Michigan Football Preview 2013

2013 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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meted henchman clogging up the Wisconsin pursuit. "That was the longest one of my career," Derricotte said. "It fell right into place. It was just beautiful. They set up the blocks exactly how they should, and I cut right to the sideline. There was one guy to beat, and [senior end] Lenny Ford took him out. That freed me up to cut back away and get to the end zone untouched. That was the most exciting one." The 77-yard punt return capped a 40-7 Michigan victory, and the Wolverines went on to complete a perfect 10-0 record and earn the national championship with 49-0 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. "We were a happy bunch of guys," Derricotte said. "You can't deny the level of play was high. It was a wonderful time to be at Michigan. We had the talent and we played up to it." When Derricotte graduated in 1948, he claimed four career punt return touchdowns — a record that still stands (Derrick Alexander, 1989-93, and Steve Breaston, 2003-06, have equaled it). It was a Big Ten record for 56 years, until Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. finished his career in 2004 with eight total punt return touchdowns. Derricotte was a weapon every time he set foot on the field — and that's exactly what then-head coach Fritz Crisler had banked on. Derricotte played for the Wolverines in 1944 before joining the World War II effort as a Tuskegee Airman. When he returned to Ann Arbor in 1946, he was joined by a swell of players who had suspended their academic careers to serve overseas. Between the 1945 and 1946 seasons, the roster nearly doubled in size (from 26 players to 42). "Fritz Crisler had so many guys, and that's when the two-platoon system came in," Derricotte said. "We had an offensive team, a defensive team, kickoff team, everything. Back then, everyone would play both ways — but we started to get creative. We had so many people that we were able to substitute more freely, and that certainly helped us tremendously in our undefeated seasons." Although Derricotte was hoping to play tailback, he was beat out by Bob Chappuis, who finished second in the 1947 Heisman Trophy voting. "I didn't know I would be returning punts," Derricotte said. "But I just had a knack for it. I had speed. That's the biggest thing: you have to have a little speed, but you have to set up your blocks, too. Cutting back and forth with great speed, you can outmaneuver the defenders through the blocks. It isn't the runner. "If you have the pathway to go, you can then use your speed to take off." "You have to catch the ball first. That is a Top Five Kickoff Returners In U-M History 1. Desmond Howard, 1989-91: Every time Howard touched the ball as a Wolverine, he was a threat to take it to the house. That was certainly true on kickoff returns, where he scored two touchdowns (versus Michigan State in 1990 and against Boston College in 1991). Howard is the lone Michigan player to record multiple career kickoff touchdowns. He ranks fourth in program history with 1,211 career kickoff return yards, but — with 45 total returns — he ranks first in career average (26.9 yards per return). 2. Steve Breaston, 2003-06: Breaston's only kickoff return touchdown came in a losing effort — a 23-20 upset loss to Minnesota in 2005 — but that doesn't make his exploits any less impressive. Breaston tallied more than 20 kickoff returns in each of his last three seasons, becoming one of the most dangerous returners in the Big Ten. Breaston went on to set program records for career returns (81) and yards (1,993), both of which still stand today. 3. Anthony Carter, 1979-82: During his four years with the Wolverines, Carter was a reliable weapon in the kickoff return game, setting records in returns (63) and yards (1,606), which were both broken by Breaston, and return average (26.3), which was surpassed by Howard. As explosive as Carter was, he never broke the big one, serving as proof to how hard it is to score a touchdown in the kickoff department. 4. Mercury Hayes, 1992-95: Hayes' career as a kickoff returner was never flashy — he did not tally a touchdown — but he was a reliable option in the special teams department during his entire career. And it was certainly no small task to take over kick returning duties after Howard set such a high bar. Hayes finished his career with 999 total kickoff return yards on 53 At the end of Anthony Carter's U-M career in attempts. 5. Darryl Stonum, 2008-10: If Stonum's ca- 1982, he held school records for most kick rereer hadn't been cut short due to a violation of turns (63), most kick return yards (1,606) and team rules, he would have had a great chance best kick return average (26.3 yards). photo courtesy Bentley Historical Library to break Breaston's career yardage record. As it stands, Stonum set single-season records for returns (39) and yards (1,001) in 2009. That season, Stonum scored a touchdown against Notre Dame, bursting through for a 94-yarder in a wild 38-34 win in The Big House. Stonum is third in career returns (62) and yards (1,538). handicap for a lot of people — they'll misjudge the ball and it will end up over their heads. You have to project the flight of the ball correctly. And then you usually have a blocking pattern set up: left, right or wherever, and you want to take off toward your blockers. "You start one way so the defense will trail you, and then you cut back to where your blockers have set up, and you do that all the way down the field. Hopefully, you'll find that open space where you can sneak through and reach the goal line." Crisler is regarded as one of the most innovative offensive coaches in Michigan football history, deploying the fierce "Mad Magicians" offense that perplexed opposing defenses. But he placed a premium on solid special teams play, too. "That was a very big part of the practice," Derricotte said. "On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, we would practice returns for 20 or 30 minutes. It was an integral part of the practice sessions." Punt returning is a risky endeavor, and it rarely work outs as perfectly as Derricotte's return against the Badgers in 1947. As a senior in 1948, Derricotte struggled with a ligament injury in his knee and rushed back too soon to play Minnesota. "Minnesota kicked it, and I was in the end zone trying to catch it," Derricotte remembered. "My knee gave way, and I fumbled the ball. They recovered for a touchdown." Fortunately, the Wolverines absorbed the mistake and held off the Golden Gophers to win 27-14. "You can't have fear back there," Derricotte said. "The only fear is not catching the ball. That can be a huge momentum swing." But Derricotte had many more successes than failures as a punt returner. He amassed 751 yards (which still ranks fourth in program history) on 55 total returns, averaging 13.7 yards per attempt, which still ranks second in program history. Since Derricotte's exploits, the Wolverines have compiled an incredible 43-4-1 record in games in which they returned a punt for a score. The Wolverine 2013 Football Preview  ■ 61

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