ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Rashan Gary’s potential was never a question mark. Nor were his abilities as a defensive end or as an athlete.
If anything, it was just a matter of time before the freshman would get the chance to make an impact.
In Michigan’s 51-14 win over UCF on Saturday, Gary had six tackles, including 2.5 for a loss of 13 yards, and teamed with Ben Gedeon to record his first collegiate sack. Needless to say, Gary made a much-anticipated impact.
Like Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers, his former Paramus (N.J.) Catholic teammate, Gary came to Michigan with prodigious talent, and, as the nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2016, was surrounded by lofty expectations. Recruiting analysts noted Gary’s size, strength, speed and versatility, and projected him as a difference-maker at Michigan.
Gary is less than three months removed from high school, and when a freshman enters a program, there’s typically a waiting period for development, a length of time that’s necessary make the transition not just to football but to college life.
Gary immediately contributed to Michigan’s defense. His two tackles against Hawaii in the opener were a warm-up.
“I was way more comfortable than what I felt in Week 1,” Gary said Saturday. “Week by week, I’m getting better and better, and that’s because of our leadership.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh noted that the soft-spoken Gary takes a yeoman’s approach to football. During the first week of Michigan’s fall camp, Gary had X-rays taken for a dislocated finger. A mere blemish, in Gary’s eyes.
“The trainer is like, ‘What is that?’ Or something to that effect,” Harbaugh said. “Rashan said, ‘That’s football.’ He picked it up and went back out.
“Another time he was cramping and we took him out of practice. About six plays later, I saw he was back in there. He’s really good like that, a real football player.”
At 6-foot-5, Gary is also hard to miss, even when he stood quietly in the corner of the media room at Michigan’s Crisler Center after the game.
“Look at him over there,” Michigan defensive lineman Chris Wormley said Saturday. “He’s a freshman. He’s 18 years old. About 6-5, 295, an unbelievable pass rusher. Knows the defense very well, he’s a fast learner. For a freshman, there’s something special.”
On his first day of school last week, Gary attempted to lay low. On one of the warmer days of early September, he wore his headphones, his black-framed glasses and a hooded sweatshirt as he walked through Michigan’s campus.
A few people noticed him.
“I’m just a normal person,” Gary said. “I play football. But yeah, a couple people came up and said hi, to take pictures.
“But I’m 6-5, so …”
Saturday afternoon, everyone inside Michigan Stadium also knew who Gary was.
And while the athlete’s predisposition is to tune out the noise, Gary knew everyone was watching.
When he and Gedeon took down UCF quarterback Justin Holman for a loss of 12 yards early in the second half, Gary heard the roar. He felt it pulse through him. He knew he had done his job.
“It was the greatest,” Gary said. “I was itching for a sack this week. I didn’t get one last week, I missed one against Hawaii. And I’m like, I’m not going to miss any opportunities I get from now on.”