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Posted on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Michigan football's Jordan Kovacs continues ascension from student-body tryout to all-Big Ten safety

By Kyle Meinke


Jordan Kovacs takes down Western Michigan running back Brian Fields on Saturday. Kovacs finished with 10 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

Angela J. Cesere |

Jordan Kovacs’ best offer coming out of high school was a chance to be a preferred walk-on at Toledo.

That's becoming increasingly hard to believe.

Kovacs, the son of a former Michigan football walk-on, turned down the Rockets to attend his father’s alma mater. He eventually made the team at an open tryout, worked his way onto special teams and found his way into a starting job as a redshirt freshman in 2009.

Now a junior, he just might be developing into one of the Big Ten’s best safeties.

“If you had a team of eight of those — I’m not going to say 11, eight of those — you might just sit in a lawn chair and watch the game,” defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Tuesday in a nod to both Kovacs’ burgeoning talent yet physical limitations.


Junior safety Jordan Kovacs led Michigan in tackles last season.

Melanie Maxwell |

The knock on the 6-foot, 197-pounder has been his stature and pure athletic ability. He doesn’t have elite speed or size, something even he acknowledges. But he produces.

Kovacs had perhaps the best all-around game of his career Saturday in the season-opening 34-10 win against Western Michigan. He finished with 10 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

It was the forced fumble that really had people talking.

Kovacs delivered a menacing third-quarter hit on Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder, jarring the ball loose to set up linebacker Brandon Herron’s 29-yard touchdown return — his second score of the game — and make a 20-10 game 27-10.

“That hit that he came on one of the pressures? It was what you tell and what you coach,” Mattison said. “Put your face right into his chest, wrap him up, eyes up, and he put his helmet right through the football.”

It was perfect technique.

Kovacs burst onto the scene in 2009, when he finished second on the team in tackles with 75. His first action on defense came against Notre Dame, when he didn't even expect to play, except on special teams.

“I was uncomfortable, and I’d be kidding myself if I said I wasn’t,” Kovacs said Tuesday of his debut. Things will come full circle Saturday when the Wolverines host the Irish in the first night game of Michigan Stadium's 84-year history (8 p.m., ESPN).

Last year, he started every game, was second in the Big Ten with 116 tackles and was named all-league honorable mention by the media. Does all the success appease him at all, after being so overlooked coming out of Clay High School in Curtice, Ohio?


Come back to at noon Thursday to join Kyle Meinke for a live chat. He’ll discuss the latest Wolverines’ news and preview the game against Notre Dame.

Follow updates from the staff during the Saturday game on Twitter by using the hashtag #umnd.

Take a Twitpic on Saturday and send it to us @annarborcom or email to

“You know, that walk-on chip on my shoulder, I think, is something I’ll always carry with me,” Kovacs said. “I’m proud of being a walk-on, and it’s nothing I regret or am disappointed in. I like being a walk-on.”

He isn’t playing like one. Just ask Carder.

Said Herron of Kovacs' hit: "It was a call where we saw — I can’t put it out there — but we made a check, and I ended up coming off the edge, and Kovacs got free."

The check made the play. Guess who called the check?

The same guy who delivered the hit, the same guy who forced the fumble, and the same guy who beat every one but Herron to the end zone.

“The thing that people didn’t see on that is he was in the end zone almost the same time as Herron after he had caused the fumble,” Mattison said. “That’s what Michigan defense is about.”

Kovacs led Michigan in tackles last year, then again against the Broncos to open this year — which is both a blessing and a curse. It means he’s tackling well, but also means he has opportunities to tackle well.

Good defenses don’t give their safeties that many opportunities to tackle.

“When your safety is making a lot tackles, that’s not a good thing,” Mattison said. “It’s a good thing we have Jordan Kovacs, but that’s not a good thing (he led the team in tackles). That happened a number of times, where if a linebacker was where he was supposed to be, he would’ve made that tackle.

“The great news is Jordan was where he was supposed to be.”

The greatest news of all is Kovacs felt he was supposed to be at Michigan.

Who knows where this defense would be without him?

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



Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 5:10 p.m.

Great kid with a lot of heart. If I were Mattison, I would blitz him every down because he is useless as a pass defender. His idea of pass defense is to line up 30 yards deep, then when the ball is snapped turn around a run for the end zone so he doesn't get beat deep.


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 3:42 p.m.

Hail to Jon, our advanced version of "Rudy" Reuttiger.

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 4:37 p.m.

D21 Nice try. Here, let me help? JOrdaN=JON. Jon, nothing to it.


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

Hence the advanced version!


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 4:06 p.m.

Jordan, maybe? ..and PLEASE don't equate this kid with Rudy. The film version of that story is largely fictionalized and it's STILL a lame tale. JK is the real thing... plays smart, hits like a ton of bricks and is out-thinking those who seek to block him.


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 2:45 p.m.

tobs. . . you must be a ND FAN? "i can hardly imagine what will happen if we lose" AGAIN! on a brighter note walk-ons can be a gem in the rough? we got a perfect diamond. . . thanks for walking on to michigan JK and keep that CHIP on your shoulder! GO BLUE!!!


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

I love the pompous "after all WE ARE MICHIGAN" and "He's a MICHIGAN MAN" Point of fact, Hoke's a Ball State man. Ed Martin, Barney of Mayberry Moeller, Tractor Traylor and his Grandma's $60,000 welfare Escalade, the Fab 5 and BO's 2-15 record in Rose Bowls are all part of the Michigan history so get off your collective high horses. If Michigan loses Saturday night the true colors will come out and it will be like High St in Columbus. Something about ND brings out venom in the most mild Mich fan. Some of the behavior I witnessed on the golf course parking by U of M directed at ND fans was appalling. I can hardly imagine what will happen if we lose.

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

It's not where you're from. It's where your heart is after experiencing being there. Who is "we" in this award winning bit of literature? By the way, is "bs" in your moniker short for something that's not allowed by this site?


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

Another glass half empty person. There is no satisfying some folks. Isn't a diversity of opinion great? Don't concern yourself DonAZ with the idiotic comments for this person. You bet, I am on my horse amd wearing my Varsity Letter jacket I earned while being a student athlete running at U of M. The spirit of Bob Ufer lives!!!


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

I honestly can't figure out the point of this post. I'm trying ... just can't see the point.


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 12:23 p.m.

Early money says he will a Senior Captain and so rightfully deserved.


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 11:25 a.m.

Great story, thanks for the insight. You gotta love love it when an underdog accents to play in key role. One, he believes in himself, two; he's willing to work very hard to be successful and three; he's a Michigan Man (it's about the team). Although Jordan started his Michigan career under Rich Rod, he and several others from that era will flurish under this new coaching staff.

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 10:44 a.m.

I just like the way this young man plays football. Hard nose, smart, runs to the football, usually before most players know where the ball is going. And the most important part; he makes the rest of the defense play better. Next year he will repeat history, most likely, when he becomes a Michigan captain after starting as a walk-on. The first one? Every good defense, offense, and team has at least one guy that everybody turns to when things start to get serious. Jordan Kovacs is one of those guys. He's not flashy, he's solid and he doesn't make many mistakes. The answer to the above question: Eric Mayes, LB, captain in 1997, got his knee blown out at Indiana about half way through the season. TiM Go Blue!

Blu n Tpa

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 10:44 a.m.

#58 It is always a pleasure to read your comments from someone who's "been there, done that". You are Michigan. I read the link above and Mr. Hill and Mr. Kovacs sound like they took the same Michigan football class. Hard Nose 101. TiM Go Blue!


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 6:49 p.m.

Bo's first team was in 1969, not 1968. Henry was a sophomore in 1968. The only redshirt you could get back then was medical, and freshmen weren't eligible. We only played 10 games. There was a separate freshman team. The only bowl game a Big 10 team could go to was the Rose Bowl, and you couldn't go 2 years in a row. Many times the 2nd place team went because of that rule. Henry came to Michigan on an academic scholarship. By his junior year he did earn an athletic scholarship. He was small, tough and really quick off the ball. Henry played middle guard in the 5-2-4 defense. Now that defense is called the 3-4-4 defense. What are now outside linebackers we called defensive ends.

Blu n Tpa

Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 4:18 p.m.

DAZ Henry Hill, "You're a funny guy. You know funny, the way you tell the story." "No, I don't know. How am I funny? Hill, "You know, you're funny." A bunch of bad words and Joe Pesci takes out his gun and pretends he's going to shoot Henry Hill. sjs Let me correct myself. The first player I remember. I think I recall during a '97 broadcast someone saying Mayes was the first but I do stand aside for your correction.


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 3:29 p.m.

I was watching "Goodfellas" on AMC last night. Ray Liotta played Henry Hill! :-)


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

You forgot about Henry Hill, a walk-on who made Bo's first team in 1968, and finished his career as a co-captain and first team all american in 1970. He was an undersized nose guard who seemed like he was in on every tackle. Read about him at <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>