By the time Greg was through elementary school, his coordination was catching up to his frame. His dad had him jumping rope on the back porch every night, and at age nine he had his first go at the gridiron, in mini-football. Only, Greg wasn't mini enough. The rules stated that if a player weighed more than 130 pounds, opposing coaches had the final say on whether he could suit up. When Greg arrived for his first game, he was told to make a U-turn. He headed to the bathtub and bawled. "He's thinking he's a freak," says his dad. "I tried to explain to him that you don't see 98-pound kids playing football on TV. I said, 'You'll see. Someday you'll have your time.' "
"I busted my butt for that," says Skrepenak. "Then when they told me I couldn't play, I cried my eyes out. That's where my problem with aggressiveness really started."
Once he began junior high, though, Greg became a dominant two-way tackle. By the time he was a senior, being mammoth was no longer a burden—even though he had to be weighed on an industrial scale.
"In a way, his only downfall as a football player was that he wasn't real aggressive unless he got upset," says his high school coach Charlie Fick. "As big as he is, that's as nice as he is."
Skrepenak was so disproportionately large that recruiters had a hard time getting a fix on his talent. But Michigan assistant coach Cam Cameron watched him rack up 20 points in a basketball game with half a dozen slams and was immediately taken with his coordination. Skrepenak was also courted by Penn State and Notre Dame, among others, but Michigan offered the young man something no other school could compete with.
"Greg came to Michigan because of Bo," says Cameron. "He loved Bo." Schembechler was like Skrepenak's dad: demanding, firm, supportive and the sort of guy who could slap backs at the corner tavern. Bo knew the kid had gumption when he wore a Penn State T-shirt on his first trip to Ann Arbor. Schembechler gave him some serious ribbing.
"Well," said Skrepenak to the coach, "at least Penn State has won a national championship." Schembechler smiled. A 300-pounder who was quick on his feet, too. But whether Skrepenak would be a prodigy or simply prodigious was an open question when he arrived at Michigan. He helped answer it when, in a rare lapse in control, he duked it out with a defensive tackle two weeks into fall camp. "In high school I always blocked my guy," he says. "I got to college and learned that if you're not aggressive, you get your butt kicked."
Which is why his friends and coaches are urging him to be as fit as possible; they see his controlling his weight as a barometer of his commitment. Yet, for Skrepenak, measuring up is a matter that won't be settled on a scale. He gives the distinct impression that he knows what he wants and knows what it will take to get it. "I've never lined up across from someone I thought was better than me," he says. "Not anywhere, anytime. My dad instilled a lot of confidence in me. He said the only person who can beat me is Greg Skrepenak. And that's what I believe."