June 21, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Rashan Gary wandered through Michigan’s facility on Saturday checking out his surroundings.
Michigan’s star incoming freshman defensive tackle arrived on campus last week and has already started working out with the rest of his teammates. On Saturday, he walked through Michigan’s on-campus skill camps with fellow New Jersey native — and good friend — Kareem Walker.
Gary made his way over to the big men. His new mentors. Taco Charlton. Chris Wormley. Ryan Glasgow.
Michigan’s coaching staff has high expectations for Gary — the No. 1-ranked recruit in 2016 — this season. And Gary has high expectations for himself. But in the end, the thing that most excites defensive line coach Greg Mattison about his prized freshman’s first season lies are his surroundings.
“It’s great to have him and now he’s here, now he’s here,” Mattison said this weekend. “But the thing that excites me, probably, the most with that is he’s with a great group of guys that can mentor him and get him into that freshman year.
“I’m really proud of these seniors. They’ve become real men and they see a young, talented kid and they say ‘OK, we’re going to make sure he does all the right things and we’re going to make him as good as he can be.’ “
Gary will spend as much time as he can this season following Chris Wormley. A fifth-year senior who has played just about every position along Michigan’s defensive line, Wormley and Gary share a similar skill set — even if Gary’s far more advanced at this age than Wormley was five years ago.
But Wormley was one of Mattison’s first recruits when he returned to Ann Arbor in 2011. There might not be another player on the team that the longtime defensive line coach trusts more in terms of film study, on-field responsibility, off-field responsibility, weight room work and relentless technique development.
Mattison will be Gary’s coach, to be sure. But Wormley — and others — will have a hand in helping turn Gary from an elite prospect into something much more important.
The same can be said for Glasgow and Charlton and Maurice Hurst, three players who have seen a ton of time during their careers — and, in most cases, guys who have to carve their own way without the benefit of a deep senior class to mentor them as youngsters.
Mattison says this incoming group of defensive linemen — Gary included — will have a major advantage, something he’s hoped to accomplish here for years.
“Because of a new staff coming in, one was here and one was there,” Mattison said of his seniors’ early days in college. “But these guys, we’ve all been together so it’s like ‘OK, let’s make sure this gets done and that gets done.’ They can tell (Gary) about me about what to expect.
“And you really don’t need to with him, because he’s a really good kid.”
Gary will begin his season as a defensive end — playing Wormley’s spot on the strong side of the defensive line. But like his older teammate, Gary has the athletic ability and power to shift inside if he has to.
He’s also quick enough to play either spot on the edge.
One staple of Mattison’s defensive lines at Michigan has been versatility. The best players have been able to line up at a variety of spots. Mike Martin never left the field, despite the alignment, during Mattison’s first season. Craig Roh played multiple spots, so did Ryan Van Bergen.
Willie Henry went from a nose tackle to a defensive tackle to an end and everywhere in between. Charlton’s played inside and out during his career. Same with Wormley.
And the same will probably ring true for Gary.
“I never want to judge a guy before you ever play a season and then even after you’ve played a season you don’t want to judge a guy because I always evaluate a guy after he plays all four years, what kind of player will he become after each year?” Mattison said. “Rashan has had really great coaching in high school. He had great coaching when the season was over with people who understand pass rush and the basics. He’s worked with them and continues to get better and better. And he’s really motivated.
“He really, really wants to be a great player.”