December 17, 2006

Panter could make immediate impact

Even in today's climate it's rare that a U-M recruit can step into a starting role in his very first game with Michigan. However, because of his two years spent at El Dorado (Kan.) Butler County Community College, four-star linebacker Austin Panter (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) should have a great opportunity to do just that according to his junior college coach.

"I definitely think he'll compete for playing time next fall," coach Troy Morrell said. "He is extremely competitive and he'll work his way into a role because that's the kind of kid he is. There are guys that want to be great and work for that, but then there are guys that want to be great and are willing to put forth the extra effort … the things coaches don't ask you to do, but notice. Austin is one of those kids. He'll get after it the moment he steps foot on campus.

"I think the other thing he has working in his favor is we played a very attacking style of defense, we blitzed him, dropped him into coverage and ran the defense through him and those are all things Michigan seems to like to do with their middle linebacker. He is so versatile on the football field and the coaches will really like that about him. Plus, with his smarts, they can put a lot on his shoulders that maybe they can't do with a freshman."

Panter was named the National Junior College Defensive Player of the Year after recording 99 tackles, including 17.5 for loss, for a team that went 10-1 and finished fourth nationally. Panter also had 8.5 sacks and four pass break ups, while forcing a fumble.

"He was a guy that played consistently well all year long, in every game and went full speed on every play," Morrell said. "No matter what tape a college coach [recruiting him] requested they saw a kid who was all over the field making plays. That consistency is even more amazing when you consider we played against a bunch of different types of offenses. We played running teams, passing teams, spread teams and option teams, but no matter who we played he made the consistent plays we needed.

"In terms of all-around abilities, he's one of the best I've ever coached. We had a few injuries this year in our secondary and we had to move an outside linebacker to safety. If another one of our kids went down we would have moved Austin and that's a pretty unorthodox decision - to move your MIKE linebacker to safety - but that's how athletic and how smart he is. He's a great football player."

Panter wasn't always that way. The current four-star prospect, ranked the No. 17 player overall among Junior College ranks and the fourth-best linebacker, played eight-man football in Kensington, Kan., in high school and received little attention from college football recruiters. In fact he did not earn a single scholarship offer.

"We saw a lot of the same things other coaches did - size, athleticism, a good frame - but he had very little experience," Morrell said. "What we liked about him was his attitude and his desire to do whatever was necessary to succeed. When you combine those type of physical abilities with his attitude you just knew he had the chance to be special.

"He developed tremendously in our program. He's put on size, become stronger and faster and his work ethic has turned him into a monster on the football field. I think people up there in Michigan will be very happy they gave Austin a chance."

U-M defensive line coach Steve Stripling was the first to see Panter. Soon after his visit he sent linebackers coach Steve Szabo to Kansas to get a look. Both men were impressed with Panter, as he was with them.

"Austin really liked Coach Szabo - that's his position coach and he could see in him a guy that was going to push him to become the best player he can become," Morrell said. "Some guys are afraid of hard work and you get the sense those kind of kids won't work with Michigan's linebacker coach. Austin kind of felt like he found a guy so much like his own personality.

"Beyond that, the quality of education and the tradition really appealed to Austin. I also think the fact that Michigan plays a defense very similar to ours, and one that a linebacker can thrive in - all those things appealed to him."

In addition to his on-field accomplishments, Panter's personality and attitude towards his life off the field appealed to Michigan, Morrell noted.

"Austin is one of the best people you'll ever get to know," he said. "He's a very sincere person and someone that is a lot of fun to be around. After games people just kind of gravitate towards him because he's very outgoing.

"He's also very conscious of the world around him. He volunteers in the community not because it looks good or someone tells him to, but because he genuinely enjoys doing so and feels it's important. He speaks to elementary students and is always doing something that as a coach makes you very proud. I really think he has the character that fits the quality of the program he's going to at Michigan."

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