Despite the departure of 10 players from last year’s winning Big Ten squad, the Michigan Wolverines remain a veteran-laden group entering the 2022 season.
Eleven players on the roster have been in Ann Arbor since 2018. As a reminder, the 2018 class included Cam McGrone, Jalen Mayfield and the recently deceased Aidan Hutchinson. Two of those 11 have been with the team since 2017, a class led by Donovan Peoples-Jones, Aubrey Solomon and Cesar Ruiz. Already feeling old?
A few of those remaining veterans haven’t even scratched the surface of their talents. Just like the neighborhood kid watching in The Incredibles.
“Well, what are you waiting for, kid?”
“I don’t know, something AMAZING I guess.”
Fans are still holding out hope for a few late bloomers. While most players are what they are in their third year, for a multitude of reasons some don’t realize their talents until their fourth year on campus or even later.
Take sixth-year senior center Andrew Vastardis from last year for example. Vastardis saw three US presidents take office during his time in Ann Arbor and never really made that leap until his senior season.
However, not all Wolverines from the Class of 2017 or 2018 are hanging around on the sidelines. Kicker Jake Moody is the best in the country at what he does and wide receiver Ronnie Bell was one injury away from what felt like a historic season.
With a mix of proven commodities and long-term investments, these veterans provide a strong cultural presence and bring experience and leadership to the team above all else.
Three cheers for five years and two cheers for sixth years. Here are the oldest Statesmen on Team 143 and what to expect from them this season.
Tight end Joel Honigford (Class of 2017)
After going from an attacking tackle to a tight end, Honigford found his calling last season. Primarily used as a blocker, he is able to use his power and technique as a lineman to annihilate peak defenders and open up running lanes.
The devastating blocks will continue, but please, football gods – please let Honigford score a touchdown this year.
Punter Brad Robbins (Class of 2017)
If you go to a game this season, be sure to watch Brad Robbins swing a metal chair over his head as he lights up the troops on the sidelines. When he’s on the court, he’s a weapon and one of the best punters in the country. The only problem is that the Wolverines rarely kicked last season, so his punting prowess flew largely under the radar.
Last season, Michigan averaged 3.2 punts per game, which is pretty good for the No. 115 in the nation. Robbins will continue to be a pitch-turning specialist, but the less he kicks the better.
Kicker Jake Moody (Class of 2018)
Award-winning kicker Lou Groza will continue to be invaluable in close games and has a shot at becoming the best kicker in program history.
Ronnie Bell Wide Receiver (Class of 2018)
There is no player who deserves a superstar season this year more than Ronnie Bell. He’s endured everything imaginable during his time as Wolverine: love, hate, doubt, belief, and most recently and overwhelmingly, support.
Bell technically recorded just one catch last season for 76 yards and a touchdown against West Michigan (the real ones count that one-handed hitch on the sideline that was knocked down due to a fake OPI call ), before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Can he get back into shape? Print t-shirts: “I believe in Ronnie Bell”, and I think he is WR1 this season.
Defensive End Taylor Upshaw (Class of 2018)
Taylor Upshaw came to Michigan as a draft rookie and last season the draft finally started to come together. Largely a third string player in 2021, Upshaw finished third on the team in sacks (2.5) and was a physical force on the edge.
Upshaw has always had the engine, and last season was the first glimpse of his skills and fit physique. If he can put a bow on his development with new defensive line coach Mike Elston, Upshaw could become an explosive third down specialist this season.
Offensive tackle Ryan Hayes (Class of 2018)
Coming off a second All-Big Ten season and having 18 left tackle starts under his belt, Ryan Hayes will be one of the top left tackles in the nation this season.
Hayes will be one of the captains of this unit, and possibly the team. In a long line of great left tackles to play at Michigan, he’s next.
Cornerback Gemon Green (Class of 2018)
Gemon Green was a starting corner in 2020 and 2021 until he was usurped by a rising DJ Turner mid-year. As a third corner last season, Green was solid, but now he will be called upon to start again.
Green will primarily draw the opposing team’s second option at wide receiver with the aforementioned Turner taking No. 1. If Green can learn to use his length (currently listed at 6-foot-2) and play with consistent discipline, Michigan will have one of the best corner tandems in the conference.
German Green Safety (class of 2018)
Twin brother to Gemon, the German struggled to get significant playing time in defense but became a fixture on special teams. The German showed glimpses of significant improvement during the spring game, but the depth chart at safety is packed full of talent.
This season, expect German to be a team leader in special teams and add depth and experienced guidance to the safe room.
Defensive tackle Julius Welschof (Class of 2018)
Julius Welschof is the oldest player on the team (he turned 25 in March) and it feels like we’ve been discussing the former German moguls champion’s potential since the Clinton administration.
Welschof has been a rotating defensive lineman for the past few years, but he’s now lost 20 pounds and is listed as an edge runner. Has Harbaugh finally cracked the code and unlocked old man Julius’ potential? Time will tell, but for now we will all continue to feel like Judge Smails of Caddyshack every time we hear his name: “Well… We are waiting!”
Linebacker Michael Barrett (Class of 2018)
Michael Barrett is one of the most important players in this defense. Last year, after several substitution errors against Michigan State, the Wolverines needed to find a way to allow them to combine the skills of running support and high-tempo offense coverage.
Answer: Michael Barrett.
Barrett allowed the defense to become more versatile in the opening sets without sacrificing the quality of defending against rushing attacks in third down situations. Barrett is an X-factor in defense and special teams and is guaranteed to produce some “WOW” plays, just as he has for the past two seasons (mainly the 2020 sack/forced fumble vs. Minnesota and the 2021 back kick return against Maryland).
Tight End Luke Schoonmaker (Class of 2018)
Luke Schoonmaker burst onto the scene last year and earned All-Big Ten honorable mention for his efforts. Schoony was a ferocious blocker and became a reliable safety valve receiving option who tied with the team leader in receiving touchdowns.
Expect the same for Schoonmaker this season; coupled with Erick All, these two form one of the best tight tandems in the country.