Taco Charlton and Rashan Gary didn’t technically play the same position last season. The former was on the weak side, the latter on the strong.
But when he left Michigan just before to becoming a first-round NFL draft pick, Charlton made sure Gary knew exactly what his expectations were going to be for his former teammate, protege and current pal.
Charlton’s expectation for Gary was simple and complicated: To be better than he was. To be better than Chris Wormley was. To be the best defender in college football. Not just because he could be. But because he should be.
So when Gary picked up the phone earlier this week for a chat with Charlton, the conversation quickly turned from life with the Dallas Cowboys to the business in need of tending at Michigan.
“He told me to keep on working,” Gary said Tuesday. “He said he’s been hearing good things about me and how (he hopes) I’m (in line) for a good season.”
Ready or not, Gary’s opportunity to take center stage as a starter — and possible star — at Michigan is right around the corner. The Wolverines will travel to Texas for a Saturday afternoon matchup with Florida at AT&T Stadium.
It’ll be Gary’s first start. And, more important, his first chance to show everyone what all the hype and talk and predictions have been about.
Gary spent most of his true freshman season coming off the bench, learning from Charlton and Wormley. Studying their every move and practice habit. Now, it’s his chance to prove he can pick up the ball and run with it.
Same time, he’s quick to point out that the number of people he needs to prove something to is a rather small one.
“Myself and my coaches,” Gary says. “Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton — they got me ready for now. And I have to show them when they look and watch the film that, yeah, I did take that extra step.
“I have to show my coaches that I did put in that extra work. And I know I did. I can’t wait to show it.”
It’s been a long off-season for everyone at Michigan. That’ll happen when you close a year with three losses in your last four games.
But for Gary, it’s been a journey.
Standing in the locker room after the Orange Bowl last December, Gary stood alone near his locker answering questions from two reporters. He was doing his best to focus on what was being said to him, but even then — as he looked over and saw Wormley and Charlton pack their Michigan bags one final time — his mind was elsewhere.
“They’re out the door (now),” he said that night. “And I’m the one who’s up next.”
Every day since has been a growth process for the talented former five-star prospect. He’s adjusted to being looked at as a leader — both on the field and off. He’s taken freshmen under his wing, he’s pushed his classmates and veterans.
He made it a point to spend more free time in the film room, when he wasn’t working on his conditioning. He got as many mental and physical reps as he could. Because he knew his day was coming.
Now, it’s nearly here.
“Rashan’s an animal and I’m lucky to play across from him,” U-M defensive end Chase Winovich says. “It’s a give and take relationship. Some of the stuff in practice, I think maybe I do a little better or a different way and I know it feeds into his process. And then, certainly, he’ll do stuff and I look at it and say ‘this is something I have to incorporate into my game.’
“I love having him on the other side of me.”
When Charlton wrapped up his workout session at Michigan’s pro day this past spring, his final message for Gary was simple — and not complicated.
When he comes back to visit another pro day in three or four years, Charlton said, Gary had better be the talk of the event. And the talk of the entire draft.
If not, something went wrong. Because, as Charlton pointed out then and still points out to Gary now, anything less isn’t acceptable. Not for him. He’s too talented.
“I just want to let them know I appreciated everything they’ve done for me,” Gary said of Charlton, Wormley and his coaching staff. “Now, it’s my time.
“So let me show you.”