Makari Paige is often the forgotten starter on the Michigan Wolverines. When fans and pundits alike discuss Michigan’s secondary specifically, Paige sometimes even comes after the vacant second corner spot. However, this is nothing new for the senior whose time in Ann Arbor has been defined by perseverance and understated success.
The journey so far
Paige came to Michigan as a part of the 2020 recruiting class. Despite being the lowest-rated of three safety recruits (Jordan Morant was the highest, followed by RJ Moten), Paige wasted no time rising up the depth chart.
Despite a crowded room, Paige stood out and quickly caught the attention of then defensive coordinator Don Brown.
The best players in Michigan go to Michigan! Congrats to freshman @makaripaige for earning Guy status yesterday— Makari has been competing at a high level since he got on campus. pic.twitter.com/ejbYwu1GfN— Don Brown (@FBCoachDBrown) August 26, 2020
Paige went on to appear in all six games for the Wolverines in 2020, but by the end of the season, the team was 2-4 and his defensive coordinator was fired. At a fork-in-the-road moment, Paige could have transferred, but instead, he opted to stick it out.
The decision ultimately became more difficult when Paige’s role drastically decreased in 2021. He was a non-factor as a sophomore, only totaling two tackles while playing garbage time minutes at safety and special teams. While he continued to play well in coverage, he struggled to round out his game near the line of scrimmage, plummeting him down the depth chart.
Paige had been usurped by fellow sophomore safety RJ Moten and true freshman Rod Moore in the secondary. By the end of the season, most players in Paige’s position would have transferred out. He had been passed up by two peers and his path to ever becoming a starter had vastly diminished. However, despite the bleak outlook, he stuck it out again and instead of focusing blame outward, he reflected inward and improved his game.
Paige became more aggressive at stopping the run; more decisive in his communication; and further improved his strength as a reliable pass defender. It took four games, but by Week 5 against Iowa, he made his first career start. In all, he started five games, and in the ones he didn’t start, he was rotated heavily with Moten.
The junior finished the season with 41 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one interception — which came against Ohio State. All statistics were career-highs. Despite being a semi-starter, Paige’s play earned him All-Big Ten Honorable Mention recognition.
Finally, he played not like a dude, but a guy.
Outlook for 2023
Paige plays in a secondary with three potential All-Americans, but he has his sights on being one of the top defenders in the conference. Paige is one of the best pass-defending strong safeties in the Big Ten and has turned his run-defense deficiency into a strength.
He is used to being overlooked and forgotten, and although many may forget about Paige when handing out their flowers, he has made sure opponents never do.