The Pressure of Success
Sports are cool for a lot of reasons. One of those is we see people in situations we don’t normally see in day-to-day life; with clock ticking, a chance at redemption, legacies and pressure, wordless, powerful statements, hope and fear. For Michigan, their 2016 season is being defined by a certain pressure to succeed, as talk of a playoff berth has been bandied about. Countless times, we’ve seen teams fold under such pressure.
And yet, here is a strange case where much of the drumbeat for the team’s potential is coming from its homegrown fans (and some more from savvy sites like Pro Football Focus). In fact, some more of it has come from Coach Harbaugh, who looked at a crowd of people celebrating Nike’s return and thought about championship celebrations. “That was the first thing that struck me,” he said. “This is really motivating.”
No one is better than Harbaugh at solving problems a year or two in advance, and this may be another example of that. Michigan’s roster is undergoing a youth movement, full of potential but not yet used to the championship stage. The young guys that will be so important in 2017 - guys who will take leadership roles when this year’s stars leave town - are getting their first taste of championship expectations.
They get a chance to ride the wave, wherever that may take them. Win or lose, they learn how to handle the pressure of bright lights and high expectations. Now, that’s not to say Michigan doesn’t deserve these expectations, but rather, the pressure on this team is coming from within more than from without, and that’s a key difference.
A different atmosphere is starting to take hold in Ann Arbor than the one we’ve seen over the last half-decade. The players who are on their way out the door, from the sure-fire NFL picks to the breakout seniors, have experienced hardship and embarrassment; the freshmen, meanwhile, get to become familiar with the bumpy road to success and pride and legacy. And they might as well get comfortable with it now; they’ll need a few stories to tell in 2017 and beyond.
The Prodigal Son
Corey Clement has always been something of a can’t-miss prospect. He was a four-star prospect coming out of high school, and was ranked as a top-100 player according to 247Sports. His junior year of high school, he rushed for 2,510 yards and 36 touchdowns, breaking a South Jersey record held by Wisconsin legend Ron Dayne.
Then, on September 28th of his senior season, back when he was still committed to Pitt and its then-head coach, Paul Chryst, Clement really had a night for the ages. He ripped off 476 yards in a Friday night game against Gloucester City, scoring 7 touchdowns total. He did it on only 15 carries.
Clement would soon decommit from Pitt, and ultimately made his way to Madison, Wisconsin. The first game of his freshman year, the UW tailback ran for 101 yards on 16 carries and a score. His next game: 149 on 13, and a couple scores. For his freshman and sophomore years, things looked bright.
By junior year, it was his time. He was the star. The man. And he fumbled it.
"Twenty-four is kind of a new start. I'm not letting six go entirely,” Clement said to reporters this spring, as he talked about how he was putting 2015 behind him - which included changing his jersey number.
“I'm just seeing how it goes throughout the spring. Me and Coach Chryst are talking about really changing my mindset and attitude towards how I approach practice each day.”
Pretty much everything went wrong for Wisconsin’s ground game in 2015, and the team plummeted from 4,482 rushing yards in ‘14 to 1,953 - their lowest total since 2004. For Clement, his junior year was hampered, first by a hernia injury suffered against Alabama, then by two citations for disorderly conduct in November after he got into a fight in the early-morning hours of his team’s 31-24 win over Maryland. Clement ended up being suspended for one game.
"Last year was kind of an example of stop thinking into the future and live in the now," Clement said. "I think God put me back into this team once again because I was thinking about the league, just like it was all amped up. … Everybody knows the incident last year. It's just all about making smart decisions because you're under this magnifying glass, and everything you do isn't equivalent to the average person on campus, so I've got to really watch my back."
Clement’s maturity will continue to be scrutinized as he finds his way back into the fans’ good graces. At the same time, he will also need to lead his teammates through a murderer’s slate of games, including a season-opener against LSU and one four-game stretch against MSU, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa, teams that went a combined 46-8 a year ago.
"I'm just going to let everything pan out," Clement said. "I think last year, just setting everything out there kind of set me back. All throughout high school and my first two years here, I just let the game come to me."
Top Ten Freshman Running Backs
Alright, let’s get meta here for a minute. And don’t freak out, but I’m about to use the word “slideshow.” In fact, here, check it out:
Basically, I wanted to have some way to take the enjoyable parts of a slideshow and make it a better viewing experience. Don’t worry, I hate the slideshow trend in sports writing as much as you do. Don’t worry, I’m not doing this to increase page views, as it doesn’t link to this site. Don’t worry, you can load all ten onto one page (just click the image above) and it loads very easily on all computers.
What this does is it takes a slideshow and gives you ultimate viewing control over it. You can skim through a “Top Ten NFL Rookies From The Big Ten” and see if Joey Bosa’s ugly mug shows up. You can decide to click through to view the whole thing, and that way you get the full text accompanying the photos and you also get everything on one page. It also lets me emphasize a visual aspect while keeping everything condensed and, hopefully, layered.
So, enjoy. I’ll try to have top-ten lists be a regular feature on here. One caveat for the slideshow above: I scouted every 2016 running back commit, but I did not include Minnesota JUCO tailback Kobe McCrary, who would most definitely be on this list. Then again, he should be good enough to be included; he’s a junior. (Also, he’s scary good.)
Hitting the Links | Youth Movement
I’d been saying for a while that this year’s group was going to make a very early impact. I am also expecting one or two other names to end up working their way into important roles before this season is out.
Shane’s done a great job handling adversity and incredible pressure to perform. I know I speak for everybody when I say a job well done.
Jalil was a satellite camp attendee in June, but he actually earned a scholarship offer on May 12th. Originally from Detroit, he’s called Michigan his ‘dream school.’ He is now a composite four-star after being unranked when he first committed.