It's time for a little perspective on Michigan's fifth-year seniors. They discovered it's never too late to turn things around, going from miserable to masterful in many, many ways.
Ricky Barnum, Kenny Demens, J.T. Floyd, Paul Gyarmati, Jack Kennedy, Jordan Kovacs, Mike Kwiatkowski, Elliott Mealer, Brandon Moore, Patrick Omameh, Roy Roundtree, Floyd Simmons, and Steve Wilson.
They got in on the ground floor, so to speak - 3-9, and a whole boatload of records nobody wanted to set, and streaks nobody wanted to break. But they didn't get to choose their slice of Michigan history, only to do the best they could in the time they had.
"It's been quite the ride, quite the journey," admitted Kovacs. "To step out on the field at The Big House for the last time is going to be surreal. It's going to be emotional. It's one of those things you thought would never come to an end. But it will on Saturday."
It might have felt like the end, that first year, or in three seasons of compiling a 15-22 record. Kovacs & Co. were on teams that went 6-18 in the Big Ten, and sat at home during bowl season twice - the first Michigan players to experience that feeling in 34 years.
When they did claw their way to a bowl, they lost by 38, assuring what they already suspected
bigger changes were coming.
In the two years since, they've gone 18-5, 11-3 in the Big Ten. After posting an 11-11 record for their first three seasons, they've reeled off 13 consecutive home victories, and will be shooting for No. 14 - and a second straight unmarred home slate - on Senior Day against Iowa.
They're already assured of a bowl game, following a BCS bowl victory in the Sugar Bowl last year. They finished unranked in the national polls their first three seasons, and No. 9 in the USA Today coaches poll last year.
Given one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules, they're hanging on in the rankings at No. 23 this season.
For Kovacs there's much more personally, and most know his story. But as a defender, he's part of a group that went from decimated to pretty darned good.
Michigan opponents averaged 35.23 points per game against the Wolverines in 2010, making them No. 108 in the nation in scoring defense. Last year they finished No. 6 (17.38), and this year they're No. 17 (18.2).
In 2010, they were No. 110 in total defense (450.77). Last year, they finished No. 17 (322.15), and this year they're No. 11 (302.9).
"We're playing defense," Kovacs affirmed. "That's why you come to Michigan, to play defense. Coach [Greg] Mattison has done a phenomenal job with us. He just sets the bar so high. He's never satisfied, and he keeps pushing it."
He pushed, the Wolverines pulled together, and head coach Brady Hoke found a way to navigate transition waters calmed by his manner, his coaching and his Michigan pedigree.
The four-year senior who stayed, Denard Robinson, will come away a champion whether or not Nebraska loses one of its next two games. He's joined by Al Backey, Nathan Brink, Seth Broekhuizen, Curt Graman, Will Campbell, Brandin Hawthorne, Craig Roh, Vincent Smith and Steve Wilson in playing a final game at Michigan Stadium tomorrow.
Some of those names draw weekly headlines. Some will have readers exclaiming saying, "Who?"
Each of them has a story, one of struggle through adversity, one of growing up through a tough period of life. Those struggles became more fulfilling, competitively, as they went along.
And just like that, it's over.
"It's going to be an emotional game," Kovacs said. "I'll keep reminding myself, 'It's your last time in The Big House. Make the most of it.' It's a game that's got to last a lifetime, really."
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