Chase Winovich's play and mouth have written checks Michigan must cash vs. Ohio State
The Game is set, and it's time for Michigan and The Mouth to deliver ... if he can get on the field
Things were so bad at Michigan five years ago that Chase Winovich felt compelled to reach into his wallet.
You want to talk pay-for-play? Read on.
"Some of the coaches were making us feel like it was the scout team's fault that we were losing," said Michigan's now All-Big Ten defensive end. "I took that personal. I hate losing. That goes against what I bought into. I remember drafting a letter saying everyone has to band together -- it was the week of Ohio State -- to try to rally the troops of the scout team."
This was his redshirt freshman season as a scout-team punching bag in 2014, a year before Winovich would see the field and begin carving out a Halogen–lit, superstar career for the Wolverines.
Spirits were low, the record lower -- below .500 at 5-7 in Brady Hoke's final season.
"I was bribing kids on scout team if they got an interception," Winovich said. "I would give them 10 bucks [if they got a pick] to go to Chipotle. I ended up paying some of that out."
Only a handful of folks can even attest to that story. That's how Winovich rolls. Every page you turn, every corner he turns seems to reveal some unknown, unbelievable story.
Exactly how many college football players do you know who have met Donald Trump on a golf course, played video games with Trump's son Baron, dated Madonna's daughter and speed dialed Conor McGregor?
There's only one.
His flowing blonde hair brands him and his mouth sometimes gets out in front of him, but it's his game that ultimately defines him.
"I don't think there is any man alive who can beat me," Winovich proclaimed.
He might be right. Winovich is having a consensus All-America-type season. Eleven games into his senior year, the Pittsburgh native has 58 tackles, including 13.5 for loss. But it's his down-by-down consistency that backs up those flapping gums.
"Chase has been an animal this season," Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I don't really like to use human-to-animal analogies, but he's been great just doing so many things. He's a catalyst. … Bo used to have a saying, 'Every man on every play.' Chase is living that."
It started early this season and never let up.
"This might sound like a hot take," Winovich said, minutes after the season-opening loss at Notre Dame, "but I didn't feel like they dominated us."
The case can be made that No. 4 Michigan has only had one bad quarter all season. Trailing 14-0 against Notre Dame after the first 15 minutes on Labor Day weekend, the Wolverines outplayed the Irish the final three quarters and embarked on a nine-game winning streak that has them on the brink of playing in their first College Football Playoff.
Winovich has been both a standout reason and a standout marketer. As momentum built, he named the season, "The Revenge Tour." That was basically a loose reference to Harbaugh (after that loss) being 1-6 against Michigan's four biggest rivals (Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Notre Dame).
Since then, Michigan has beaten Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin. After that Oct. 20, win over the Spartans, Winovich said, "Sometimes your little brother starts acting up, and you just gotta put them in place."
After the Nov. 3 pasting of the Nittany Lions, the Revenge Tour "has kind of taken on a mind of its own," Winovich said. T-shirts and hats logoed with his words popped up in the M Den on State Street.
"Joe Paterno's son, I saw this morning tweeting about it," Winovich said. "He wasn't saying good things about it, but it's in their heads if they're talking about it."
Harbaugh probably won't say it, but Winovich is the team mouthpiece, saying everything Harbaugh can't or won't as a head coach.
And that's saying a lot considering some of the verbal forests Coach Khaki has wandered into.
"Sometimes we see younger people think it's more cool to have an approach that's too cool for school," Harbaugh said, "as opposed to gung-ho. Chase is definitely more old school in the area of attacking each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind."
A sampling from Winovich, a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year).
"Michigan should almost pay for all the real estate we're taking up in everybody's mind at this point. Their minds are concentrated on us."
"I'm going to think I'm unstoppable until someone stops me … The way I attack the game, and the physicality I play with, I just think I wear people out."
"I think, in a lot of ways, I'm just a polarizing figure. I recognize the fact that I'm probably a player you probably want on your team. But if I'm not on your team, you might not like me."
And the ultimate taboo, speaking about Ohio State before Ohio State week ...
"We're not going to have a bandwagon [going to Columbus, Ohio]. More like a battleship -- all the support and energy and fire. It's almost my season in a sense. It's very symbolic to somebody who plays at Michigan to beat those guys."
Michigan, of course, hasn't beaten the Buckeyes in the Harbaugh era -- or at all since 2011 -- and as it stands now, Winovich's status for the game is unknown. He fell awkwardly on his left shoulder in the third quarter on Saturday against Indiana, leaving the game and never returning. Harbaugh continues to say X-rays and a CAT scan showed no break.
"Those came out negative," Harbaugh said after the game. "I think we're in a good place there."
Winovich will continue to be evaluated through the week, Harbaugh said Monday.
Given the the significance of the Saturday's game against No. 10 Ohio State (streaming live on fuboTV -- try for free) -- the division, conference and a potential College Football Playoff spot are all at stake -- the injury situations for both teams will be closely guarded probably right up until game time. For his part, Winovich has been upbeat on social media.
This is the moment where Winovich needs to cash those checks his mouth has been writing. He needs to be a force against an offensive line that is allowing Ohio State's second-fewest sacks per game in a second while throwing more than 40 times per game. In three previous games against the Buckeyes, Winovich has 10 tackles, 1 sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. That would be a nice starting point on Saturday.
His trash talk -- or the refreshing breeze coming from his lips, if you will -- has not ceased. "Colorful" is not a word associated with the buttoned-up Michigan Men. In fact, it was amazing that a Michigan sports administrator stood at Winovich's side -- doing nothing -- while the player delivered some of these outlandish quotes.
In last year's Outback Bowl, Winovich dyed his hair orange in support of pediatric brain cancer research. Brain cancer had taken the life of Chad Carr, grandson of former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.
In that aforementioned rout of Penn State, Winovich was caught mimicking Trace McSorley's home-run touchdown celebration the PSU quarterback had been using since 2016. That day, Winovich was the highest rated edge rusher in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus.
His social media game is not shy either.
"I get that. Just make sure I keep it in check," Winovich said. "Most of the things I say, I like to think are pretty calculated. There's an art to giving candid responses."
Thankfully, Winovich probably has enough sweat equity built up that he is allowed to some leeway in expressing himself. That makes him a latter-day Brian Bosworth or a present-day Baker Mayfield. Finishing up his fifth year makes Winovich somewhat of a historian spanning two coaches.
"Teams that beat us last year almost bullied us. It goes back to my freshman year … we've been in this limbo of transition for quite some time," he said. "We've had glimmers of greatness. We won the Sugar Bowl in 2011. The 2016 team was pretty solid in terms of talent.
"I think teams kind of took advantage of this transition, even going back to the Coach Carr years. We've had enough of people almost taking advantage of our team."
That Thor-like figure you see dashing around the field has a weakness. Just remind him of his grandmother Gretchen. She died when Winovich was in preschool. He regrets not smiling in the last photo he took with her.
"I'm not smiling, and it pains me every day," Winovich said. "You never know when this game and the people around you [can end]."
He adores his mother, Anina, a real estate manager, and his father Peter.
"She wakes up at 4 or 5 in the morning," Winovich said. "If I'm a workhorse, she's a thoroughbred."
That scout-team experience that shaped him has not been forgotten. Winovich went from humble defensive punching bag in those days to what he says was "seventh-string tight end" back to a starring role on the nation's No. 1 defense.
All in the space of five years, two coaches and supported by more than one motor -- his play and his mouth.
"The way I see it," Winovich again reminded anyone who would listen, "no one can stop me."
With confidence like that, can anyone actually stop Winovich or Michigan?
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