ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Nolan Ulizio first saw the Michigan football playbook two years ago, he was overwhelmed.
His playbook at Lakota West (Ohio) High School was a lot less complicated, but instead of fretting, Ulizio hunkered down and took on the challenge of learning everything about Michigan’s offense.
Ulizio didn’t have an “aha moment” when it came to understanding Michigan’s playbook. Instead, he described it as a gradual learning process.
“Our playbook [at Lakota West] was very simple, so coming here, and you get a 200-play playbook, it’s a huge difference,” Ulizio said. “I think it takes time to adjust to it. I can’t really say when I really was like, ‘Oh, hey, I’ve got this right now.’ As time went on, every day, I got better at understanding it.”
Learning a thick playbook was one of many adjustments Ulizio, a 6-foot-5, 295-pound redshirt sophomore from suburban Cincinnati, made in order to be competitive at the college level.
The adjustments — including the time he invested in becoming a student of Michigan’s playbook — paid off Saturday. Ulizio made his first start at right tackle in Michigan’s 33-17 win against Florida in Arlington, Texas.
Ulizio said Monday he learned he would start against Florida about “a week or so before the game.”
“One day, after a walk-through, [offensive coordinator Tim] Drevno came up to me and told me I was going to start. No one really talked about what was happening, but that was one of my biggest goals for myself. I never really gave up on myself. I always knew it was going to happen, so I just kept pushing.”
Confidence buoys Nolan Ulizio
Ulizio was confident that he had a legitimate shot to earn the job as Michigan’s starting right tackle, a position that is rooted in run blocking. It doesn’t always get the same acclaim as left tackle, a position that traditionally protects a quarterback’s blind side.
To earn the spot at right tackle, Ulizio said he put on “good weight.” And yes, he made a point to grasp a better understanding of the Michigan playbook.
Ulizio’s ascension is a reflection of the progress of Michigan’s offensive line, which lost three starters from last season: guard/tackle Ben Braden, guard Kyle Kalis and guard/tackle Erik Magnuson.
Ulizio joined left guard Ben Bredeson, left tackle Mason Cole, center Patrick Kugler and right guard Michael Onwenu on Michigan’s offensive line Saturday against the Gators.
“They’ve been really working together,” running back Ty Isaac said of the line, which primarily played its five starters against the Gators. “I know in the summer they were taking extra time for themselves to work on stuff, to look at film, and you can tell it’s been paying off because they’re working together really well.
“Sometimes we might not have the best look for a call, but they get it sorted out. They block it up well and they’re just playing really physical.”
Thriving in competition
Ulizio earned the starting job at right tackle over redshirt junior Juwann Bushell-Beatty and redshirt sophomore Jon Runyan Jr.
“He was just a little bit better,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of Ulizio. “I thought he did good. Some things he needs to improve on, I would say that some mistakes, physical mistakes where he got beat, and I’d say that for our offense in general. There was some good things and there’s a lot for us to coach.”
Three days prior to Michigan’s season opener, Drevno described how Ulizio, in particular, made gains in strength and understanding Michigan’s offensive scheme.
“He likes to play physical, he likes to finish,” Drevno said. “Just like some of the other guys [like] Jon Runyan and Andrew Steuber, there’s a lot of guys that have really progressed. I’m happy for Nolan and happy for some of those other guys because it’s their time. It’s their time to shine.”
3 things to know about Nolan Ulizio
- Rankings mean nothing. It’s about development, and Ulizio is a starter after he joined the Wolverines in the fall of 2015 as a 2-star recruit.
- Ulizio’s only other initial offer was from the University of Connecticut. Less than three weeks into Harbaugh’s tenure as Michigan’s coach, Michigan offered Ulizio a scholarship. “D.J. [Durkin] called me this morning and said the offensive line coach really, really liked what he saw on film of Nolan and said he fits his scheme,” Larry Cox, Ulizio’s high school coach, told Scout.com in 2015. “He said he’s really aggressive and plays with a nasty attitude and conceptualizes the game really well.”
- Ulizio is a graduate of Lakota West in West Chester, Ohio, a large high school about 20 miles north of Cincinnati. Ulizio is one of nine from his senior class to play college football.