Sunday, August 05, 2001

Hamilton's Mignery in thick of Michigan QB race

By Rory Glynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When a Michigan quarterback, possibly 11 games short of a Heisman coronation and maybe 12 short of a national championship, gives up his senior season to play baseball in Columbus — well, it raises eyebrows in Ann Arbor.

        But one week into spring practice at Michigan, Drew Henson left for a six-year, $17 million, baseball-only deal with the New York Yankees and became the third baseman for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. He took even his teammates by surprise.

        “We went to our meetings and we saw Drew wasn't there,” said reserve quarterback Andy Mignery. “Then we went through practice and Drew still wasn't there. But nobody said anything.

        “Then the media found out what happened, and it spread like wildfire. That's how we found out.”

        If Henson's departure raised eyebrows, for a select few it raised hopes. Take Mignery, a Hamilton High graduate. Henson's switch to baseball gave him a chance to expand his role.

        “The pressure jumped up 100 percent,” Mignery said. “Suddenly I was taking all these second-team reps. And I wound up having a really big spring.”

        Practice for the Wolverines resumes Aug. 11, and Mignery goes in battling for the No. 2 job with sophomore Spencer Britton, a transfer from San Diego State who spent last year on a Mormon mission, and redshirt freshman Jermaine Gonzales. Sophomore John Navarre, who started four games last season when Henson was injured, goes into the fall as the starter.

        For Mignery, a good spring started with a healthy right arm. A year earlier, elbow tendinitis put him well behind Navarre in the battle to back up Henson. Mignery was unable to throw at all for much of last summer.

        “That really killed me,” he said.

        But Mignery didn't dwell on the slow start. When fall rolled around, he practiced hard with the repetitions he got behind Henson and Navarre.

        And he saw first-hand the importance of preparation when Henson suffered a broken foot late in camp. For the first four games, Navarre became the starter and Mignery the backup. “You're always just a heartbeat away,” Mignery said.

        Navarre made the most of his chance, throwing for four touchdowns in a season-opening victory over Bowling Green. For the season, he completed 40 of 77 passes for 583 yards and eight touchdowns with only one interception. Conceded Mignery: “It's John's job to lose.”

        Mignery appeared in three games, completing 3 of 4 passes for 37 yards. He directed a touchdown drive against Bowling Green and a march to a field goal in a win over Indiana.

        The 2000 Wolverines, who finished 9-3, had Henson and a stable of stars on offense to do most of the heavy lifting. That won't be the case this season. Also gone from a year ago are tailback Anthony Thomas, the school's career rushing leader, and wide receiver David Terrell, the No. 4 pick in the NFL draft. Three offensive lineman also went in the draft, two in the first round.

        But Mignery, one of three Greater Cincinnati players on the roster (starting fullback B.J. Askew of Colerain and reserve offensive lineman Andy Christopfel of Elder are the others) is confident the Wolverines will have most of the questions answered by the Sept. 1 opener against Miami University. “This is a great program,” he said.

        The maize-and-blue mystique sometimes keeps players in Ann Arbor when easier paths might be pursued elsewhere. With Michigan's four quarterbacks compressed into the sophomore and freshman classes, it would be understandable if any of them wondered if another school might provide a better opportunity to play.

        Mignery, who was heavily recruited by Tennessee, Ohio State and Maryland, admits similar thoughts have crossed his mind, but only fleetingly. Inevitably, his thoughts return to Michigan.

        “I'm going through the ranks here, moving up the ladder,” Mignery said. “That's how you get the other guys' respect.

        “I love the decision I made. I want to make that clear. I love it here. I've been to the Orange Bowl. I've been to the Citrus Bowl. I've got a Big Ten (championship) ring.”


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