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Michigan's Mount Rushmore: Rick Leach

This is Rick Leach and he should be on Michigan's Rushmore.

Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

November 9th, 1977: Michigan leads Ohio State, 7-3. The Wolverines had a third down and goal from the nine yard line. Rick Leach, playing his junior season at Michigan, lined up under center, faked to the fullback and barged through the left tackle to dive into the endzone. Ohio State never overcame that deficit, and Michigan won their second-straight game in the rivalry. Woody Hayes punched a cameraman late in the game when he knew it was over after Michigan recovered a fumble.

When talking career stats, as well as record against hated rivals, Leach had the gaudiest of numbers as a quarterback:

  • 48 career games as a starter
  • 2,176 rushing yards, 34 touchdowns
  • 4,284 passing yards, 48 touchdowns; All of these were Michigan records at the time. The 82 combined touchdowns in his career was also an NCAA record.
  • 7-2 career record versus Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State combined.
  • Three-time All-American, All-Big Ten, and Heisman finalist (finished third overall in 1978 behind Oklahoma's Billy Sims).

Leach's talent went beyond football, as he lettered in baseball for Michigan and played ten years in the major leagues, but for our purposes, his Michigan football career is worthy of higher praise.

His career began at Flint Southwestern High, and was one of the most-decorated high school stars in Michigan at the time. Leach was born at the University of Michigan hospital, and his father and uncle played baseball for Michigan. Bo Schembechler didn't have to give Leach the hard sell, merely promise him the opportunity to be the starting quarterback. The Philadelphia Phillies tried to snatch up Leach out of high school with a big signing bonus, but he instead elected to attend Michigan. Post-Leach, Schembechler always said publicly that Rick was the finest football player he'd ever been around in his coaching career, as well as the most naturally athletic guy and the most competitive. The same coaching career that saw Dennis Franklin, Dan Dierdorf, Ron Kramer, Jim Harbaugh, and Anthony Carter pass through his program.

The offensive skill Leach had was a defense-slaying machine. In those days, Michigan ran a lot of designed quarterback option runs and wishbone looks to take advantage of Leach's (and some of Michigan's other athletic QBs) athleticism. He had the ability to pull a hard fake to the running back and fire down field to an open receiver, or pull the ball down and charge into the endzone from a few yards out to start a beat down of Joe Montana-led Notre Dame.

Bo Schembechler said in his 1989 biography, titled "BO:"

We started him as a freshman, which is not something we usually do with a quarterback...The day before his first game, I took him aside and walked him around the field. "Listen Rick, we're going to start you tomorrow. There's going to be pressure, but I want you to forget about it. You just go out there and do what we taught you, and you'll be fine."

He went out an threw three interceptions (Michigan still won). You could see he ran the option like a veteran...You want to take Rick Leach out of the game, you better bring a forklift. Once, just before the Notre Dame game, he stepped in a hole and badly sprained his ankle. All the newspapers said no way Leach could play. He not only played, he starred, outshining Joe Montana and leading us to a 28-14 win.

There's also a story in that book about Schembechler allowing Leach to play half of the football spring game, and run off the field to change into his baseball uniform to make the second game of a double header. He drove in the winning run to beat Minnesota.

That was Rick Leach.

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