A year ago, Wolverines quarterback John Navarre had only a shaky hold on his starting job, the result of a jittery 2001 season in which he threw 11 interceptions in Michigan's final six games, including an unforgivable four in a bitter 26-20 loss to Ohio State. Now, after passing for 21 touchdowns against only seven picks—and throwing for a school-record 2,905 yards—in '02, the 6'6", 228-pound senior is under a different kind of strain, as the man expected to lead his team back to a Big Ten championship. "I take satisfaction in knowing I've changed some people's minds," he says. "I remember sitting in the coaches' office on January 5th and saying how excited I was to start the new season."
He'll have a lot to work with. Five players with starting experience are back on the offensive line, including two All-Big Ten honorees, junior left guard David Baas and senior left tackle Tony Pape. The wideouts are talented though inexperienced. (Junior Braylon Edwards is the only one who caught more than 21 passes last year.) The running game features junior tailback Chris Perry, a 6'1", 220-pound head cracker who enjoyed a breakout season, rushing for 1,110 yards and 14 touchdowns. Says senior receiver Tyrece Butler, "It's going to be a lot more explosive than last year."
After two straight losses to Ohio State, the pressure will be on the Wolverines to reassert themselves against their archrivals. But stress is nothing new to Navarre, a survivor who's dealt with pressure for the better part of three years. When he takes the field at Michigan Stadium on Aug. 30 to play Central Michigan, he'll be the first Wolverines quarterback since Rick Leach (class of '78) to start four straight season openers. "The one thing you know as a Michigan quarterback is that you're going to be criticized," says Navarre. "I only pay attention to what I can control."
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