ANN ARBOR, Mich. — At 8 years old, Chase Winovich toddled along the sidelines of Thomas Jefferson High School in suburban Pittsburgh, cheering for his older brother, Peter, a quarterback.
Longtime Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak kept an eye on Winovich, who always wore a smile. Some day, that second-grader was going to follow in the footsteps of his older brother.
A few years later, Chase Winovich came into his own as a football player, first at Thomas Jefferson, then for the Michigan football program.
When it came time to make a decision about his future, Winovich, Cherpak said, handled it professionally. When it came time to switch positions with Michigan — his third position change since joining the program in 2014 — Winovich didn’t just handle it like a pro. He handled it with a smile. Winovich’s positive attitude, Cherpak believed, helped him make the transition from linebacker to tight end and now to defensive end.
“He has the right attitude to play defense,” Cherpak said, noting that Winovich, a redshirt sophomore, played on special teams, at defensive back and at linebacker in high school. “And he loves, loves, loves to play the game. He’s always smiling, even on the field. No matter what you do or where you put him, he loves football.”
In his first start at Michigan on Saturday against Central Florida, Winovich had five tackles and one sack and will likely start when No. 4 Michigan (2-0) hosts Colorado (2-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
“This really comes down to two things,” Winovich said after his first start at Michigan. “My family always believing in me, and I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime and I had to go out and seize it and do whatever it took to get there. Figure out a way. And the people who told me I couldn’t do it, who made every excuse under the book, that I’m too small, that I’m not fast enough. I’ve heard it all. That’s what kept me motivated.”
When Jim Harbaugh took over as Michigan’s coach at the end of 2014, players were understandably concerned by changes a new coach might make. But Winovich put a positive spin on it.
He moved from linebacker to tight end in the spring of 2015. Then, the coaches moved him to defensive line, where he is one of the smaller players at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds. He’s also of the most enthusiastic and focused — and productive.
“It was cool to get out there and just do the same thing that I’ve been trained to do,” said Winovich, who has 11 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. “We’ve trained for this moment and that’s what it was. It was natural. It wasn’t like an ‘Oh, this is my first time playing ever’ type deal. I felt like I was ready for it.”
Winovich says he has a certain obligation to his role and his responsibilities.
“I look myself in the mirror and gave even 99 percent, then it’s a disappointment for me,” Winovich said. “That’s a self thing. I try to do that in everything I do, but especially in football. I can’t worry about when I’m going to get a sub.
“You’ve got to keep going. Someone’s got to do it. And, you know, if you take a play off, that’s when you get beat, and I’m not letting myself down there as much as I am the people next to me. And I don’t want to do that.”
The Wolverines, Winovich said, aren’t taking the upstart Buffaloes lightly. Utilizing an up-tempo offense that’s similar to UCF’s, Colorado boasts the nation’s best defense statistically (160.5 yards) and is seventh in the nation offensively with 1,175 yards.
When discussing what’s helped the Wolverines to their early-season success, Winovich draws a parallel to one of the final scenes of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” when the title character and his nemesis, Walter Donovan, are in search of the Holy Grail.
“When (Donovan) drinks out of the gold cup and says he is living like a king, he dies,” Winovich said. “So, we as a team are sipping out of a humble cup. Colorado is a great football team, and they present a lot of issues to us. We’re just looking to go out there and improve on the mistakes we made last week.”
Winovich, Cherpak said, also takes his own path when it comes to humility.
“The thing about Chase is that he doesn’t care what others think of him, how he works and how he does things,” Cherpak said. “I say to my players, don’t be afraid to do that work and not look cool because you’re trying so hard. That doesn’t bother Chase at all. If he knows he’s doing the right thing, that’s all he will care about.”