Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 44 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 43 "It was like watching dancing on the fast- forward button. You couldn't believe what you were seeing." When Biakabutuka made the trip from Montreal to Ann Arbor for Michigan's sum- mer football camp prior to his senior year in high school, he weighed 170 pounds and didn't look like a football player, but his feet were so quick he convinced Jackson the Maize and Blue must tender a scholarship. "When he ran the ball, he always ran to the sidelines, and everybody was saying, 'That's why no one is offering this kid, be- cause he won't run between the tackles.' I figured if he didn't pan out at running back, he could be a receiver or a defensive back," Jackson said. "He could just do things with his feet that are not humanly possible." Growing up in Canada, Biakabutuka wasn't inundated with football icons to pat- tern his style after. He liked Michigan's Ricky Powers (1990-93) and Detroit Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, but said he wasn't foolish enough to think he could mimic Sanders' stop-start-and-deke approach. He describes his running style as "shifty" but laughs, knowing a one-word adjective — and an ambiguous one — does not do it justice. Even now, 20 years after his career, Biakabutuka is uncomfortable discussing what made him unique. Admittedly, he knows he had foot skills few, even the best running backs in football history, possessed, but the answer of how his feet came to be lethal weapons eludes him. "I can't really tell you I thought about making people miss," he said. "If I saw green behind a defender, I'd do a little move, and my body just did whatever you saw. I didn't think about my feet or legs or hips or shoul- ders — it just came naturally to me." While his feet were mesmerizing, Biaka- butuka was more than that. He was power- ful, running through tackles and showing a willingness to put his head down and burrow for more yards. He was patient, showing tre- mendous vision, exploiting the cutback lanes that Payne helped bulldoze, and he was fast. Maybe not 4.3 40-yard-dash fast, but he had exceptional acceleration through a hole and into the open field. "He was an offensive lineman's dream to block for," said Payne. "He was nimble, he was fast, his feet were explosive, and he was tough. A lot of people think he made guys miss because he didn't want to get hit, but he loved the physical play. He loved lowering his shoulder and flattening a defender. "I don't think he gets enough credit for be- ing an all-around back. He was a rock. You'd see him in the weight room, and he had this chiseled upper body. He was in there grind- ing and always working to be this invincible physical specimen that you couldn't stop. "I loved him too because he wasn't con- ceited. His goals were team goals. He was a quiet, humble kid from Canada, and he was the only one that didn't know he was a superstar. As offensive linemen, we had to be the ones to brag about him." And there was plenty to boast about. After Dreisbach went down during the bye with a broken thumb, the Maize and Blue turned to Biakabutuka even more, and he responded with a string of four consecutive 100-yard games, totaling 703 yards. By the time the Wolverines reached the Sunday before the Ohio State game, Biaka- butuka had rushed for 1,411 yards — at that time the fourth-highest single-season tally in U-M history — and a perfect storm material- ized over the next six days in a build-up to a history-making afternoon. 313 Yards Former strength and conditioning coach Mike Gittleson served many roles, but one of them was to antagonize. In 11 games in 1995, Ohio State tailback Eddie George had rushed for 1,722 yards in leading the second-ranked Buckeyes to an undefeated record. He was the frontrun- ner to win the Heisman Trophy (and would claim it), and Gittleson, prodded by Carr, let Biakabutuka know it. "If they had a great player, we'd have our Sunday meeting and I'd say, 'Look we don't have anyone as good as Eddie George. He is the greatest back in the country, and it will take 13 guys to stop him,'" Carr said. "Mike was in those meetings, and he'd take it further. He was in the weight room, and he could be relentless. You hear that stuff three, four days in a row, and it be- U-M's Top-10 Single-Season Rushing Performances Year Player Yards YPG 1995 1. Tshimanga Biakabutuka 1,818 139.8 2000 2. Anthony Thomas 1,733 144.4 1987 3. Jamie Morris 1,703 141.9 2010 4. Denard Robinson* 1,702 130.9 2003 5. Chris Perry 1,674 128.8 2006 6. Mike Hart 1,562 120.2 1976 7. Rob Lytle 1,469 122.4 1981 8. Butch Woolfolk 1,459 121.6 2004 9. Mike Hart 1,455 121.3 1988 10. Tony Boles 1,408 128.0 *Quarterback Biakabutuka trailed Jamie Morris' school record (1,703 yards in 1987) by 292 yards going into the regular-season finale, but with his huge performance against Ohio State, he claimed the Michigan single-season rushing record. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS MAGIC

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