The Wolverine

September 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 32 of 83

SEPTEMBER 2017 THE WOLVERINE 33 BY JOHN BORTON M aurice Hurst Jr. stood inside the venerated stadium, tak- ing it all in. The fifth-year senior defensive tackle pon- dered great victories therein, and soul- crushing defeats. He thought about glory and fierce effort, and the imperative to emerge triumphant. No, he wasn't casting his gaze about in The Big House. He entertained such ponderings inside the crumbling Col- osseum of Rome, thanks to head coach Jim Harbaugh's creativity and vision. Hurst thought about real life-or- death battles in a venue completed in 80 AD, a big house of antiquity that contained an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 onlookers. Nothing else he wit- nessed in Rome stayed with him like those moments, Hurst acknowledged. "I've always seen it in movies," the veteran mused. "I'm fascinated about that culture and the gladiators. It's just amazing to think about the things that have occurred in there, the battles and the chariot races. "It's amazing to think about the cul- ture and how football has piggybacked off that. You go from a 50,000-person stadium to a 100,000-person stadium. I think about someone going to The Big House in years to come, and it's some sort of historical venue." There's plenty of work to do before that happens, and the Michigan stand- out understands it as well as anyone. He'd love to make some history of his own with teammates who came so close in a chariot race that featured a stum- ble of the horses at the worst possible moments last year. Graduation culled a host of gladia- tors off the Wolverines' 10-3 crew from 2016, causing many to offer a thumbs down to any Michigan championship hopes this year. Hurst insists he laughs at what he calls "outside noise," letting it motivate him to prove people wrong. His own dreams can't be contained by the two sporting venues combined. "You always want to go into the season confident," he assured. "You do want your dreams to be big all the time. My personal goals are enormous. They'd probably have everyone laugh. But every year you have those goals. Every year you want to win the na- tional championship. "That's our goal going into the sea- son. That's something we take seri- ously." Hurst will play a key role in what- ever the Wolverines accomplish this season. The 6-2, 282-pound alum of Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, Mass., represents perhaps the most powerful argument against using "Starters Lost" as the sole deter- minant of a team's chances. Although not a starter, Hurst per- formed in a dozen games a year ago, posting 11.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. His ability to move, at his size, sets him apart from most defensive tackles in the game. "I've always been a more athletic defensive tackle than some of the guys who were rotating in before," he said. "I've always been sort of a switch-up. I've always played a little bit different than other D-tackles, and that's one of my strengths — quickness and agility. "I'm someone who plays aggressive and someone who is always attacking. I'm always going to play fast." He's done so since Harbaugh first laid eyes on him, the U-M head coach acknowledged. In a year hinging on performers coming through who have been awaiting their chance in the spot- light, the head coach is eager to see this fifth-year senior turned loose. "He's stronger, he's faster," Har- baugh said, regarding Hurst's growth in the two-plus years of the present coaching era. "We've got the evidence for that. He's more serious. He's get- ting more opportunity. You look back and think, every time Mo's been in there, he's done well. He makes plays. "He's so darned quick and so tough to block. He's just getting tougher to block, getting quicker. "He's not rotating as much. That's going to be exciting to see more of him out there." Hurst will be out there before 110,000 victory-hungry fanatics largely because Michigan identified him as a prep performer worthy of a second look. He says defensive line coach Greg Mattison "plucked" him from the East Coast, although he was well aware of the Wolverines long before that. Growing up close to Boston, Hurst became enamored with Michigan at an early age, due to the distinctiveness of its football headgear. That led him to favor the Wolverines, even in the vir- tual world of video game competition. "I loved using Michigan, because I loved seeing the winged helmet," Hurst acknowledged. "It's one of the most iconic images. Everyone knows the block M." Oh, and one other item on the check- list. "I'm from Boston, so Tom Brady … Michigan Man," Hurst said, breaking into a smile. Hurst won't be the only East Coast native looking to help the Wolverines begin a Brady-like set of champion- ship rings. Defensive coordinator Don Brown was no stranger to the veteran defensive tackle when he migrated west following a lauded career coach- ing on or near the Atlantic coast. "I love Coach Brown," Hurst en- thused. "He actually recruited me at UConn and at [Boston College], be- cause I'm from Boston. Coach Brown has always been one of my favorite coaches throughout recruiting. When he got here, we had the Mass. connec- tion. "It's just great being able to have an- other person from Massachusetts. It's a small pool in college football. Having that sort of connection is just great for me personally. We have a great rela- tionship." For his part, Brown loves the way Hurst and sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary teamed up to take charge of the Michigan defense in the offsea- son. The two are workout partners, and despite the difference in their ages, they have grown extremely close in their desire to keep the Wolverines GLADIATOR'S LAST STAND Maurice Hurst Jr. Wants To Go Out On Top

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