SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel shares his commentary, analysis and random tidbits on the latest developments around the country.
8/02/2006 11:59:00 AM
Wolverines Like Mike
When healthy, Michigan's Mike Hart is about as good as any other running back in college football.
Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images
CHICAGO -- A word to my fellow prognosticators headed into the 2006 season: Beware of Mike Hart. Michigan's star tailback says he picked up a couple preseason magazines and quickly realized he wasn't showing up on any of the so-called rankings of the nation's top running backs. "I can't say they forgot about me because I didn't do anything last year," the loquacious junior said at the Big Ten's media festivities Wednesday. "It gives me something to prove this year, to show I'm the same running back I was my freshman year."
That running back, you may recall, ranked among the top 10 rushers in the country as a true freshman in 2004, gaining 1,455 yards and at one point producing three-straight 200-yard games. Last season, however, hamstring and ankle injuries caused him to miss half the season and limited him to just 662 yards. Between that and the Wolverines' slide to 7-5, it seems Hart has fallen off the national radar.
If anything, however, Hart is poised to have a huge year in 2006. Not only is he finally healthy, but so, too, is his top blocker, tackle Jake Long, who missed most of last season. And the 5-foot-9, 200-pound runner, already a punishing back before, has bulked up. He can now do 24 bench reps (225 pounds), up from 16 a year ago. His coach, Lloyd Carr, is effusive in his praise of the player. "He's one of the best football players I've coached," said Carr. "He has no weaknesses." Strong words from a guy who has coached Tom Brady, Charles Woodson, Braylon Edwards, et al.
But in talking to Michigan's representatives here this week, what's most striking is how universally admired he is within the program. In just two years' time, the charismatic Syracuse native has emerged as one of the Wolverines' most revered leaders. "Every run this summer, I see Mike Hart out at the front -- you hear the guy's voice every day," said defensive end LaMarr Woodley. "He's leading this team as a junior." One of Michigan's many time-honored traditions is that only fourth- and fifth-year players are eligible to be named a captain. It will be interesting to see if Hart's unique status will cause Carr -- a traditionalist through and through -- to make an exception.
He won't be able to put up big numbers because his carries will be limited. Kevin Grady, who has slimmed down and has a better grasp on where to find the holes, and Carlos Brown, the speedy, change-of-pace freshman sensation, will each require a certain number of carries. Not to mention UM should have a strong passing game.
His carries won't be limited if he feels he doesn't need a breather. Last year was an abirition, injury wise. Hart is truely the heart and soul of this team. He's the best blocking running back at Michigan in a long time along with a very good receiver out of the backfield. He WILL BE back home in NY in December.
The statement "Kevin Grady, . . . has a better grasp on where to find the holes" is probably the most ignorant comment I have ever heard about college football. Ever. Mike Hart makes a living off of finding holes that aren't there and getting an extra two yards when hit. Do yourself a favor and watch a Hart game or two. You are completely wrong.
Mike will not be able to put up huge numbers because the coaches will be carefull to limit carrys and Kevin Grady, Jerome Jackson, Mister Simpson and super stud frosh Carlos Brown, Carlos Brown will take carrys away from Michigan Mike. He still is one of the best in the nation though.
Being healthy now and being healthy in 3 months are two totally different animals. As a freshman he put up gaudy numbers because Michigan had a multi-pronged attack, which opened holes in the defenses. This year he'll be forced to run against defenses who will be waiting to punish him, because they won't be as worried about the passing game. It'll be interesting to see if he can hold up through a tough Big Ten schedule when he's expected to carry to offense.
As a Michigan fan who watched Hart, Henne & Co. two years ago and then saw the injuries that devastated the team this past year, I couldn't be more excited for this season. The offensive line was banged up all year, Hart didn't play much, half of the receiving corps was dinged up, and the team still had a lead in every game in the fourth quarter, most within the final two minutes. This team is hungry. Michigan is going to cause some noise.
Anyone that thinks Michigan will not have a balanced attack this year is insane. Michigan is reinstating MIKE DEBORD as the offensive coordinator, and he has said himself he plans on insuring there is a balanced attack. Michigan undoubtedly has the talent to do so. Many people are forgetting ADRIAN ARRINGTON, the WR who was injured in the first game last year. Adrian, Mario, and Stevie Breaston WILL be plenty strong of a receiving core for Henne to make Hart some rushing room.
it doesn't matter if michigan has an entire stabe of RB studs because Mike Hart is the best rusher in the Big Ten, and one of the top 5 in the country. If you can rush for almost 700 yards in 6 games (not to mention playing 2 on injuries) then you are truly something special.