The topic of the Michigan Wolverines’ mental toughness, poise and togetherness has been a hot one coming off the team’s 49-24 win at Minnesota over the weekend. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has raved about it and players from all over the roster have noted how a shift in mindset and preparation has helped put them in a spot to do something special.
“Minnesota was a great team. There was so much preparation that was put in this offseason, wide receiver Mike Sainristil said on Tuesday. ”So much of trying to rebuild because we did lose a lot of guys. When you see (right tackle) Jalen Mayfield come back, stuff like that is really what helped us continue gelling our offense and continuing putting pieces together. It finally felt good to go out there and show what we’ve been working on. I feel like there is some stuff we left out there. There are still things that we need to work on. There’s always room for improvement. We’ve won. It’s Week 2. We’ll continue working on those things.”
Fullback Ben Mason, who gave a passionate speech to the team before the game and followed it up with a strong performance, said there was not a tone that needed to be set. They simply stayed calm no matter the situation.
“Everyone was just calm no matter what happened in the game,” he said. “There was a penalty early on in the game that stalled the drive and led to a blocked punt. They ended up scoring first. When we were on the sideline as an offense, nobody panicked. We just said that when we get back out there, we’re playing. That’s exactly what happened. Some good blocking up front by the offensive line. Nice pull from Chuck Filiaga, and Zach Charbonnet took it away from there and went the distance.
When asked if that was different from years prior to this, he replied: “I would say so. I just think we responded really well in this game situation.”
It was felt on the defensive side of the ball, as well. One day after defensive end Aidan Hutchinson admitted the vibe was different, his defensive linemate Chris Hinton doubled down on it.
“I’ve only been here for two years, but the difference between this year and last year is crazy,” Hinton said. “The vibe on this team is very focused, very determined. Offense, defense, special teams, everyone... We’re a team. We’re all one this year. Everyone has bought in. I’m excited about this team and I’ve been excited about this year. Great teammates, great coaches, great guys. And everyone has bought in so it’s going to be exciting to see what we do this season.”
So what exactly is different behind the scenes? Sainristil said that the Wolverines were given a mental reboot via a chat with Captain Tom Chaby, a retired and highly-decorated former U.S. Navy Seal who speaks to groups about team effectiveness and leadership, among other topics.
“There’s a lot (that’s different),” Sainristil said. “This team is more united. I can say that coming from year one to year two. Just the difference in people’s mindsets. I wanna thank Captain Chaby for that, really changing the mindset of people. Helping everyone realize you’ll never be able to go out on a football field and be an individual — it’ll always have to come out as one. Football is a team sport, and if you’re not willing to go out there and put it all on the line for the person next to you, you don’t deserve to be out there, pretty much.”
Asked to elaborate on that, Sainristil gave an example of the team’s selfless attitude.
“A lot of people this year, we want to work together. There’s not selfishness, but not too many people are focused on...like Jalen Mayfield for instance. He had every opportunity to leave. But he came back and the first thing he texted was, ‘I came back to do this for us. I want to continue fighting for you guys and I’m not leaving until we win a championship.’ Examples like that is what help that family, that team bond.”