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Posted on Tue, Aug 16, 2011 : 9:50 p.m.

Walk-on Nathan Brink's toughness earns him first-team reps on the Michigan football team's defensive line

By Kyle Meinke


Nathan Brink

Michigan football coaches have talked a lot in recent weeks about how they’re trying to forge competition during fall camp.

They pulled the curtain back Tuesday on some of those battles.

The media was allowed to watch about 20 minutes of the team’s practice, and some of that included stretching and warmups. But from the few sets that were run, there were a couple notable takeaways.

Most prominently, junior defensive tackle Will Campbell took snaps with the second-unit defense, and unheralded walk-on Nathan Brink took his place on the first team.

Brink is a relative unknown from Holland Christian. The sophomore redshirted in 2009, and his only appearance last year was as a reserve defensive end in a 65-21 win against Bowing Green.

But he put on about 17 pounds in the offseason, exceeding the coaches’ goal of 15 pounds, and the 6-foot-5 sophomore now weighs about 267 pounds. It’s a big reason why Brink’s been able to rocket from an end-of-the-roster afterthought to running sets with the first team.

“I’ve just been working to compete every day,” Brink said Sunday. “I came in a couple years ago at 220, so I’ve put on about 45 pounds since I’ve been here. It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it.

“(The new coaching staff) really challenges us and expects a lot out of us, but I appreciate it, and it’s … it’s Michigan.”

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Brink was discussed among the coaches during the spring because of his toughness and coachability up front.


Greg Mattison gives instructions during a Michigan football practice on Tuesday. After practice, he said of walk-on defensive tackle Nathan Brink: "This guy has come out every day as tough as he possibly can. Michigan people are going to be happy about him."

Melanie Maxwell |

“I hate to talk about a young man because, when I do, he goes down the tubes. But, this guy has come out every day as tough as he possibly can,” Mattison said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. “Michigan people are going to be happy about him.

“He shows that want-to, that toughness, and that’s what we want. What we need is 11 guys playing with the attitude he’s shown.”

Brink’s name first was mentioned by Michigan coach Brady Hoke on Sunday during the team’s media day. Hoke said he likes Brink’s physicality, and thought he stood out during spring practices.

“He’s going to be able to help us,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said Sunday. “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.”

Coaches have a way of lauding players during camps, but it was notable to see Brink, who wasn’t even all-state honorable mention at Holland Christian, slotted ahead of Campbell, one of the country’s top defensive tackles at Detroit Cass Tech.

Campbell, who has five tackles in two seasons and often been relegated to special teams duties because of inconsistent play and effort, has been mostly a bust so far at Michigan. However, he has been complimented this offseason for his renewed commitment to weight loss and technique.

The media’s session during practice was brief, and it’s only the second week of camp, so it’s important not to draw too much from Brink playing ahead of Campbell.

Still, Hoke said Sunday this would be a pivotal time of camp, because it’s the team’s first full week with full pads, there are three two-a-days and there is a scrimmage Saturday. He hopes to make out his first two-deep roster around that time.

So, Brink getting reps at this juncture does mean something — if he’s not a candidate for playing time, then at least there is a message being sent to Campbell. Either way, that’s significant.

It also wasn’t the only surprise on the defensive line.

Sophomore defensive end Jibreel Black took snaps with the first unit, and returning starter Craig Roh was with the second unit. Mattison said last week Black has been impressive in camp, but needs to be more consistent.

True freshman Brennen Beyer, who also has drawn praise from the coaching staff, was at defensive end/outside linebacker with the first unit.

Elsewhere on the defense, senior Troy Woolfolk and sophomore Courtney Avery started at cornerback with the first unit, and junior J.T. Floyd, a starter the first nine games last year before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in practice, was with the second team.

Hoke has said no one has locked up a starting spot in the Michigan secondary, and that Avery and Floyd, in particular, are battling for the corner job opposite Woolfolk. Terrence Talbott also could factor in there.

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



Thu, Aug 18, 2011 : 2:33 p.m.

The story about Brink is nice, however, Michigan is counting on Campbell to make an impact this season. The third year is when the light switch goes on in the heads of most underachieving, highly recruited D linemen. Gabe Watson is a great example. It's not good news when I read that a walk-on is taking first team reps ahead of Campbell, IMO.

Megan Greene

Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 9:06 p.m.

It would be a colossal coaching failure if they don't get Will Campbell to play for them.


Thu, Aug 18, 2011 : 12:50 a.m.

That's exactly right MFanTex, Either Megan is a troll or I don't know what she's trying to get at. Just because Brink was not a 5 Star high school player doesn't mean he won't be able to succeed if given an opportunity and great coaching to bring that to light. If a guy like Brink can start becoming a great player now when no one had even heard of him hardly, what does that tell you about the coaching ability of our head coach and staff? Campbell needs to step up or maybe he's just not that good when he goes up against college men and not high school boys.


Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 11:18 p.m.

I'd appreciate it if you scrolled back to the top and read the story about Nathan Brink, then square what you read with what you just wrote. Hint, at some point Campbell has to take ownership of his own future.

Lorain Steelmen

Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 8:19 p.m.

Just a thought, and I'll throw it out here.....Sure this 2011 team is 'young', and to a large extent 'unknown'. But young players, that have big goals, can be like sponges. The sky is the limit for these kids! And these coaches are obviously passionate, and they are 'competitors', as well! There is an awful lot of hard work to be done, by BOTH coaches and players, but don't kid yourself, these coaches, particularly, the older ones, (Hoke Mattison, Borges), are having the 'time of their lives'. The excitement can be contagous....My only fear, now, would be injuries to key first-stringers. We donlt need any more Woolfolk heartbreaks, for any of these kids this year.


Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 5:46 p.m.

"9 returning starters on defense". That's not necessarily a good thing when almost none of them could make a solo tackle.


Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 5:34 p.m.

Compare this to last year when we had that crap with the "wingless" helmets. Are players being held accountable for their offseason activities and their camp performance this year? Yes, they are, but it's all being done without any public fanfare. There is absolutely no reason to air any dirty laundry. Coach Hoke and staff are keeping that stuff where it belongs, inside the family. The days of motivation through public humiliation are over. And I, for one, think we are a much better institution for that.


Thu, Aug 18, 2011 : 9:18 a.m.

well said...RR was about himself and the wingless helmet was over the top for a team that needed positive motivation. It could work if used in the right context; however, it wasn't timed properly. RR probably thought it up the night before and was going to use it convenient to let the media in on it. Tate was probably done at that point. RR targeted the guy he knew was second or third string...anyway, Mr. I thought we were on our way after a disgraceful year. How can you be on your way when you think about one side of the ball, and loose a ton of games that were over at half time.


Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 1:31 p.m.

Look how the defense played last year look at the results. Just because you where a starter on last years terrible defense does not guarantee anything this year. Also, I think its a disadvantage to a starting player from last years defense. Could not have been much talent especially in backfield the way they got beat up last year. I realize injuries where a key issue. But, the backups where terrible.

Blu n Tpa

Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 12:56 p.m.

This is what I meant when back in January I wrote that the team was already better from the first day of Coach Hoke's hiring. I didn't forsee the great finish to this years' recruiting class, or the monster class of 2012 that is being given national attention. No, it was that Coach Hoke got it. He knows how to coach football and he wasn't going to let anything distract him and his coaches from building a winning program now. First string last year? Doesn't matter. High value recruit? Show me or sit down. Walk on? No way but if you "run" on and stay running until you run off, he can use you. That''s how you coach a winning attitude, prepare a competitive team ready to play 60 minutes of football. This team will win as many games as it's talent and heart will allow. Some teams will beat Michigan because they are as well coached and have better talent, with more experience, than Michigan. But, they will walk out knowing that their advantage is fleeting and a change is coming soon. This is Michigan! Go Blue!


Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 12:03 p.m.

I guess all that matters is what happens when you put on the pads and start competing for playing time. The whole ranking of recruits can be a little misleading even before they play a down of college sports. Here is an example of of walk-on doing what the coaches ask and having the toughness and means to step up and compete for playing time in front of a 5 Star recruit. I have always said you can be the big man on your High School team and dominate against weaker opponents but the competition at the next level only increases. The weeding out process happens very quickly and you also have to worry about younger players coming in as well trying to take your position.


Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 5:38 a.m.

Could we be witnessing the beginning of our version of the "Killer B's Defense'? Is that what it "B" like? Well I'm all for it, this season is going to be so much fun going forward and reclaiming our rightful place among the Nations Elite. Go Blue!!! Indeed, This is Michigan!!!

1st Down

Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 3:35 a.m.

gotta love motivational tactics

Terry Star21

Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 3:34 a.m.

TO THOSE who don't believe Hoke's great attitude and work ethics aren't rubbing off on his players - Nathan Brink, "(The new coaching staff) really challenges us and expects a lot out of us, but I appreciate it, and it's … it's Michigan." This was a great's great to hear about Brink, Black and Beyer (the BBB boys) as it sounds like the extra conditioning and hard work they have done could pay off big time. We can't get enough of these stories. MgoBlueForTiM.............(The new coaching staff) challenges's Michigan !


Wed, Aug 17, 2011 : 3:29 a.m.

competition is a good thing. the guys that are not going to compete will get left behind. I like that Freshman and Walk ons are being given opportunities to beat out guys that have been in there for a while.