Three of Michigan’s most notable starters, Devin Bush, Karan Higdon, and Rashan Gary, have formally announced that they will be sitting out of the Peach Bowl in order to prepare for the draft. Before we let them get too far in the rearview mirror, here’s a little trip down memory lane!
The Devin Bush incident prior to the 2018 Michigan-Michigan State game is practically legendary by now. Most of the pregame media hype had centered around gregarious defensive end Chase Winovich’s comments about a “revenge tour” and clip after clip after clip of Michigan’s fumbled snap in 2015. Then, out of nowhere, was Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, tearing up Michigan State’s midfield logo with his cleats.
By now, we know more of the story. Michigan State players had provoked Bush and he’d had enough. True to form, Bush didn’t speak much of the incident. He simply played his heart out, won, and then celebrated on the very same midfield logo. Bush let Winovich do the trash talking. All Bush himself said was, “It was pure emotion. I did what I did. I can’t take it back.” No apologies. He had torn up the logo and then won the game. Nuff said.
The Michigan State game in 2018 certainly wasn’t the first time Bush let his emotions show. The Miami Herald describes Bush as “almost choked up” when he announced his commitment to Michigan in December 2015.
Because Bush’s father, Devin Bush Sr., was a Florida State safety who went on to play eight seasons in the NFL, Devin Bush Jr. was a highly sought after recruit in the state of Florida, where he grew up and played high school football. But pretty much everywhere else, he wasn’t incredibly well-known. Rivals.com rated him as a four-star prospect. He was the No. 25 prospect in Florida and No. 171 nationally. It didn’t seem likely that Michigan would be one of his top choice schools, given the legacy his father had at FSU, and that Michigan’s defensive coordinator, D.J. Durkin, had recently left the program for a head coaching job at Maryland.
A few weeks before Bush’s commitment, Sam Webb warned Michigan fans not to get their hopes up: “Harbaugh’s message to all of [the linebacker recruits] was, if I hired a guy as good as D.J., expect me to go out and hire another guy just as good...The issue for him is, three of the schools for him on list of finalists are changing defensive coordinators – Michigan, Auburn, Georgia – they’re all changing defensive coordinators.”
Yep, that’s right. Bush committed in the post-Durkin, pre-Brown era, a time that almost feels like ancient history to many Michigan fans. Luckily for the fans, Bush was looking for an opportunity to turn a program around, and the big fat question mark surrounding Michigan’s defense provided him exactly that.
“I got a little emotional because I was just thinking about coming to Flanagan [High School] as a freshman and how much work went into turning this program around,” Bush said when he committed. “We changed the program at Flanagan and I’m going up there [to Michigan] with some friends and hopefully we can do the same thing.”
Retrospectively, it’s hard not to look back on Bush’s hopes without a little bit of sentimentality. To call Don Brown “a guy as good as D.J.” would be a laughable understatement, as Michigan’s defense has been one of the top three in the country every year since his arrival, and it has carried the team on its back, especially in 2017 when the defense scored more points than the offense several games in a row. But it would be ignorant to give Brown all the credit, because his defensive genius would be rendered useless without reliable guys like Bush who left their heart on the field every single Saturday.
Compared to his teammates, of course, Bush has always appeared pretty reserved. Defensive ends Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary are perhaps the faces of Michigan’s defense, at least when it comes to name recognition and media hype. But Bush was a steady, reliable, irreplaceable contributor. He kept quiet and did his job, game after game after game.
Bush’s unwavering work ethic and quiet contributions didn’t go unnoticed. In 2018, he was a consensus All-American. The Athletic currently lists him as the #3 linebacker in his draft class. Jim Harbaugh said on his radio show, “We recruit players now to be like Devin — guys we think are going to be another Devin Bush — and you’re out there looking for that.”
In Bush’s last game with Michigan, he suffered a hip injury and was carted off the field. He later tweeted that he was not cleared to play in the Peach Bowl, and that he would be pursuing his dream to follow after his father and play in the NFL.
In Karan Higdon’s “goodbye post” (the social media post that has come to be expected of NFL-bound football players whose teams didn’t make the playoff, in which they formally announce that they will be sitting out for their bowl game), he said, “These past four years have been nothing less than an unforgettable journey.
“I’ve come in as a young man with little knowledge and I now leave as a Michigan Man full of advice and wise words to share. I’ve battled many trials and tribulations while accomplishing many mile stones and leaving my footprints at the University of Michigan.”
Higdon certainly made a name for himself as a Michigan Man. In 2018, he became Michigan’s first running back to break the 1,000-yard mark since Fitzgerald Toussaint in 2011. On ESPN analyst Mel Kiper’s Big Board for 2019 NFL draft, Higdon is the 8-ranked running back. Outside of football, he’s worked towards his goal of becoming a nurse anesthetist and started an organization that works with disadvantaged youth.
Looking at Higdon today, it’s easy to forget that he really did come into Michigan as “a young man with little knowledge” who chose the school on signing day, simply because of a gut feeling, even though he had been committed to another school for months. Higdon’s story could have gone completely differently.
In October of 2014, Higdon, who’s from Sarasota, Florida, decommitted from South Florida University, and committed to a Power Five school, University of Iowa. As a four-star running back, he was the highest-ranked prospect in the Iowa’s recruiting class, and thanks to the Hawkeyes’ no-visit policy, it appeared there was little chance that he would go anywhere else. He was a Hawkeye, and he was excited.
Up in Ann Arbor, however, football was about as dramatic and political as football gets- which is very. After a disappointing 5-7 season, Michigan had fired head coach Brady Hoke and, to the surprise of many, had hired the legendary Jim Harbaugh in December. As a former Michigan quarterback and San Francisco 49ers coach, Harbaugh was heralded as the savior of Michigan football. Fans didn’t just hope that he would turn the program around. They expected him to- and that started with recruiting.
As MLive reported at the time, “Within a matter of hours, recruits who hadn’t given Michigan the time of day for months were suddenly waiting by their phones to get a chance to talk with Harbaugh.” Chris Clark called him “the LeBron James of coaching.”
At the end of December, Michigan only had six players committed to its 2015 class: quarterback Alex Malzone, wide receiver Brian Cole, offensive lineman Grant Newsome, safety Tyree Kinnel, offensive lineman Jon Runyan Jr., and kicker Andrew David. More dishearteningly, it had recently lost commitments from running back Mike Weber, corner Garrett Taylor, defensive end Darian Roseboro, linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., and tight end Chris Clark. If Harbaugh was going to live up to the hype, his first job was to flip some of these commits back, or, at the very least, add some excitement to the recruiting class.
Enter Karan Higdon, the four-star prospect from Sarasota, and the 29th ranked running back in the country. He had committed to Iowa in October, long before Harbaugh had formally entered the picture at Michigan. Now it was January, and Harbaugh was expected to do big things. One of those big things was a scholarship offer for Higdon.
Initially, Higdon thanked Harbaugh for the offer but declined. Iowa’s no-visit policy prevented him from visiting Ann Arbor even if he had wanted to. But Higdon’s mother wondered if her son might be overlooking an important opportunity. When Higdon got home from his part-time job that night, his mom told him he had a flight to catch. He was going to Ann Arbor.
Needless to say, Higdon was impressed by Harbaugh and the University of Michigan, hence the dilemma on signing day. His belabored the decisions up until the final moments, but today he says he doesn’t regret his decision. Why would he? It was a win-win. Higdon made a name for himself in a football program that, in his four years, became one of the best in the country. Harbaugh showed that he was able to live up to his reputation as relentless recruiter (although he said flipping commits was “just the way the pickle squirted” that year).
Rashan Gary has never been average, and, after playing football for three years at the University of Michigan, he’s not ready to start now. As expected, Gary announced that he will be forgoing Michigan’s bowl game in favor of preparing for the draft. The Rashan Gary spin on this decision that separates him from the rest of the pack? Instead of signing with just any NFL agent, Gary is signing with Ian Clarke, an agent who works for the sports agency of which Gary is CEO: Rashan Gary Sports.
That’s right. Not only is Gary preparing for the NFL draft, but he’s preparing for life after his football career. His website lists himself as CEO of Rashan Gary Sports, his mother as president, and he has a head of marketing, a lead sports agent, and general counsel. It is reported that Gary has received trademark legislation for his name and is in the process of registering for a trademark for his logo, which he has used on social media all year.
Gary is a top-10 prospect on most NFL draft boards, and by all accounts is expected to have a successful NFL career. But Gary has always been one to go above and beyond, to separate himself from the pack. This time, he’s doing it in the form of a sports agency.
Gary could have played football at pretty much any college he wanted. In 2016, he was the first high school player to be named top player in the country unanimously by all the major recruiting networks. At 6’4” and 295, he was a smart, strong defensive end with an athleticism that looked like it should belong to someone much smaller than him. (Rivals.com analyst Mike Farrell said, “He’s a great athlete but he never stops coming at you. He hustles on every play, every practice. In games, he’s just relentless.”) A few weeks before signing day, his finalists were Clemson, Michigan, Alabama, and Auburn.
Michigan’s recruitment of Gary was about as tenacious as Gary’s style of playing. He was the class of 2016, which means that his junior year of high school, Michigan went 5-7 under Brady Hoke, his senior year of high school, Michigan went 10-3 under Jim Harbaugh, and, right before he was supposed to commit, Michigan’s defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin left the program for a head coaching job at Maryland.
Not only was Gary recruited by Brady Hoke and Jim Harbaugh, but he was recruited by his own high school coach. About two weeks before signing day, Gary took an unofficial visit to Michigan, during which he got snowed in and stayed in the Michigan facilities and studied for exams all day. At that point, the Michigan staff breathed a sigh of relief, because it looked like he was all but committed. But about a week before signing day, Gary had one official visit left, and he used it on Clemson.
The battle for Gary was back on, and Michigan was ready to pull all the strings.
This is when Michigan hired Gary’s former high school coach, Chris Partridge, as its head of player personnel. Michigan had been working for years to make sure that Michigan had the exact environment that Gary wanted. They had flipped Ohio State commit Kareem Walker to Michigan in December, a four-star running back and close friend of Gary’s. They also worked to flip Gary’s childhood best friend, Michael Dwumfour, who was initially committed to Penn State. Michigan also had some notable players on the roster who had gone to Gary’s high school: Juwann Bushell-Beatty and a certain Jabrill Peppers.
On signing day, Harbaugh stepped backstage during his flashy “Signing with the Stars” event to squint at somebody’s phone. It was Rashan Gary, announcing his commitment to Michigan. Harbaugh smiled contentedly and stepped back onstage. The war had been won.
“I’m feeling good. A lot of stress off me, so I’m happy,” Gary said during an interview on ESPN’s National Signing Day Special. “I picked Michigan because, you know, that’s a place where I felt comfortable. That’s a place where my family felt comfortable. That’s a place where I felt the academic support is great and the degree holds a lot of weight. ... It’s going to help me for a lifetime goal, and that’s to make sure I provide for my family.”
Like many Michigan athletes, Gary had chosen the school with its top-tier academics in mind. He majored in General Studies (“I want to take economics, I want to take psychology, I want to take marketing and sales and administration,” he told his mother, per The Athletic) and pursued the Marketing and Sales Track Certificate from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.
His football career at Michigan was marked by a relentless desire to win. Although the team perhaps never provided him with the opportunities to live up to the hype that had surrounded him throughout recruiting, Gary was one of the most iconic faces of Michigan’s defense, which was one of the best defenses in the country all three years that he played. His junior season, he suffered a shoulder injury that could provided him with an easy excuse to sit out for the rest of the season and prepare for the draft.
As Shea Patterson emphasized, “He could’ve sat the rest of the season out and (focused) on his goals and dreams. But it’s all about the team with Rashan.”