M French Connection

Because of an injury in the defensive line, Michigan turned to its French Connection for help in its win over Illinios. Alain Kashama blocked a field goal and deflected a pass to spark the defense. Viva, la Blue!

With Shonte Orr sidelined because of a knee injury, Michigan turned to its French Connection for help in a 45-28 victory over Illinois.

Alain Kashama, a junior defensive end, blocked an Illini field goal attempt just before halftime to preserve the Wolverines' 28-13 lead Saturday in Champaign. Kashama is one of three French-Canadiens on the Michigan roster.

He played high school football at Vieux in Montreal as did Emmanuel Casseus and Deitan Dubuc. All three grew up speaking French and have had to overcome a language barrier to succeed at Michigan -- on the field and in the classroom.

Kashama, 6 feet 5 and 260 pounds, is one of the Wolverines' best athletes. For a big man, he runs with speed that calls to mind his cousin, Tshimanga Biakabutuka, who set Michigan's single-season rushing record with 1,818 yards in 1995.

Kashama rushes the passer like Biakabutuka used to rush downfield, all out, all the time. Because Orr was left behind to nurse his injury, Kashama picked up more playing time against Illinois. He added two tackles and one pass deflection to go with his blocked field goal.

Kashama speaks five languages, which might help him land a high-powered boardroom job when his football playing days are over, but did not help him figure out English-style football when he first arrived in Ann Arbor.

"He had a tremendous language barrier when he came here in terms of his ability to speak English," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said Monday at the Wolverines' weekly football luncheon. "Everyone that knows him admires what he's been able to do.

"Tim Biakabutuka went through the same things. When you face a language (barrier) at a school like Michigan, you have to be a very strong-minded individual because you have some obstacles that you have to overcome.

"I am very pleased with the type of person that Alain is. He has worked hard and has finally begun to grasp the things that he needs to do to be successful. He's a great athlete. He's one of the fastest players on our team. He has developed himself physically. He's much stronger than he was when he came in here."

Casseus, a 6-4, 244-pound senior linebacker and special teams standout, and Dubuc have undergone a similar transition. Dubuc once roomed with ex-Wolverine placekicker Hayden Epstein. Dubuc said Epstein learned one French word from him -- Minou.

That's French for kitten. Epstein dubbed Dubuc, a fifth-year senior and backup tight end, Michigan's kitten after hearing him use the word in a telephone conversation with his girlfriend.

"Deitan is another guy who has done a great job here," Carr said. "He is a little bit older and has done a very good job for us on special teams. He is the left tackle on our punt team and, of course, that is one of the most important positions on that team. If you have a right-footed kicker, that is where the pressure is going to come from. He is a good receiver as well, and he adds great leadership to our ballclub."

"I think the hardest part for me was learning the language," Dubuc said. "Emmanuel (Casseus) had some family living in the United States. I really didn't learn English until I got here.

"As for football, it was difficult to understand the coaches at times. I took four English classes, and I worked hard to improve my English. I came here alone, and I didn't have anyone to speak English with. I had to force myself to always speak and think English."

Dubuc decided to return for his fifth year even though he was drafted by Calgary and had a chance to play in the Canadian Football League.

"Coach (Lloyd) Carr said that if you have a good attitude and you work hard, good things will happen," Dubuc said. "I could have left after last year. I got drafted by the CFL. But I felt that I have yet to accomplish all that I wanted to at Michigan. That's one of the reasons I wanted to come back.

"Since I've been here, I've been behind great athletes. I've learned a lot behind those guys. When my time comes, I just have to do the best I can."

Time is of the essence in a fast-paced, fast-moving game like football.

"I really think that if you speak another language you can relate to what Emmanuel (Casseus) and I are going through," Kashama said. "When they call the play in the huddle, it takes us an extra 45 seconds to understand what was said."

Kashama was recruited by Central Florida, Sycrause and several other Big Ten teams. He never seriously considered those offers. Because of Biakabutuka's influence, Kashama was sold on the Big Blue.

"I started playing football in 1995," he said. "When Michigan began recruiting me, I wanted to come here and do my thing for U-M."

Casseus played hockey on outdoor rinks as a youngster and rooted for the Montreal Canadiens. "I was looking forward to seeing them play against the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals," he said. "I was glad to see Detroit win, though."

He might think like an American on ocassion, but he is still a Canadian, still a large part of the Wolverines' French Connection. The Michigan coaching staff long has recruited north of the border.

"In Canada, we don't get a lot of exposure to college football," Casseus said. "But there are combines that we go to, to see if we are good enough to play in the United States. All the college coaches go to see us, and we have to do bench press and run the 40 (yard dash).

"At first I was leaning toward Wisconsin, but my high school teammate was Alain Kashama, and he said he was going to Michigan. So, I decided to play here at Michigan because Michigan is Michigan."

Try saying that in French.

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