ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — In the week leading up to his first college start, Michigan linebacker Cam McGrone said he was shaking before practices.
It was just Rutgers visiting Michigan Stadium, but being in the middle of the Wolverines’ defense in the Big House was a daunting order for the redshirt freshman.
“You just need that game-time experience,” McGrone said Monday. “After that, you know what to expect.”
Michigan fans and coaches now know, too, and the expectations are high heading into a crucial finish to his first season on the field.
Recent home rivalry wins against then-No. 8 Notre Dame and Michigan State raised the stakes even more for the 19-year-old from Indiana, including a moment when he stopped in his tracks during Saturday’s 44-10 win against the Spartans.
“At one point, I kind forgot I was playing Michigan State, and I got up after I made the tackle, I just saw everybody cheering, and I was like, ‘Dang, I’m really in the game,’” McGrone said. “Back in high school, I had a couple rivalry games, but none were as violent as that.
“It’s definitely weird. It kind of feels like a movie when I’m out there.”
Before No. 12 Michigan (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten, No. 15 CFP) plays its biggest rival of all next week in No. 2 Ohio State, the Wolverines will visit Indiana (7-3, 4-3) on Saturday.
After redshirting a year behind Big Ten defensive player of the year Devin Bush Jr. last season, the 5-star prospect from Indianapolis has wasted no time making an impact.
McGrone, the only Michigan player from the Hoosier State, said he didn’t watch much football growing up or even Indiana basketball. But since taking over for Josh Ross, who was injured and now may redshirt, McGrone has developed football instincts that are showing for Jim Harbaugh’s team.
“He’s getting better and better with understanding all the adjustments with the defensive calls and the responsibilities of the others around him,” Harbaugh said. “And just playing really good football.”
McGrone now has seven starts and has already recorded a pair of double-digit tackle outputs, including 12 against Notre Dame. In those seven games, Michigan’s defense has allowed 11 touchdowns and forced 12 turnovers.
“When he came in, he was physically and mentally pretty high level already,” senior linebacker Jordan Glasgow said. “Obviously you can see how good of a player he is now. I don’t think it was really any surprise to the people who have been practicing with him that know how good of a player he is.
“He’s going to make a lot of plays other people won’t be able to make.”
With Bush now a top NFL defensive rookie for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the middle of defensive coordinator Don Brown’s unit is in McGrone’s hands.
McGrone said learning under Bush as a true freshman was a blessing, and he said the speed shared by the pair is coveted by top pro and college programs.
“To be behind (Bush) and learn from him, just watch him play every Saturday, it’s kind of contagious,” McGrone said. “You want to be as close as possible to him.”
Glasgow was the only Michigan linebacker to be named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, but the fifth-year senior said he considers McGrone, along with Khalake Hudson, to be better linebackers than he is.
“If (McGrone) started all the games, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was up there instead of myself,” Glasgow said. “I feel Cam still has a lot to improve on, and he’s going to be a much better player going forward and going forward to next year.
“I don’t think that we’ve really seen all that he has to offer yet, so I think that’s really encouraging and exciting.”
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