There are few players in the history of Michigan Wolverines' football that went through as important of a transition as Mike Sainristil did and succeeded. Coming into Ann Arbor as a three-star recruit who only held nine Power 5 offers, Sainristil switched positions. In doing so, he became one of the most important contributors and a leader of one of the best teams in college football.
The story so far
It was clear that as soon as Sainristil got on campus, Jim Harbaugh and the coaching staff saw something. As a freshman in 2019, he played in all 13 games on the special teams unit and appeared at wide receiver multiple times. He broke out in the 45-14 win over Notre Dame where he started his first game for the Wolverines. He finished the day with a team-leading 73 yards on 3 receptions and a touchdown.
In 2020, his offensive role expanded with the team in a COVID-shortened season. He started three of the six games at wideout and caught two touchdown while also contributing on special teams.
As a junior, Sainristil became a returner on the team and also had 22 catches for 312 yards and two touchdowns. On a College Football Playoff-caliber team, he was the No. 3 receiver on the roster and played meaningful snaps.
The problem was that Michigan’s best wideout Ronnie Bell would be returning from injury in 2022. He was expected to take back the No. 1 receiver spot, bumping Cornelius Johnson to No. 2, and Roman Wilson to No. 3. With very few four wideout looks for the Michigan offense, it looked like Sainristil was going to be lost in the depth chart.
Instead of transferring, Sainristil bet on himself that he could see playing time at corner. It was a position he had played in high school, but it seemed like it was an uphill battle for him to wind up being a starter. The opportunity was there for him, and he started to make the switch to corner in spring ball.
Star defensive back D.J. Turner saw a path for him during Big Ten Media Days last year.
“He will make noise this year. I’m confident on that,” Turner said. “He always jokes around with me that he’s a DB but I mean, it didn’t surprise me at all. He got in there. He just got comfortable. I mean, the hardest part for him was just getting the playbook. I mean, he got it now. So now just getting comfortable with and going into the season.”
Seeing playing time suddenly wasn’t out of reach, and the expectation quickly changed to him potentially starting for the Wolverines. It didn’t take long for him to show that he was ready. He started the first game of the season against Colorado State making three tackles, including a sack. Immediately, he showed all of the makings of a starting nickel cornerback being named the team’s Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.
A few weeks later, Sainristil had one of his best games of the season against Maryland making eight tackles, breaking up a pass, and recording a sack. Four weeks into the year, it was clear that the switch from wide receiver to corner was going to pay off for him in a big way.
Then against Ohio State, he made the biggest defensive play of the season:
2022 Big Time Performances: Mike Sainristil vs Ohio State— The Winged Helmet (@TWH_Chris) May 26, 2023
As U-M held a 31-20 lead with just over 7 min left in the 4th, Sainristil made what might be the biggest play of the 2022 season - breaking up a sure TD and forcing OSU to settle for a field goal instead.
Not only was Sainristil contributing on defense, but he was shining in the brightest moments. He followed this game against Ohio State by recording his first career interception in the College Football Playoff loss to TCU where he also had seven tackles. By the end of the year, he was All-Big Ten honorable mention for his play.
Outlook for 2023
If Sainristil continues playing at a high level as a super senior in 2023, he will have a great chance to be an NFL Draft pick. His transition from offense to defense has been seamless. He’s expected to be a large part of what should be another great Michigan defense.
Without a doubt, Sainristil is the starter at nickel, but could also get the chance to see more snaps on the outside and compete for the CB2 behind Will Johnson. With his experience in all phases of the game for the Wolverines, I’d chalk him up as a favorite to be a captain for the team in 2024. He was vocal several times throughout the year while firing up the defense on the sidelines, and was a representative of the team at Big Ten Media Days.
He knows the expectations that this team has on them, but is trying his best to make sure they are tampered in the locker room:
“All we can do is worry about who we have in Schembechler Hall and make sure that everybody in Schembechler Hall is on the same page and everybody’s goal is the same goal. Making sure that everybody’s individual goals only help the team’s goals.”
Sounds like a leader to me, and he’s earned every bit of praise that is coming for him in 2023 and beyond.