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Posted on Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 5:56 a.m.

Veterans top youth in Michigan football coach Brady Hoke's lineup ... just look at Will Heininger

By Kyle Meinke


Will Heininger

Perhaps no one better embodies the Michigan football team’s two-deep roster than defensive lineman Will Heininger.

The Ann Arbor product is a fifth-year senior who has endured two coaching changes and little playing time since joining the Wolverines. He was fighting for a starting spot with one of fall camp's biggest stars. He recorded just two tackles last year.

But he persevered — and on Monday, the 6-foot-6, 295-pound defensive lineman earned the first start of his career when coach Brady Hoke unveiled his initial two-deep roster. He’ll be in the lineup at defensive end when Michigan opens its season Saturday against Western Michigan (3:30 p.m., ABC).

“I think, more or less, it’s about (Heininger’s) experience,” Hoke said.

That seems to be the theme for Hoke’s first lineup as Michigan’s head coach.


Fifth-year senior Will Heininger (39) battles with Will Campbell during a drill earlier this fall. Heininger will start at defensive end Saturday against Western Michigan.

Melanie Maxwell |

Heininger beat out sophomore walk-on Nathan Brink , a player who had been lauded by the staff the final two weeks of camp.

While Brink was consistently named by the staff as a preseason standout, Heininger was mentioned only within the context of being a guy who could contribute as a reserve.

In the end, though, it was the experienced Heininger, a former Pioneer High School player, who earned the nod over an underclassman.

At other positions, it was the same the same story.

Junior Craig Roh fought off sophomore Jibreel Black at the other defensive end position. Sophomore Cam Gordon edged hard-charging freshmen Jake Ryan and Brennen Beyer at strong-side linebacker.

Junior J.T. Floyd and sophomore Courtney Avery are listed as co-starters at one cornerback position, but Floyd, who began last season as the starter before suffering a season-ending injury, is expected to be in the lineup against Western Michigan, Hoke said.

At right tackle, fifth-year senior Mark Huyge held off sophomore Michael Schofield.

Sophomore Brendan Gibbons will start over highly-touted freshman Matt Wile at placekicker — despite making 1-of-5 field-goal attempts last year.


Come back to at noon Thursday to join Kyle Meinke for a live chat. He’ll discuss the latest Wolverines’ news and preview Saturday’s game against Western Michigan. Graham Couch, who covers the Broncos for the Kalamazoo Gazette, will stop by and answer some questions, too.
At nearly every position of contention that has been decided (punt return remains unclear), the veteran beat out the underclassman. The only exception was at punter, where Wile edged sophomore Seth Broekhuizen to handle those duties while starter Will Hagerup serves a four-game suspension.

Even then, Broekhuizen is listed as a co-starter.

Hoke said he would start his underclassmen if they were the best option.

That obviously didn’t happen.

“If we thought those younger guys were at a point where the older guys are, or would be better, the younger guys would be playing,” Hoke said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a fifth-year guy or a true freshman — you’ve got to play to a Michigan standard.”

Hoke said underclassmen will have a better shot at playing on defense, where Black, Ryan, Beyer, Avery, Brink, freshman cornerback Blake Countess and sophomore safety Carvin Johnson could see time.

Overall, only one underclassman was named an offensive starter, and that was sophomore left tackle Taylor Lewan, who was a starter last year.

On defense, only three underclassmen made the top 11: Gordon, sophomore weak-side linebacker Mike Jones and sophomore safety Thomas Gordon. Among them, only Jones beat out an upperclassman (senior Brandon Herron).

Hoke said throughout camp returning starters weren't guaranteed their jobs back. He opened up competitions across the board, except perhaps at quarterback.

In the end, though, it largely was the returners and upperclassmen who won those battles.

"Right," Hoke said. "I think we had good competition. I guess that's what I would say."

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



Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 11:42 p.m.

Always making a snide remark huh Chad? Maybe Gibbons is actually getting some real coaching now and feeling more confident. Wile is still a good kicker you know. He's only a Freshman, normally he wouldn't be pressed into action, but the WCIMFH had no clue about many things apparently, that is why so many people were looking for a new guy for those duties this year. Remember, Wile will be attempting the longer kicks, LOl, omg, abc, xyz, whatever.


Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 6:40 p.m.

I'm glad Will is getting a shot. My brother played High School ball with Will and I know he has worked really hard for his shot.


Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 6:32 p.m.

Glad to see veteran O and D units starting out the season, particularly with new schemes on both sides of the ball. True, the schemes are new for the entire 112 man squad, but at least the vets have some FBS experience before large crowds. I don't believe the WMU game will be as easy as some here speculate. I hope I'm wrong. We were only favored by 14 points in the opening odds, so Vegas certainly didn't see this as a blowout.


Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 6:10 p.m.

Heininger is a Pi Hi man! Purple Pride! Glad to see him earning his spot on the field after all that he has been through.

David Vande Bunte

Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 4:14 p.m.

While the younger players who lost out on the position battles might not be starting, if the competition was close, you can bet that they will still get plenty of playing time, gaining playing experience which will certainly help them next year.


Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 3:41 p.m.

When the writer says Heininger "recorded just two tackles last year," it should be noted it's really hard to play football when you are recovering from a torn ACL.

Chad Williams

Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.

No real suprises at all. Except gibbons as the place kicker but 1 for 5 last wasnt great im sure he has gotten better and he has game experience. So much for the wile will take us to the promise land talk lol. Seriously though it's a lot of those veterans were sophmores last year so of course they will be upperclassmen this year. No big surprises as the it seems like RR had the right guys on the field last year just couldnt get them to play well. Excpet lb where mouton and ezeh graduated jones was a rising player and gordon was going to make the move to the lb position. I see know reason why this team with "better coaching" won't go out and dominate wmu.

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Aug 31, 2011 : 10:24 a.m.

C-Bus Will You just summed up the WCiMFH's career: " seems like (the WCiMFH) had the right guys on the field last year just couldnt get them to PLAY WELL." (capitals added) By that you could only mean he couldn't COACH, which most of us wholeheartedly agree. How's your team in O-L-I-O doing?


Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 3:17 p.m.

Just want to say: When I moved to Ann Arbor in 1974, I cared little for football other than as occasional entertainment. I basically ignored college level football. That sure changed (a lot) and one of the key reasons is that Michigan's football program, from the coaches to the players to the sports writers and fans: showed me what real character is about in sports. Congratulations to this year's starters. Congratulations also to the players who have yet to earn that position and even to those who may never attain it. You all deserve respect because you were accepted into this program and have persisted (and suffered) while making the Michigan image shine. Thank you, Coach Hoke and thanks also to all of your staff. Thanks to AD Dave Brandon for taking on the challenges involved in returning Michigan football to its proud place in college football. (I don't think that's premature, I'm convinced Michigan "is back" though the new season hasn't started. - This IS Michigan, after all.)


Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 2:40 p.m.

Competition makes every teammate better, even if a player doesn't start their number will be called. These guys seem motivated by the competition and will bond even more throughout the season because of it. This is what Michigan football is about, being there for each other. The previous guy did things to divide the locker room, and although the guys didn't divided it must have been tough to listen to a self serving coach who disregarded positive motivation. It's about the guys, and our coaches realize the seniors and upperclassman have great leadership ability... I will stand up with pride when our seniors lead the team through the tunnel, they have persevered! Go Blue!


Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 12:27 p.m.

This stuff is so important as a developmental tool! When these guys are not pushed or challenged mediocre play becomes the norm. When you have anyone making you look over your shoulder in any sport it makes you excel or fail thus making the team better. I am hard pressed to say that the reason for these battles is because there are no good players on Michigans team. I think they have a lot of talent that was not utilized correctly or taught how to play the game correctly, and now are getting that instruction. We will gain a little idea of how good or bad this team is on Sat. Remember, 09' WMU was suppose to play really well against Michigan because Hiller was so good and they got crushed by a 5-7 michigan team! Go Blue!


Tue, Aug 30, 2011 : 10:50 a.m.

Half of the story is missing. Where are the famous quotes, "We're young", "We're almost there", "We're playing 10 true Freshmen"