Jehu Chesson Q&A: Michigan WR on Jim Harbaugh, his dream job and Zingerman's Deli
Jehu Chesson is, to put it mildly, looking forward to this weekend. And who can blame him? For the first time in recent memory the Michigan–Michigan State matchup actually means something, with both teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and undefeated in the Big Ten, and with plenty of state pride on the line. A 6' 3" senior wideout for the No. 12 Wolverines, Chesson finished last week's 38–0 shellacking of Northwestern with 122 all-purpose yards (he ran the opening kickoff back 96 yards for the game's first score). Before hosting the seventh-ranked Spartans at the Big House in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Chesson chatted with Campus Rush.
Lindsay Schnell: Michigan obviously has a ton of pride—as a school and as a football program. What's the vibe around campus when you see other students and faculty? Are they surprised? Amped? Or are they just nodding like, "Yeah, we've been waiting for this"?
Jehu Chesson: More like the last one. Everyone on campus has been waiting for us to start doing well again. It's really fun, because [if] you put a smile on people's faces on Saturday, it's great to go to class [on] Monday. Professors are more upbeat. When things are going well at Schembechler Hall, everybody on campus has a good week.
LS: The Wolverines have surprised a lot of people this year—have you surprised yourselves?
JC: No. It makes sense. There are so many guys on this team that have put in so much hard work. We have a great coach, great leadership. [Fullback] Joe Kerridge and [linebacker] Joe Bolden are tremendous captains and they lead us well. We're really disciplined. We'd like to continue that, so we've got to continue making plays and continue preparing like we have been. And [we have to keep] upping the intensity, because each week in college football, you're supposed to get a little bit better.
LS: From the outside, I've always thought that one of Jim Harbaugh's greatest strengths is infusing his teams with confidence. Is that something you've felt from Day One?
JC: That's definitely accurate. The way you do that is prepare for the looks you're going to see on Saturday; when you do that, you can play with confidence and play fast. One of the biggest things that our special teams coach, John Baxter, and coach Harbaugh [both] support, one of the things they say is, "You make a full-speed decision, and we'll support you." So you've got guys flying around trying to make plays, and it's a wonderful feeling.
LS: You're from St. Louis. At what point did you start to really understand the Michigan–Michigan State rivalry?
JC: When Jon Falk, the old equipment manager, sat all the freshmen down and explained to them the traditions of Michigan. That's when I started to get it.
LS: What did he say?
JC: He told us that this game and the Ohio State game are going to be the most important games we play in our lives. He told us it's a special … it's a prideful thing when we play them. You have to always understand what you're playing for, and when we play them we're playing for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
LS: You took the opening kickoff back 96 yards against Northwestern last week. At what point did you realize you were going to score?
JC: As soon as I saw Jabrill [Peppers] set the edge. Our guys did a great job of blocking. The reason I got the ball and started heading toward our sideline is that I was very confident in Jake Butt and Nathan Cole throwing big blocks, which they did, and in Jabrill setting the edge. As soon as I took the first seven steps, it was on me at that point in terms of making a play and not getting caught.
LS: I read that you said afterward you could suddenly feel the crowd and really hear them going crazy. What has the atmosphere been like in the stadium this season compared to the last couple years?
JC: We have great fans. Every game it's rocking, over 100,000 people. But it was special on that play. In my time at Michigan, we've never run a kick back. [The last Wolverine to take an opening kick to the house was current running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley, who scored on a 99-yard return against Houston on Sept. 7, 1992.] As it was happening, my teammates were getting so excited—I could feel their energy—jumping up and down on the sideline. It felt great and it looked like it was supposed to look. We executed it very well.
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LS: Jim Harbaugh has a reputation for being unconventional. Is he like that in team meetings? Like, does he ever mention Judge Judy when you're going over offensive game plans?
JC: [Laughs.] Not really.
LS: What's your plan after your football career is over?
JC: You know, I met with my counselor the other day to talk about that.… My dream is to help people, in terms of giving them opportunities and chances. What that looks like, I really don't know. But in my past, I worked in a restaurant and I really liked that, liked the social atmosphere and working with people. At a point in time, before I actually worked in a restaurant, my dream was to own a restaurant. Working there, it didn't intimidate me, but it showed me the hard work and the time commitment that it takes. It would be really exciting and a great challenge.
LS: What kind of food would you serve at your dream restaurant?
JC: Great question. I worked at an Italian restaurant and the food there was so good. But I have no background [in it] and I'm not from Italy so … I don't think that would be wise, for me to make an Italian menu.
LS: Who is your biggest football influence?
JC: It's usually the current coach I'm playing for.… Right now, that's Coach Harbaugh and what he does and how he approaches each day, not just in terms of football, but also what he tells us about being a man in our society and what he tells us about doing the right thing—being that guy who does everything right. And if you do make a mistake, you need to make it right. He understands we're not perfect, he's not perfect, but at the same time he always encourages us. And on game days, he's our biggest fan.
LS: If you had to sing a karaoke duet with anyone on your team, who are you picking, and what's your song of choice?
JC: Interesting question. I'd pick [tight end] A.J. Williams, and we'd be singing "Same Girl," by R. Kelly.
LS: We might need to get that on video at some point.
JC: O.K. well that will probably never happen. [Laughs.]
LS: Can you imagine Harbaugh singing karaoke or dancing in the locker room in a postgame celebration?
JC: Depends how he's feeling that day. I'm sure he'd be up for it after any type of win. It's not that far-fetched.
LS: O.K. that definitely needs to be caught on camera. Describe the perfect Ann Arbor Saturday. Where are you going to eat, where are you going to shop, what are the places people have to hit?
JC: So if you get into town the night before, you gotta hit up one of those great restaurants on University Street or State Street, any of them. I'd probably go to Zingerman's Deli. You wake up Saturday morning, and I love bacon, so you've gotta eat a lot of bacon, no matter where you're tailgating. Then you find your way over to the Big House, the weather's cooling down and if you like football, it'll be great. For postgame, Quickie Burger's really good, Bell's Pizza, Five Guys. O.K. Five Guys isn't really specific to Ann Arbor, but it's close to my house so I go there a lot. But for our postgame, we're going to A.J.'s house, all the teammates, to watch some night games.