Rashan Gary impressed his new teammates and coaches before most of the Michigan football team’s freshmen even arrived.
He showed up at least a week before those others, just to get acclimated to his new school.
And instead of reminding everyone he was the No. 1 recruit in the country and the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Defensive Player of the Year, Gary tried to learn and be one of them.
“Rashan Gary is obviously very talented,” Michigan defensive line coach Greg Mattison said. “He showed that in his high school, he’s showed that here. He’s come early and he’s done a very, very good job of blending in with the veterans, doing what is expected of a Michigan defensive lineman.”
Which is what Gary wanted before he arrived, just to get that chance this camp to show he could earn it.
Everything over the past few years coming out of Paramus (N.J.) Catholic has pointed to that.
He’s listed at 6-foot-5, 287 pounds and has spent the past few years at multiple trainers to be ready for this moment.
He wasn’t planning on UM’s strength coaches whipping him into shape. He just wanted them to add to his base so he could approach the other linemen.
“His weight’s great, he’s worked very hard on his strength,” Mattison said. “I don’t care if a guy’s a freshman or a fifth-year senior, best players play. So he’s going to have the opportunity to show his ability. He’ll play anchor end, the strong side defensive end.”
That position is often a heavier player because they’re in space, but Gary’s versatility at that size — some of his teammates joke he runs like a receiver — allows him to move around there.
“We like to put him over those tight ends and see how many of those tight ends enjoy blocking him,” defensive coordinator Don Brown said. “Because that may be a treat watching that happen.”
For years, playing on the outside edge of the line allowed a freshman to see the field quicker because athleticism could make up for lack of strength. Now, against wide-open changing offenses, it’s a challenge.
“I think it’s tougher (than inside) because there’s more jobs,” Brown said. “There’s more reaction. They’ve got to deal with the zone read, they’ve got to deal with odd schemes and now trying to get kicked out by guards and pulling tight ends and spread run stuff. But we’ll get him his work, he’ll be good.”
Trying to find his place while still asserting himself has been Gary’s challenge.
He has enjoyed being with the program, trying to hang around and soak in events. He watched the U-M camps and took photos with fans.
On the night of the Nike launch, when he took the stage with his older teammates, he took the microphone in front of the thousands and received a massive roar — a freshman already well known.
Basically he just gave a shout out to the crowd, looking for other New Jersey kids, it showed his comfort being on campus.
Physically, he’s already shown that.
Putting up 26 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds showed his new teammates what a force he can be.
“He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, he’s quick,” defensive lineman Chris Wormley said. “He’s everything you want in a defensive lineman and he’s only 18 years old. Obviously he’s got a lot of growing to do and we’ll see that once we put the pads on. We’re all excited.”
Currently, Wormley’s just trying to ease Gary’s spotlight.
“When you have a guy like Rashan, the No. 1 recruit and all this hype around him, people expect him to be the best thing since sliced bread,” Wormley said. “When you come from high school to college, it’s a big change no matter what type of high school program you come from. He’s got a lot of learning to do, but he’s obviously going to be a good player. Hopefully he becomes a better player sooner than after. But he’ll be there and he’ll help us out a lot.”
How Gary fits into one of the best defensive lines in the country will be a story of training camp.
“He’s got to earn it just like everybody else,” Brown said.