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Expectations for Michigan football’s fifth and sixth-year players

Those who stayed became champions, but can these 11 players help the Wolverines do it again?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big Ten Championship Game - Michigan v Iowa Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite the departure of 10 players from last year’s Big Ten-winning squad, the Michigan Wolverines remain a veteran-laden group entering the 2022 season.

Eleven players on the roster have been in Ann Arbor since 2018. As a refresher, the 2018 class included Cam McGrone, Jalen Mayfield, and recently-departed Aidan Hutchinson. Two of those 11 have been on the team since 2017, a class that was headlined by Donovan Peoples-Jones, Aubrey Solomon and Cesar Ruiz. Feel old yet?

A few of these remaining veterans haven’t even scratched the surface of their talents. Much like the on-looking neighborhood kid from The Incredibles.

“Well what are you waiting for, kid?”

“I don’t know, something AMAZING, I guess.”

Fans are still holding out hope for a few late bloomers. While most players are who they are by their third year, for a plethora of reasons some do not actualize their talents until their fourth year on campus or even later.

Take sixth-year senior center Andrew Vastardis from last year for example. Vastardis saw three U.S. presidents take office during his time in Ann Arbor and never really took that leap of fruition until his final season.

However, not every member of the Wolverines from the class of 2017 or 2018 is hanging around the fringes. Kicker Jake Moody is the best in the country at what he does and wide receiver Ronnie Bell was an injury away from what appeared to be a historic season.

With a mix of proven commodities and long shot investments, these veterans provide a strong cultural presence and bring experience and leadership above all else to the team.

Three cheers for five years and two cheers for the sixth-years. Here are the elder statesmen of Team 143 and what to expect from them this season.

Tight End Joel Honigford (Class of 2017)

After converting from offensive tackle to tight end, Honigford found his calling last season. Primarily used as a blocker, he is able to use his power and technique as a lineman to obliterate edge-setting defenders and open up running lanes.

The devastating blocks will continue, but please, gods of football — please let Honigford score one touchdown this year.

Punter Brad Robbins (Class of 2017)

If you go to a game this season, be sure to watch Brad Robbins swing a metal chair over his head as he fires up the troops on the sidelines. When he’s on the field, he is a weapon and one of the best punters in the country. The only problem is, the Wolverines rarely punted last season, so his punting prowess largely flew under the radar.

Last season, Michigan averaged 3.2 punts per game, good enough for No. 115 in the country. Robbins will continue to be a field-flipping specialist, but the less he punts, the better.

Kicker Jake Moody (Class of 2018)

The Lou Groza Award-winning kicker will continue to be invaluable in close games and has a chance to become the best kicker in program history.

Wide Receiver Ronnie Bell (Class of 2018)

There is no player who deserves a superstar season this year more than Ronnie Bell. He has endured everything imaginable during his time as a Wolverine: love, hate, doubt, belief, and most recently and overwhelmingly, support.

Bell only technically registered one catch last season for 76 yards and a touchdown against Western Michigan (real ones count that one-handed snag on the sidelines that was overturned due to a bogus OPI call), before sustaining a season-ending knee injury.

Can he bounce back to form? Print the t-shirts: “I believe in Ronnie Bell,” and I think he is WR1 this season.

Defensive End Taylor Upshaw (Class of 2018)

Taylor Upshaw came to Michigan as a project recruit and last season, the project finally started to come together. Largely a third string player in 2021, Upshaw finished third on the team in sacks (2.5) and was a physical force on the edge.

Upshaw has always had the motor, and last season was the first glimpse of his skill and physicality rounding into form. If he can put a bow on his development with new defensive line coach Mike Elston, Upshaw could become an explosive third down specialist this season.

Offensive Tackle Ryan Hayes (Class of 2018)

Coming off an All-Big Ten second team season and having 18 starts at left tackle under his belt, Ryan Hayes is going to be one of the best left tackles in the country this season.

Hayes will be one of the captains of this unit, and possibly on the team. In a long lineage of great left tackles to play at Michigan, he is next.

Cornerback Gemon Green (Class of 2018)

Gemon Green was a starting corner in 2020 and in 2021 until he was usurped by a surging DJ Turner halfway through the year. As a third corner last season, Green was solid, but now he will once again be called upon to start.

Green will primarily draw the opposing team’s second option at wide receiver with the aforementioned Turner taking the No. 1. If Green can learn how to utilize his length (currently listed at 6-foot-2) and play with consistent discipline, Michigan will have one of the best corner tandems in the conference.

Safety German Green (Class of 2018)

The twin brother of Gemon, German has struggled to get significant playing time on defense, but has become a fixture of special teams. German showed glimpses of significant improvement during the spring game, but the depth chart at safety is log jammed with talent.

This season, expect German to be a team leader on special teams and add experienced depth and guidance to the safeties room.

Defensive Tackle Julius Welschof (Class of 2018)

Julius Welschof is the oldest player on the team (turned 25 in March) and it somehow feels like we have been discussing the former German champion moguls skier’s potential since the Clinton Administration.

Welschof has been a rotational defensive lineman the last few years, but now has slimmed down 20 pounds and is listed as an edge rusher. Did Harbaugh finally crack the code and unlock the potential of old man Julius? Time will tell, but for now we’ll all continue to feel like Judge Smails from Caddyshack every time we hear his name: Well… We’re waiting!

Linebacker Michael Barrett (Class of 2018)

Michael Barrett is one of the most important players on this defense. Last year, after several substitution errors against Michigan State, the Wolverines needed to find a solution to enable them to blend run support and coverage skills against up-tempo offenses.

Answer: Michael Barrett.

Barrett allowed the defense to become more versatile in early down sets without sacrificing quality pass defense against hurry-up offenses in third down situations. Barrett is an X-factor on defense and special teams and is guaranteed to produce a few “WOW” plays, just like he has the past two seasons (Mainly the 2020 sack/ forced fumble against Minnesota and the 2021 throw-it-back kick return against Maryland).

Tight End Luke Schoonmaker (Class of 2018)

Luke Schoonmaker burst onto the scene last year and earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention for his efforts. Schoony was a ferocious blocker and developed into a reliable safety valve receiving option that tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns.

Expect more of the same for Schoonmaker this season; coupled with Erick All, these two make up one of the best tight end tandems in the country.