At Big Ten Media Day, senior running back Hassan Haskins took the podium to discuss a range of topics surrounding Michigan football. Last season, Haskins was the team’s leading rusher with 380 yards and six touchdowns. He gave his thoughts on the running back room, his new running backs coach Mike Hart, what went wrong last season and the big question mark on every player's mind: can they beat Ohio State.
On the running backs: “Every back we have now is definitely dominating. I feel like we have the best running back group in the nation, for real. I definitely have confidence in them when they get in the game and do what they do. I believe in all of them.”
It's a bold statement from Haskins here, but he’s not out of line. Between Haskins, sophomore Blake Corum and freshman Donovan Edwards, Michigan has a potential three-headed monster on their hands. The running game was critical for the Wolverines last year, as they racked up 12 rushing touchdowns and only nine through the air. Haskins has been working closely with his fellow running backs and especially gushed about Edwards and his future at the program. Haskins may have emerged as the lead back last year, but this year he’s also taking on a leadership role and giving the younger guys advice. This position group seems to believe in each other and they’re providing plenty of talent for new running backs coach Mike Hart to work with.
On Mike Hart: “That’s my guy. I love him. He definitely knows what he’s talking about. He’s been in my shoes before. He’s a great coach and I love him.”
Hart played for Michigan from 2004-07 and is the program’s all time leading rusher. He knows what it takes to be a successful running back with the Wolverines and Haskins is definitely soaking up all he has to offer. Hart is one of several new coaching hires for Michigan that represent a younger, more diverse group than previous assistants under Harbaugh. It seems to have reinvigorated the players and given them an energy that was lacking last season.
On last season: “That wasn’t us at all, I’m going to be honest. That was ridiculous on our parts. This season is definitely going to be different. I’m highly confident that we're going to do our job on the field and win games and make plays. That definitely wasn’t us last year at all.”
Michigan sputtered their way to a 2-4 season and the players are doing their best to put it behind them. The uncertainty around whether a season would be played and Covid protocols definitely gave the Wolverines extra hurdles to deal with off the field, but they also struggled with their on-field opponents. The frustration can definitely be felt but the players are hoping to channel it into fuel during a more normal 2021 season. One game that Haskins, and every Michigan player, has circled for next season is the matchup with Ohio State on November 27.
On Ohio State: “Day by day the energy is there. We’re always preparing for that game. Just know, we’re coming out, we’re ready. I mean, it’s going to be a war but we’re ready. It’s been a while since we played them. That monster is coming out of us. It’s definitely a game to watch, to tune in. We're going to give our all. We’re working everyday, day by day. We’re definitely waiting for that game.”
Ohio State has won eight straight matchups against Michigan. It's a team Harbaugh has failed to beat in his entire tenure. The inability to beat their biggest rival has caused frustrations to reach a boiling point for Michigan players. Based on what they’re saying, at least, it seems like the focus on beating Ohio State is more ratcheted up than ever. Haskins referred to the game as a “war” multiple times and thinks every player in the locker room is dedicated to winning that game on Thanksgiving weekend. Whether the Wolverines have the talent or the game planning to defeat or at least be competitive with Ohio State remains to be seen but the urgency from the players in regards to “The Game” appears to be at a higher level.
On NIL: “I’m getting tired of going back and forth with people. I’m trying to hand that over to my parents. It is getting a little overwhelming. I’m just trying to focus on football and on my season.”
This was one of the more intriguing quotes from media day, and goes in the opposite direction of many collegiate athletes' thoughts on NIL. It's interesting to see that not every player is gung ho about NIL and all the work required to get deals done. Some, like Haskins, just want to focus on what they came to Michigan for: playing football.
This quote could also ring alarms for current and future Wolverine athletes in the NIL era. Michigan, with its brand and alumni, should be in a great position to give lots of student athletes deals but so far the only one of note is the partnership with The M Den that allows players to profit from custom jersey orders. Other schools have helped prepare their athletes to find all sorts of deals right away, while teaching them financial responsibility. Michigan appears to be taking a slower approach that leaves their players to fend for themselves and it might be turning them away from lucrative possibilities.