Losing three senior offensive linemen to graduation, Michigan will boast a slew of new starters in the trenches in 2017, and soon-to-be redshirt senior Patrick Kugler is eager to sink his teeth into any one of the vacancies.
A Pennsylvania native, Kugler fought tooth and nail last season to earn the nod along the Wolverines’ offensive line, but he ultimately fell into a reserve role for the third consecutive season. He appeared in five games (one start), earning a majority of his reps at center and guard.
Now, Kugler has no intention of befriending the pine in Ann Arbor for his final year of eligibility.
"I want to prove that I belong here at the University of Michigan," Kugler said, per Ed Kengerski of MGoBlue.com. "I probably have a lot of doubters out there, but I got to prove to everyone that I belong here and that I will win here."
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t one to award any handouts to upperclassmen, as he has proved over the course of his two-year stint with Michigan. As such, Kugler could consider transferring elsewhere to earn a starting role if he doesn’t make the cut in Ann Arbor, but he scoffed at such an idea, hinting that he truly bleeds Michigan Blue.
"Michigan through and through for me," Kugler said, per Matt Wenzel of MLive.com. "It was Go Blue all the way."
Having seen most of his snaps as an interior offensive lineman, Kugler is likely eying either of the two open guard spots left in graduating seniors Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden’s wake.
Kugler, however, sees no reason as to why he can’t take on any position along the Wolverines’ offensive line, as he highlighted his position versatility and "smarts" as two of his premier traits. He also assured Kengerski that he physical enough to play within Michigan's feared starting five.
Over the course of spring practice, Kugler saw a lot of snaps at center, while Michigan’s Mason Cole, the team’s 13-game starter at center last season, has been asked to take his talents to other positions along the offensive line, including left tackle.
"Nothing is set in stone right now," Kugler said, per Wenzel. "Really, the only thing I’d say is Mason is going to start, regardless of where he starts."
In addition to his desire to lock down a starting role, Kugler hopes to fully grasp his senior status and lead his younger teammates both on and off the field, regardless of whom Michigan starts along their offensive line.
"It’s up to us to lead them," Kugler said, per Kengerski. "We got a really young group, a lot of young talent. So, it’s just about finding the five best, regardless of who it is or what position they’re playing. So, it’s just about competing every day and outworking that [defensive] line."
Whether Kugler reaches his ultimate goal has yet to be determined, but his attitude towards his role on the team and the 2017 season should bode well for the Boys in Blue.
Do you think Kugler ends up starting in 2017?
This poll is closed
Yes; he’s a coach’s son, redshirt senior, and can man multiple positions
A little bit, but only because of injury; he struggled last year and hasn’t shown his potential
No; Michigan has too many young guys with high upside: Onwenu, Bredeson, Ruiz, & Runyan