Everyone knew Rashan Gary. He was the never-interviewed, soft-spoken New Jersey defensive end that went on to become one of the most important recruits of all time.
Gary received his first college offer when he was only 13 years old. When most kids were worried about their voice cracking or freaked out about the one armpit hair they had, Gary had to start thinking about college, and whether he wanted to play football when he got there. From that moment on, Gary’s mother, Jennifer Coney, guided him until the very last day.
It was between Michigan and Alabama early, then it was Michigan and Auburn, then it was Michigan and Ole Miss, but in that final hour it was the Wolverines and Clemson. And in that final minute, Gary, on ESPN wearing his high school uniform with his entire family at the stage, put on a hat and chose the school he had never counted out throughout the process — the Michigan Wolverines.
High school: Paramus (N.J.) Catholic
Senior dimensions: 6-foot-5, 293-pounds
Position: Defensive tackle
Ranking: The first consensus No. 1 overall prospect in the country.
Other notable offers: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Wisconsin.
Commitment date: The final minute of signing day.
The prep work
An early first impression: “When he went to the Big Man Camp at Rutgers in eighth grade, I signed him up for the wrong day. We ended up going to the Rising Senior Camp,” Gary’s mother, Jennifer Coney, said. “The coaches were in awe of him at 13, and they offered him days later. I figured they felt he was something special.”
Living up to the hype: “He did more than live up to the hype. He grew the hype,” then Paramus Catholic head coach Chris Partridge said to NJ.com after Gary won defensive player of the year in a season that included 14 sacks. “We watched him get better and better and better. And he’s still going to get better.”
Never losing that top spot: “Being top-rated made me want to work harder because I know someone was working hard to be in my spot,” Gary said. “Luckily, God blessed me to be in this spot, and I’m going to keep it.”
The work ethic to be the best: “That’s just something that my mom taught me since I was young,” Gary said. “It always stayed with me, and I’m going to keep working on my craft. I want to be the best one day.”
Unique training: “Rashan had a trainer named Peter Kufaf, and up to that point he had always had great size, motor, been athletic and explosive but hadn’t put it all together yet,” NJ.com’s Toderrick Hunt said. “But with the training, which heavily concentrates on hand use with a martial arts twist, as well as footwork and overall technique, Gary gained the tools that helped him become the country’s top recruit. At that point, he became the biggest thing not only in New Jersey football, but across the country.”
The pressure of being No. 1: “If you know Rashan, he’s laid back and nonchalant,” Gary’s mother said. “We would talk casually about what he wanted, and what I wanted for him, so there was no pressure until the very end, when I left the decision of where he attended up to him.”
Visit here, visit there, visit everywhere: “He enjoyed visits, getting to know other recruits, traveling and such,” Gary’s mother said. “I wanted Rashan to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I pretty much filtered everything recruiting so he could enjoy it.”
The New Jersey connection: “Jabrill Peppers and Juwan Bushell-Beatty, along with Coach Chris Partridge,” Gary said of the ones who started the New Jersey connection that has grown at Michigan. “We (New Jersey recruits) talked every day, especially when it came to our recruitment. “(When asked if he would have gone to Michigan without the New Jersey connections) Michigan was always a school that I was looking at, and wanted to go to, especially due to the academics.”
Tick, tick, tick: “In talking to him, it came down to Michigan and Clemson on signing day. I was supposed to have the story ready with the school he’d decided to pick, but it was minutes before his decision and he was still unsure and really stressing the decision,” Hunt, who was close with the family since his middle school days said. “So that’s how close he came to potentially ending up elsewhere. But at the last minute, he prayed on it, and I think he just felt most comfortable at Michigan with all the built-in relationships and support system he already had there.”
Picking up the Michigan hat: “On the visit, I felt like I was home. Since I came out here, it was family,” Gary said. “Once I made my decision, I never looked back.”
Becoming a Wolverine
Playing with the best defensive line: “With this group of defensive linemen, I feel like I learn something new every day,” Gary said. “With this group, you have to always take notes because anything can happen.”
The improvement: “Summer camp was a lot of frustration because I don’t usually mess up. I’ve never messed up before. Chris Wormley kept me up, and told me I was doing fine,” Gary said. “My attitude when it comes to messing up (is getting better), and that’s something I picked up from Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley.”
Two big brothers: “Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley are my two big brothers. Anything I need, any questions – they have me,” Gary said. “When I first got here, they welcomed me with open arms and took me under their wing.”
Learning every day: “The game is slowing down so much,” Gary said. “Week-by-week I focus on my keys, and keep getting better.”
Homecoming: “The atmosphere knowing that my mom will be there is good,” Gary said about his return to New Jersey for the game against Rutgers Saturday. “It just makes me want to go show out even more.”
Gary became a Wolverine back in February, and as he said, he hasn’t looked back since. In the middle of arguably the best defensive line in the country, Gary can’t be the star just yet for this Wolverine team. But he sure is making a good run for it in limited playing time. Gary has 14 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss – which is good for sixth overall in the Big Ten – and one sack in five games.
He heads back to New Jersey on Saturday to take on Rutgers in front of his home state. Something about Saturday just gives off the feeling that Gary will leave his mark in his, and many other Wolverines, homecoming game.