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Spotlighting what makes Mason Graham a force for the defensive line

A one-two punch of wrestling acumen and incredible strength have vaulted the freshman to prominence in the trenches.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 10 Championship - Michigan vs Purdue Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Way back at the Big Ten Media Days in July, Jim Harbaugh described incoming freshman Mason Graham as “a gift from the football gods.” It appears that Harbaugh has satiated the likes of Bo and Yost with offerings aplenty.

Graham has played well beyond what his youth and freshman status would indicate, earning him a significant role in the defensive line rotation for the Michigan Wolverines. His 25 total tackles, 12 of which are solos, attest to his contributions to the nation’s third-best rush defense. However, what should have every Michigan fan exuberantly optimistic about Graham’s future in the Maize and Blue is his pass-rushing ability.

He currently leads all Michigan defensive tackles with 2.5 sacks, and one could easily envision that total being higher once he wins more playing time. It’s not too often that tackles, particularly freshman tackles, make such an impact on the passing game. Even Jalen Carter — the nation’s best defensive tackle — only has three sacks on the season. What accounts for Mason Graham’s ability to effect the passing attack?

The answer lies in his championship wrestling pedigree. When asked if his wrestling background has helped him in the trenches at a recent player media availability, Graham stated: “Yeah, for sure. Just like my leverage against offensive lineman in general from my viewpoint as a defensive lineman, it’s helped a lot. Knowing leverages and shedding blockers” has been augmented by his time on the mat. Considering he moves much more nimbly than his 6-foot-4, 317-pound frame suggests, he has a point.

In addition to his outstanding block-shedding technique, his efforts in the weight room have also paid off — and have won him the admiration of his teammates. At the same media availability, when Graham fielded a question about whether his strength turned some heads in the program, he answered in the affirmative: “Yeah, I feel like some of the guys were looking at me because I was already on their level or close to them strength-wise.” He went on to say he could bench Mazi Smith, who weighs in at 337 pounds, but noted that the training staff doesn’t explicitly allow players to max out on the benchpress. Something tells me he’s being coy.

The melding of his wrestling background, size and strength make Mason Graham one of the most exciting younger players on Team 143. Provided he can remain healthy and build upon this year’s production, Graham will be a pillar of the Michigan defense for several more years. Pardon the pun, but Graham will be the “gift that keeps on giving” for Harbaugh and the Michigan faithful for the foreseeable future. Whatever Harbaugh is offering the “gods of football,” he better have a copious supply of it.