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Ryan Hayes was an unsung stalwart at left tackle for the Wolverines

It’s time to appreciate Michigan’s blind side protector.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOV 19 Illinois at Michigan Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines have a long, storied tradition where one position is directly synonymous with the university. This extends across any major college football program for that matter, like a fun word association game: Ohio State, wide receivers; Oklahoma, quarterbacks; LSU, defensive backs.

But when ball-knowers think Michigan, they think offensive linemen. The big nasties up front for the Wolverines have been a focal point for every great team that has ever taken the field at the Big House.

Playing offensive line at Michigan is a tradition of success that has produced All-Americans, NFL Hall of Famers and even presidents of the United States. It is a legacy, a shared brotherhood of pancake blocks and lukewarm Busch Lights. During Michigan’s best stretches of sustained success, you can always find a talented offensive line paving the way.

The Wolverines just completed the winningest two-year stretch in program history (25 wins) and were unsurprisingly led by the best offensive line in the country each season. Michigan’s offensive line became the first consecutive winners of the coveted Joe Moore Award, presented annually to the nation’s top offensive line.

While all positions across the line are important, perhaps none are more important than that of the left tackle. The left tackle protects the quarterback’s blind side and must possess a rare combination of size and athleticism. There is a reason they are paid exceptionally well in the NFL.

Just like all offensive linemen at Michigan, left tackles that don the maize and blue have a tradition to uphold. Names like Jumbo Elliott (who also played right tackle), Jeff Backus, Jon Runyan Sr. (and Jr.), Jake Long and Taylor Lewan are all names that come to mind.

It is time to add Ryan Hayes to that list.

His accolades won’t blow you away — never an All-American and only a two-time second team All-Big Ten player — but Hayes played the hardest position on the best offensive line in the country for two straight years while winning 25 games and two Big Ten championships.

Hayes has appeared in 40 games and has started 29 for the Wolverines. A former four-star prospect from Traverse City, he played tight end in high school and, in fact, almost wasn’t recruited by Michigan.

In a Nov. 2022 press conference, head coach Jim Harbaugh raved about Hayes and his position switch at Michigan: “Another great story of a tight end. Many of the doubters — even had coaches at the time here: ‘No, we can’t take him. Don’t take him and Jalen Mayfield. They’re both not big enough.’”

If Hayes had gone to Notre Dame or Michigan State, do the Wolverines win back-to-back Big Ten championships and Joe Moore Awards? Does his replacement bring his combination of size, athleticism, durability, leadership and chemistry with Trevor Keegan at left guard?

Hayes was one of the ultimate unsung heroes over the last two years for the Wolverines. An omnipresent stabilizing force that helped Michigan’s offensive line reach heights they never expected.

No one summed up his tenure quite like his parents back in 2018 when he committed to the Wolverines: “Ryan is a quiet leader, not demonstrative or loud, but does bring passion and energy to his football game. He does not invite attention to himself, other than on the field or court, due to his size and competitiveness. Ryan is more concerned with the strength and success of his team rather than any individual accolades he may receive.”

Five years later, those words have proved timeless.

Hayes wasn’t an All-American, but who’s to say he can’t be president?

This Busch Light’s for you, Ryan Hayes.