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Posted on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Walk-on Nathan Brink is true contender for starting job on Michigan's defensive line

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan sophomore defensive end Nathan Brink, shown during Tuesday's practice session, is the surprise of the Wolverines' fall camp.

Melanie Maxwell |

Although competitions remain open at several spots on the Michigan football team’s defense, things are beginning to take shape a week-and-a-half before the season opener against Western Michigan.

The biggest surprise of them all: Nathan Brink.

In a span of 12 days, the walk-on from Holland, Mich., has gone from complete unknown to a favorite to start on the Wolverines’ revamped defense.

It’s been a remarkable ascension.

“If we started playing tomorrow, he’d be the starting (defensive end),” Hoke said of Brink, a two-year varsity player at Holland Christian who did not earn any all-state honors. “He plays with a great motor, plays with a great pad level.”

Brink, a sophomore, walked-on at Michigan in 2009 weighing only 220 pounds. He redshirted that season, and played in only one game last year, a 65-21 win against Bowling Green.

He has since put on 45 pounds, but still is an undersized defensive end at 265 pounds.

“He has to be a very good technician because he’s a little slight,” Hoke said. “You’d like to have him at 285, 290, but he’s done a lot of good things.

“You feel him a lot out on the field.”

Hoke first mentioned Brink as a fall camp surprise during the team's media day Aug. 14. Two days later, he was seen getting snaps with the first-team defense at tackle, and presumed starter Will Campbell was on the second team.

Now, Hoke said Brink has been practicing at end and senior Ryan Van Bergen, a returning starter at that position, has been moved inside to defensive tackle. Nose tackle Mike Martin and end Craig Roh are the other first-teamers on the line.

“He’s going to be able to help us,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said at Michigan's media day. “There’s still a lot of competition going on and you don’t know how it’s going to end up, but he’s working extremely hard.”

Campbell, an inconsistent junior, remains on the second team, and Will Heininger is another reserve who could see time. Hoke said he could plug in the redshirt senior at any position up front.

“(Heininger) has the intelligence to do that,” Hoke said.

Redshirt freshman Richard Ash could also receive time in the rotation on the defensive line.

Hoke said he hopes to have a two-deep completed by Monday, and that he would inform the players where they stand. Jobs could still be won or loss before the season opener Sept. 3 against Western Michigan, he added.

Other positions of note on the defense:

LINEBACKER: Hoke said Kenny Demens is the likely starter at middle linebacker, but Desmond Morgan, Mike Jones and Marrell Evans also could see time either there or on the weak-side.

Hoke said Morgan was held out of Tuesday’s workout because of a sore hamstring. He’s not expected to be out for an extended amount of time.

Hoke said junior Brandin Hawthorne, sophomore Cam Gordon, redshirt freshmen Jake Ryan and true freshman Brennen Beyer have also received snaps.

SAFETY: Hoke has been pleased with the play of junior Jordan Kovacs and sophomores Thomas Gordon and Carvin Johnson. He has said Kovacs, a former walk-on, has become a leader of the unit.

“Kovacs has done a really nice job,” Hoke said. “No. 1, he’s smart. He understands the concepts.”

CORNERBACKS: Hoke said last week senior Troy Woolfolk has locked up a starting spot, and junior J.T. Floyd and sophomore Courtney Avery are battling to start opposite him.

“So, there’s three safeties and three corners right there that I think there’s great competition between,” Hoke said. “When we get into our nickel and dime packages, it’s basically those guys on the field at the same time.”

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 6:10 p.m.

"What not the size of the dog in the fight, but of the fight in the dog." Paul "Bear" Bryant GO BLUE!


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

Facinating! NOBODY has answered my comment that UM is no different in their attitudes about "using" FB players than any other school. Higher standards? Ha! More integrity? Not really. Care about the "person" above the "program?" Not so much. UM has a "win at all cost" philosophy no different than all its opponents and every other big-time program. Michigan elitism! Only in your dreams!

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

That's better than in EL where the players don't know how to interact with real students without the legal system being required. Wait until Cousins is wearing numbers 67 and 68 this fall. Go Blue!


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 6:43 a.m.

Just wait til the students show up and Hoke holds an open tryout. Then you will see some real competition.

Megan Greene

Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 12:32 a.m.

A lot of walk-on who work their butts off don't get scholarships. Don't like the rapid weight gain on a small frame. A good formula for injuries. What kind of speed does he have? Quickness is so much a part of being an impact defensive player. We need impact players on defense not just players who work hard.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 9:10 p.m.

GOOD NEWS: It's nice to read a story about a kid that's really interested in playing the game and really wanted to do so at a particular school (even if that school is Michigan!). Obviously, he could have more easily made the squad at a D-2 or D-3 school. BAD NEWS: Is anyone concerned about this kid's weight gain? He has gained 45 pounds in roughly 18 months. Hoke would like him at 285-290. Let's assume no illegal substances were involved. He did it all with a high calorie diet and lots of time in the weight room. (1) It is pretty hard to gain that much muscle in that amount of time. (2) Is it healthy for a 20-something year-old to add 30% to his base weight? At 220 lbs., he is a big man to begin with. I keep hearing about UM being "different" than all the other schools because its "integrity." Personally, I don't buy it. Blue's attitudes are no different than any other big-time FB program.


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 12:56 a.m.

The OSU can't imagine a situation involving a college football team that DOESN'T involve cheating. Telling. But not surprising.

1st Down

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 9:33 p.m.

Perhaps Brink should transfer to Ohio and get in touch with Vernon Gholston's "nutritionist".... or maybe not.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

@1st Down: I hope you're right about WC. Like most Michigan fans I badly want him to become a major part of our D-line. But I think you'd admit, it's not a good sign when a walk-on beats out a 5* HS defensive tackle on the depth chart. I would agree though that the coaching he has received at Michigan before this year has probably been poor. Now that he's getting coached by the best (Hoke, Mattison, Montgomery), let's all hope this ends up being his breakout season.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 12:23 p.m.

1st Down, I agree with you about Big Will. I think we will see improvement every game he's in. He's now got a coach that knows how to teach these kids how to play and he will live up to his hype. Go Blue TiM

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 11:36 a.m.

Jarhead, Semper Fi. I was thinking the same thing as I read the article but it seems there is some unwritten rule about when and how you give a walk-on a scholarship. My way of thinking is if a player's on the two deep position chart then he earned it. If the coaches erred on handing out a scholarship to someone not producing, that's on them. Don't double the mistake by holding back something the player earned on the field. At least Nathan Brink (no s) is paying in-state tuition and he knew that going in as a walk-on. Here's the thing though. Could Coach Hoke use the newly freed up scholarships to get a better player at another position that helps the team 3-4 years down the way? He already has NB and on terms that everybody agreed to from the start. Do you want to be fair to one player or do you want Coach Hoke to build a better Michigan team? My opinion, for what it's worth, is you acknowledge those players who make the team better because that sends a message to everybody it's about now, not what you did in high school. If the young man is playing he earned it and the coaches will just have to make an adjustment. After all, isn't that why they have scholarships in the first place? TiM Go Blue!

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Aug 26, 2011 : 1:18 a.m.

scott, this started with giving one of the scholarships of a leaving player to Brink. I looked at it from both sides and if this young man earns the starting job, the team expects the Coach to reward him. So do I. This isn't taking away a scholarship, it's using one of the ones being given up by departing players. Hope that helps.


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

1. You should honor your commitments to give a 4 year scholarship to the kids you said you would. 2. Not every walk-on dreams of a scholarship, a lot of them just want the experience of being on the Michigan football team. It's kind of a big deal (not saying a scholarship wouldn't be nice, but it's not the end all).

1st Down

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 12:39 p.m.

Brink will earn a on it! Go Blue TiM.

1st Down

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 10:53 a.m.

Brink is huge for our DL. His stepping up not only adds depth but it adds character and competition. Please do not label Big Will Campbell as "inconsistent" any more writer... it is getting tiresome to read various media rag on this kid. He works hard and wants to improve. Please give him this year to get some things done before you criticize him so much. He has been through 2 coaching changes and a position switch... my gut feeling is that he contributes greatly this year, more than you think.

Lorain Steelmen

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 8:18 p.m.

Only time will tell if Campbell has 'the heart' for all this. I'm betting he never gets out of his 'comfort zone'...I hope I'm wrong, because we need him to get an attitiude, out there. Right now, Brink is being given a chance to compete. I also think, Washington will make a big impact this year.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 10:47 a.m.

Posada just left the team. Give Brinks his scholarship for God's sake. The kid is working his butt off. He deserves it. Just wanted to be the first to comment. You guys usually beat me to it, ha.


Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 2:43 p.m.

In order to have a scholarship you MUST have 5 stars after your name with Rivals. Just ask Justin Turner.