Throughout spring practice interviews the last couple months, Michigan players have repeatedly mentioned a new “vibe” in Schembechler Hall.
Other words that have come up over and over include “juice” and “energy,” and the fact music has been played before practice and during a competitive period here and there has resonated with this group.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh signed a contract extension earlier this year at roughly half his salary and laden with performance incentives. He also revamped his staff, which is younger with an average age of 35 and, perhaps, unproven. For example, there’s a first-year defensive coordinator in Mike Macdonald, who spent the last seven seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, and new offensive life coach, Sherrone Moore, who coached tight ends the last three years but played offensive line in college. Macdonald replaced Don Brown, and Moore took over for Ed Warinner.
The Wolverines are coming off an undeniably dismal 2-4 season, cut short by three games because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Harbaugh is entering his seventh season and time will tell if his new-look, younger staff will help provide the breakthrough the program has been seeking. As far as the players, though, the changes have been welcomed and embraced.
“Toward the end of last year, it was pretty low, obviously, after that season,” offensive lineman Ryan Hayes said Friday in a video conference with reporters. “It’s just like a new life with coach Moore and some of the coaches around here. It’s just energy. You just feel it when you walk into the building. It’s hard to explain. It’s just like a different vibe when you come in here. It’s just brighter almost. Everybody wants to work, everybody wants to get better. It’s just good. Good deal.”
How much of the change, though, has been the staff which features six new additions, including former Michigan players Ron Bellamy and Mike Hart, the program’s all-time leading rusher?
“It was a part of it for sure, but also, we’re all just sick and tired of all the stuff that happened last year, and everybody wants to work harder,” Hayes said. “The coaches are involved, the players are involved. I think it’s everything combined.”
Defensive lineman Taylor Upshaw said recently that this kind of energy in practice is new during his time at Michigan.
“I would say that it was lacking before,” Upshaw said. “But there’s more juice, There’s more energy. The periods have been altered. They’re quicker. They’re faster. We have music now. A lot of competitive periods. It’s mixed up, so it’s a lot more entertaining. I can speak for my whole team, and you can ask any of them, is practice more fun? It’s 100 percent more fun. It’s 100 percent more competitive. But it’s all unity. It’s all for oneness.”
There are those words again, juice and energy. And that is what the players have shared from the start of practice that concludes Saturday with a spring game before family members at Michigan Stadium.
“Every single coach is ecstatic, and you can feel that high energy in practice,” edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson said early on this spring. “In practice, I’ve seen some energy, some things I’ve never seen these past three years being on this team. Just those little things you can tell that guys just want to play ball and guys are fired up, whether that be the new coaches, whether they just love football. You can tell in practice that there’s a different type of energy around Schembechler.”
Receiver Mike Sainristil this week described practice as “fun” with players yelling and smiling and laughing.
Adding music, they feel, has been a boost.
“To the younger culture, music just really gets us going,” Sainristil said. “Before practices, having the music out there, and there’s another period during practice where we play music as well, it just brings you to your comfort zone I feel like. Just having that music, you can go out there and just be energized the whole time.”
During his time at Michigan, cornerback Gemon Green said there has never really been music at practice. That goes back to the different “vibe” they’ve experienced this.
“I feel like the music creates dogs,” Green said Friday. “When I say dogs, I feel like they bring that energy, that aggressiveness and they want to play on the field. It has been a big difference since the previous years.”
How will all this translate to season performance? Again, time will tell, but the players have been receptive and enjoying the process. Last season, Hayes said, is in the back of their minds, but they also have moved on.
“We know what we’re doing, we know the goals we have, and we’re just going for it,” Hayes said. “We’re going to work hard every day and bring that juice and just go.”
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