’ve been there once, so I kind of know what it was about. But the atmosphere at Ohio State is like no other, especially with the rivalry. You have two very prideful teams and when they clash, it’s something special. I believe that playing my last Big 10 conference game at Ohio State is a privilege and it’s something that I look forward to. If you can come out victorious, that’s something great. 105,000 quiet people is a great feeling. That’s definitely what we want to try to do this year. We’ll let it come to us and what happens happens. We just want to make sure we play hard.”
Did you know that you wanted the #1 when you were being recruited?
“I wanted the #1 ever since I was a little kid. My father played at Michigan, so I knew about #1, what it meant, and what it symbolized. I told myself that if I ever made it to Michigan, that’s the number I wanted. From the time I crossed the threshold and saw #80 in my locker, I was destined to change it. I told myself that it was temporary. I took forever, but I made it happen. I kept asking Coach Carr and kept getting on his nerves. I guess one day he just got tired of me asking and told me that I could have it. I asked him the day I got to camp freshman year, after that season was over, before my sophomore year, and then after the season sophomore year. It didn’t happen until after the Outback Bowl when I caught him in the locker room. I snuck him after the game and caught him while he was excited and overjoyed about winning the game. He told me yes. He was probably a little upset about it later, but I got him (laughing).”
More on the significance of the #1:
“He’s the guy that’s trusted on the team. He has the respect of the coaches, the trust of the players, and the support of the fans. He’s the guy that has the responsibility of making plays, setting an example, and being a leader. Not only a vocal leader, but also being a guy that other players can watch and know that he’s doing the right thing…whether that be not staying out all night, studying plays, going to class, or playing well on the field…whatever it takes. #1 is the guy that sets that standard. There’s no room for me to slack off...especially in my last year. I have to do everything by the book. It’s strenuous and it’s a tough responsibility, but it something I asked for and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”