In recent decades it has become far more common to see true freshman step into major college programs and make an immediate impact on the football field. Skill position athletes often enter with the kind of physical ability that allows them to contribute from day one. One position group that doesn’t experience that kind of early success quite as often, though, is offensive line. Rarely does a true freshman come in with the sheer size, strength, and quick-study ability to be an early factor in the offensive trenches at any major college program, let alone Michigan. But that’s exactly what Just Boren did last season.
"His dad (Mike Boren) played here,” Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr said regarding his second year offensive lineman. “(Mike) was a tough, smart, and competitive guy. Justin is the same. He's extremely powerful. He walked in here a year ago as a true freshman, and he was big enough, strong enough and tough enough that he would have played a bigger role had he not been hurt early in training camp and missed four or five weeks."
Boren recovered from his early season ankle injury to see action in five games at both left and right guard, and even earned a start on the right side versus Northwestern. His power and quickness made him a huge asset at the guard position, and in 2007, he was poised to fulfill the promise he had shown as a high school All-American and during his first season as a Wolverine. Then came the news that he would be moving to center. It was a revelation that he was none too fond of initially.
“At first it was just different and I didn’t want to do it because it was different,” Boren admitted. “Once I played it a little, it was fun. I like it.”
The attributes that made Boren a potentially dominating guard make him an equally promising center prospect. The explosion and quickness he shows after the snap not only makes him a physical force at the point of attack, it also makes him a presence when he releases into the second level of the defense to block down field. He is unique in that he is the first center in a quite some time that does not require a double team to get movement off of the line of scrimmage. The toughest part of the transition thus far has been mastering the shotgun snap and learning to make all of the line calls. With a great deal of hard work, he has made huge strides in both areas.
“Spring wasn’t too good,” Boren said regarding his shotgun snap, “but summer I worked on it a lot. I worked on it all summer and got it down. I knew we were going to be using it a lot more.”
“I’ve been working with Coach Moeller on making the calls,” he continued. “I’ve got it down pretty good to where I feel comfortable with it now.”
Boren’s development impressed his head coach enough heading into fall camp to elicit the following evaluation.
“I think Justin Boren has really distanced himself at center,” Carr said.
That assessment was contrary, however, to that offered by a joking Terrance Taylor.
“Me and Boren have our battles,” Taylor said. “He’s all right at center. He’s okay (laughing). I got hurt in spring ball so I didn’t get a chance to go against him, but during this camp we’ll get a couple of battles going and I’ll have a couple of stories for you guys the next time we meet.”
The two players lock horns on a consistent basis in practice, and as a result, a bit of a rivalry has developed. As two of the strongest players on the team, their game of one-upsmanship extends to conversations about who can press the most weight.
“That would be me,” Taylor said confidently.
“We don’t max out,” Boren shot back. “Terrance hurt himself the last time we did the reps (laughing). I don’t know. We’ll have to get a little bench off going.”
“Terrance might have me a little bit,” Boren later admitted. “We
don’t max out though. (laughing).”