Michigan DE Rashan Gary Living Up to Expectations
By Joey Johnston
Even when you're a star - a five-star prospect at that - it's difficult to become an individual standout in the University of Michigan's defensive galaxy.
But Wolverines sophomore defensive end Rashan Gary already has earned a place of distinction as Michigan (8-4) prepares to face the South Carolina Gamecocks (8-4) in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
Gary, a 6-foot-5, 281-pound product of Parasmus Catholic High School in Plainfield, N.J., was the nation's No. 1-ranked recruit in 2016 when he signed with Coach Jim Harbaugh's Wolverines.
It's difficult to match such a lofty reputation.
But Gary has done just that.
"Turn on the tape and he (Gary) certainly gets your attention,'' Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. "What a great, great player.''
"He sure has lived up to all the billing,'' Harbaugh said. "What has allowed him to do that? He's very talented physically. His effort is uncommon. The work ethic, the approach, the toughness he's just so gifted. And his ceiling is so high. He's getting better.''
Gary had a career-best 62 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, five sacks and one forced fumble this season. In the regular-season finale against Ohio State, he had career highs in tackles (11) and sacks (two).
"You've got to be aware of him,'' Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "Tough to block. Tough to deal with.''
That's what everyone expected during recruiting, when Gary could have named his destination, any major college from coast to coast. He chose Michigan and the Don Brown-led defense hasn't disappointed, ranking No. 1 overall in 2016 and No. 3 this season.
Gary has been a major cog in the wheel, along with fellow defensive linemen Maurice Hurst and Chase Winovich, along with linebackers Devin Bush and defensive back Lavert Hill.
But last season was different.
Gary was a key contributor, but not a star. He came off the bench behind starting defensive ends Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley, making small ripples instead of a big splash. That was OK.
Gary, though, was inspired to do better.
Just before the season began, Brown and Michigan teammates knew Gary's change had been drastic. Gary changed his eating habits in the offseason and dropped 10 pounds. He ran a 4.57 in the 40-yard dash. He met the massive expectations head on.
"He's definitely a freak,'' Wolverines linebacker Mike McCray said before the season began. "He's too big to be that fast and athletic.''
For Gary, it was a necessary change.
"When I get on the field, it's like, 'Wow!' '' Gary said. "I'm moving like I want to move.
"It was all part of the growth process. Now I'm more like the player I want to be. When I got here, I was overweight. I had to put the work in.''
Sometimes, Gary is compared to former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, another physical freak who made an indelible impression on college football.
Gary has similar physical potential to Clowney and other elite defensive ends who have played in recent seasons. It's what Michigan expected when they won Gary's services. And it's what Gary expected, too.
Now he's on the road to living up to that potential.
"I don't want to disappoint a lot of people,'' Gary said. "I want to be great.''