Michigan heads into 2017 facing the daunting task of replacing a number of leaders and game-changing talents from last year's roster, and one particular option may already be making his mark in the Maize and Blue.
Entering his first year of college football as the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation for 2016, defensive end Rashan Gary has had a lot of hype to live up to ever since he signed with Michigan.
As a freshman last season, Gary was a consistent contributor on the Wolverines defensive line behind the likes of Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley, now both in the NFL. Gary was able to record his first career sack against UCF, and went on to tally 23 total tackles while appearing in all but one game.
Gary's attitude appears to be what's spoken the loudest, and the soon-to-be sophomore may already be winning over teammates and coaches alike, according to Mark Snyder of The Detroit Free Press.
“There’s no question Rashan Gary and Mo Hurst are leading the defensive linemen,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said Friday. “It has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with presence and command. Obviously he’s an extremely good player.
"When your extremely good players are the best players and the hardest-working, that makes it easy.”
Gary's new sense of leadership is something that didn't necessarily come naturally to him out of the gate, but he says now that he's more established in the program, tendencies are coming easier to him.
“It’s something I’m growing into,” Gary said. “I’m happy that now it’s easily flowing, I don’t have to force it.”
“I feel like I’m able to give back to the kids what coaches gave to me,” Gary added. “And it helps me be a leader. That’s something new that I had to get used to. So I love going out there, showing kids what they do and what steps to take to make them better.
"Especially today when I see kids get down, (I say) ‘it’s alright, you came here to learn.’”
His efforts aren't lost on the commander of the Wolverines either, who has earned a reputation for bringing an "enthusiasm unknown to mankind," to everything that he does.
“We saw it in the spring,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It was obvious in the winter workouts through the spring practices everyday, attacking it with a lot of energy and force. We’re in June, you hate to talk about it too much. But did I see it? Yes.
“Leadership can come from any grade. The class doesn’t matter. It’s the person. He does it the right way, it’s by example. It can’t be denied when something’s by example and it can’t be hidden.”
Gary will have a big opportunity ahead of him to prove that leadership even further on the field, as the Wolverines return just one defensive starter from last season in the form of Mike McCray, according to Snyder.
If Gary can make that next step in 2017, opponents will need to plan their offensive strategies accordingly.
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