Brady Hoke's burden regarding rebuilding his offensive line just got 309 pounds lighter. Left tackle Taylor Lewan will be back for a fifth-year senior season, despite high first-round NFL Draft projections.
Lewan simply wanted Michigan more. In fact, he described the decision, in the end, as a "no-brainer."
"There was really no doubt in my mind at the end of it, that I had to be back at the University of Michigan for one more year," Lewan said.
A 2012 first-team All-America pick by the Walter Camp Football Foundation, Lewan was expected by most analysts to head for the NFL and some huge dollars. In the end, he said forget that. He's got unfinished business
but not without a little drama first.
Lewan strode to the podium at the Junge Family Champions Center, soberly addressing the assembled media. There was no, "Hey, I'm back." Only what sounded like a lead-up to the inevitable fond farewell.
"What I was told from the advisory board was good," Lewan said, before taking a long, emotional pause. "A lot of people had a lot of questions about whether I was mature enough to enter the NFL right now.
"If you play football, and you have the mindset to play football, you don't like to hear any criticism. My biggest thing going into this Jan. 1 bowl was to treat it like I was in the NFL, like I was an NFL player, taking more time with my technique and my fundamentals and all the things I needed to do to know I would be successful.
"Individually, I played one of my best games of my career. I really proved to myself that I could go to the NFL and be successful and do the things I want to do."
Some in the room had one finger on the "send" key for the "Lewan Declares for Draft" story. He wasn't finished.
Lewan continued: "But when you go to a place like Michigan, the tradition and all the things it had to offer, what Coach [Brady] Hoke has brought into my life and all the things he's done for me, along with Coach [Darrel] Funk and Coach [Al] Borges
it was a tough decision, when you first look at it in black and white.
"But when you really go into detail about it, and really think, take the time to sit down and turn your phone off, think to yourself about all the things that are best for you, there was no doubt in my mind that I have to return to the University of Michigan and Team 134 and help lead this team as a senior."
There is no question what he has in mind upon his return to the field in a winged helmet. It's not what he's experience so far, even though there have been highlights along the way.
"My first season I was coming in, we were coming off a 9-3 season, and my 2009 class was quote-unquote responsible for helping bring Michigan back to national relevance, going to the Sugar Bowl, and being back in Jan. 1 bowls," he said.
"That's not the goal here. The goal here is the Big Ten championship, always and forever. That's what I'm here to do."
He certainly has other jobs on his priority list, ones that could lead to the big goal. Michigan will be rebuilding its offensive line, losing three fifth-year seniors in the middle three positions from the line.
Lewan indicated that issue could be overcome, starting immediately.
"I'm here to help lead this team, help our running backs get the yards they need to gain to be successful, and lead this offensive line with the younger guys," he said. "When you've got young guys like [freshmen] Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson, those guys, I want to be a part of their lives for one more year and help them develop into something that they can possibly be in my position in a couple of years."
Lewan told his teammates of his announcement in a team meeting just 20 minutes prior to addressing the media. He sounded gratified by the response.
"When I first made the announcement, I thought they'd be kind of quiet and just nod their heads, like good deal," Lewan said. "They started clapping and cheering. I'm happy to have that kind of respect from my teammates."
"This team is important to him," Hoke said. "He did all the right things. When you go through the evaluation process, consult with folks that are important in his life
I just think he loves his teammates. There is a closeness there. Like he said when he told the team
the reaction he got when he talked about staying tells you there are a lot of guys in that room that have a lot of respect for him."
It's obvious Lewan has a lot of respect for his present venue.
"When you play at the University of Michigan, whether it's basketball, hockey or football, there is a tradition here," he said. "It's something you want to be a part of. If I do what I need to do, I will be able to play in the NFL for however long. But you only get one more year of college."
That might be what former U-M All-American Jake Long told him in a recent conversation in Baton Rouge, La. Long would not advise Lewan whether to stay or go, but when asked for reasons to stay, the former Wolverine didn't have to search for answers.
"Every single thing he said about staying at the University of Michigan went through my head countless times," Lewan said. "It's kind of interesting that we had the same mindset."
Hoke noted that Lewan's decision really continues tradition, and sends a message to those following him.
"It's a strong message," Hoke said. "The one message Taylor and I talked about, and that he mentioned to me early, was that offensive linemen here, they stay. There has been a tradition of that, with Jake and [Jon] Jansen and Hutch [Steve Hutchinson] and all those guys
to be a guy who is mentioned with those guys is important."
There's more he wants to show, Lewan promised, beginning immediately.
"There's a tradition of great offensive linemen here," he said. "I have no doubt in my mind this offensive line will be successful, if we do what we have to do in the offseason. There's time, but not enough time.
"We've got young guys, and that's one of my biggest reasons for coming back - to help those guys out, but most importantly, to push this team, have these seniors push this team to know that, when we step on the field, we're going to be successful.
"Our goal is the Big Ten championship. Coming back, pushing, and doing all the things we have to do, we can win a Big Ten championship."
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