When I was in 8thgrade, I was in the school play. Dorkiness/awkwardness that implies aside, I
can honestly say that I did for a girl (What, that doesn’t help my case?). Yes, in my lame, “never-been-kissed” reality, I decided to cease my burgeoning football career (8 catches as a 7th grade TE!) and bring my talents to the stage – because a guy with a stutter is what drama DEMANDS.
Anyway, the girl. Her name was Jen, and she was truly pretty, and pretty rad – frankly, out of my league. During scenes that didn’t involve either of us, she’d come over and take the right ear-bud of my headphones out and listen to “Under the Bridge” with me on my walkman. So, needless to say, I thought I had a shot. She seemed unreasonably interested in my fondness for Led Zeppelin, and this brand new band that not many people had heard of called Pearl Jam.
One day, I had my chance – we were waiting behind the set, during rehearsal, to do our scene as the scene before was being eviscerated by the drama teacher. It was taking forever. I was babbling about something, and Jen leaned in, lips puckered. In sheer terror, I took a step backwards, stumbled backwards over a wire, and ended up 5 feet away. Jen didn’t talk to me for around two years, leaving any confidence an eighth grader with a stutter may have had in tatters.
What if I hadn’t been simultaneously interested/terrified of girls? What if I had stood my ground? Would I have been the ladies man of High School? For awhile, my teenage mind saw this as a clear-cut turning point – one that could have swung countless events in my life.
Sports fans, of course, are no different. Fans in Portland still wonder what would have happened if Michael Jordan went there instead of Sam Bowie, or if Curtis Granderson hadn’t stumbled in the outfield in the 2006 World Series. Michigan, too, has it’s share of “what-ifs?”. Today, in the first part of a series of undetermined length about Michigan Sports “what-ifs?”, we bring you the Michigan “All Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Team”, comprised of players whose Michigan careers were cut short due to injury, misbehavior, or apathy. Today, the offense.
Matt Gutierrez, QB – Matt Gutierrez was a big-time Californian QB recruit with the distinction of having never lost a single game in three years as his High School’s starting quarterback – leading them to three consecutive years of being the nation’s top high school program. After red-shirting his first season behind John Navarre, Gutierrez was named Michigan’s starter for the 2004 season prior to the season opener. An odd practice injury later, Gutierrez was a last-minute scratch, ceding way to true-freshman Chad Henne. Gutierrez has played 3 NFL seasons since wrapping his career up at Idaho State University.
Kelly Baraka, HB – Baraka is probably the most famous Michigan player to never wear a Michigan uniform. Baraka was a universally lauded national recruit, and the top grab in a class that included Marlin Jackson, Ernest Shazor, and Pierre Woods. Baraka was thought to be the best RB, CB, and kick returner in the state of Michigan, and the best RB in the nation. Unfortunately, two arrests for possession of marijuana before stepping on campus got him suspended from the team. He spent a year at school, and participated in the ensuing spring game (I can personally attest to a completely bonkers punt return he delivered), and then was promptly dismissed for “undisclosed reasons”. Oh well.
Quarterback – Ryan Mallett
The story of Mallett is well known – one of the top two QB recruits in the 2007 class (along with Jimmy Clausen), Mallett got a solid amount of playing time as a true freshman, filling in for an oft-injured Chad Henne. Mallett’s first game was an evisceration of Notre Dame, and promptly followed that with a huge win against top-ten Penn State at home. He didn’t fare nearly as well while getting pulled against Northwestern and proving wildly inaccurate against Wisconsin. Mallett left with a reputation for loutishness, and getting on coaches’ and players’ last nerve. Somehow, that didn’t seem to matter in 2010, when Mallett was arguably the best quarterback in college football, finishing 5thin the nation in yards and QB rating, and first in yards per attempt. Mallett is a sure-fire first-round NFL pick barring a cataclysmic injury, or VD.
Running Back – Justin Fargas
Fargas was another #1 ranked running back recruit who arrived at Michigan with considerable hype. Fargas was probably the fastest, most upright; least shifty player in Michigan history, as every single tackle he endured had the ferocity of a car-wreck. Every single time he was tackled, the crowd gasped and waited for him not to get up. Generally, he did. His true freshman season was mediocre from a yards-per-carry and yards-per-return perspective, but he did save the Wolverines in Evanston, delivering a 31 carry, 126 yard performance in the slop in a 12-6 win against Northwestern. Fargas was finally broken against Wisconsin during his freshman year, in the single most gruesome play I saw in my time at Michigan Stadium, as the sound of his femur snapping could be heard fifty rows up the bowl. Fargas returned two years later, found himself behind Anthony Thomas and Chris Perry on the depth chart, and tried his hand at safety, where he only managed to turn in stellar special teams play. He eventually transferred to USC, where he ran for 715 yards on 161 carries his final year, starting the final six games, and beating Iowa in the Rose Bowl – posting 122 yards and 2 TD’s. Fargas spent seven years with the Oakland Raiders, the first few on the bench, before finally starting in 2006. He was a full, or part-time starter for four years, and posted a 1,000 yard season.
Fullback – Vince Helmuth
Helmuth was a fullback who was purported to have the ability to actually carry the football as well, in addition to crushing skulls. Helmuth, however, seemed incapable of pushing away from the table (this become a trend, as we’ll see), and eventually ate his way into being a defensive tackle. Eventually, he transferred off of the team.
WR – Antonio Bass and Toney Clemons
Antonio Bass became the Yetti, the Loch Ness Monster, and Bigfoot combined for Michigan fans, as whispers of his legendary practice feats at positions ranging from WR to RB to QB swirled around the internet. Some insist that Lloyd Carr was thinking about becoming a run-option team after the departure of Chad Henne, using Antiono Bass at QB, others insist he would have been the perfect quarterback for Rich Rodriguez’s offense. On the field, Bass’s career consists of 27 touches for 145 yards, as a career-ending knee injury robbed him of the opportunity for greater acclaim. Lloyd Carr’s comment spoke volumes: “The impact his loss on our program can’t be measured because he could do so many things.”
Toney Clemons was a highly-regarded WR prospect whose blood lines (Steve Breaston) suggested both a fondness for Michigan and a certain talent level. Clemons, in Lloyd Carr tradition, burned his redshirt as a true freshman while run-block in obvious run situations, and played sparingly in Rodriguez’s first star-crossed season. Clemons left the program to play in a more WR-centered offense at Colorado, and has since become the pariah of the FREEP-obsessed Michigan Blogosphere for opening his mouth to Drew Rosenberg.
OL – Jeff Zuttah, Justin Boren, Alex Mitchell, Brent Gallimore, and Justin Schifano
With the exception of Zuttah, you’re looking at what should have been four pieces of Rich Rodriguez’s first offensive line – four recruits, each rated as one of the ten best recruits at their positions leaving high school, and each scheduled to be an upper-classman in Rodriguez’s inaugural year. So what the hell happened?
Gallimore and Schifano each left, degree in hand, prior to exhausting their eligibility. Gallimore had struggled through a position switch to DT (where he never played), and Schifano commented that he simply no longer enjoyed playing football.
Alex Mitchell actually started the majority of the 2007 season at right guard, finally landing on the bench due to being too fat (this was the same season where Carr had Brandon Graham, a high school linebacker, playing DT as a “this is what happens when you’re fat, fatty” form of punishment). Mitchell was the presumptive starter in 2008, before deciding that eating a stick of butter coated in sugar seemed like more fun than meeting Mike Barwis.
Justin Boren became the first true freshman to start on Michigan’s offensive line. He left to start a snowplow business.
Jeff Zuttah was probably ill-served by Michigan. The school recruited him, despite the public knowledge that he had sickle-cell anemia, then decided that the illness was too much of a risk to warrant them playing him. Zuttah transferred to Stanford in order to find a chance to play, but, at that point, had sat for two years, and saw sparing game action.
For the record – that’s three elite prospects that simply decided to quit playing football from one class, all on the offensive line. Ouch.
Tomorrow: The Defense