Michigan Wolverines’ Alex Orji stays true to himself as a quarterback

Michigan Wolverines’ Alex Orji stays true to himself as a quarterback

Michigan Wolverines’ Alex Orji stays true to himself as a quarterback

Detroit — During his high school playing days in Texas, before he received college scholarship offers, Michigan quarterback Alex Orji listened to those who were more likely to encourage him to change positions than to stay with the one he loved.

“All the time,” Orji said before co-hosting a youth quarterback camp in Detroit with Michigan State quarterback Aidan Chiles last Sunday.

At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Orji is an imposing player at center, and his size and athleticism had many suggesting he would get more playing time in college at a position other than quarterback. A former three-star recruit out of Texas, Orji is now among the top contenders for the Wolverines’ starting job this fall now that J.J. McCarthy has moved on to the NFL. He said he owes this opportunity in large part to his determination in high school and the support of his family and coaches to continue pursuing playing quarterback.

“They just let me know that I could do whatever I put my mind to,” Orji said. “That’s been really important to me and something I’ve always passed on to anyone. There’s a lot of kids in this camp and a lot of people will tell them they can’t play quarterback, and one thing that’s always helped me is that whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.

“In the end, if you think you can do it, do it. If you think you can’t, you’ve already lost the battle. It helped me a lot. I got a lot of offers for other positions and a lot of interest in doing other things and a lot of persuasion, but I think it’s very important to stand firm at a certain point and do what you want to do and what you love.”

Second-year running back Ben Hall said Orji is the real deal and it shows.

“Alex is everything he does,” Hall said. “He’s thorough. His processes are very important to him, and when someone tells you they want you to do something else, he sticks to his guns. He knows what he wants to do in his life. That’s in everything he does. He’s a dog in everything he does, and when he makes the decision to do something, he does it to the best of his ability.”

Jack Tuttle, recovering from an injury and granted a seventh year of eligibility, sat out much of spring practice but has experience as a starter from his time at Indiana. He is expected to be the top competitor for the starting quarterback job with Orji and Davis Warren, who both practiced during the spring. Sophomore Jayden Denegal and freshman Jadyn Davis, an early enrollee, also will compete for the job.

There was talk that Michigan might look for a transfer quarterback, but Kirk Campbell, in his first year as offensive coordinator and second as quarterbacks coach, said after the spring that he was happy with the group that was already in place. Orji said there is camaraderie in the quarterbacks room.

“Everyone that’s been there, a guy like Jack, who’s been playing football for a bunch of years, and a guy like Jadyn, who just came in, at the end of the day, we all have things to offer each other,” Orji said. “It’s awesome that we all want to see each other be the best quarterback possible, because at the end of the day, I don’t think any of us really committed to being a starter at Michigan. We just committed to helping the Michigan football team win.”

Orji has been on the field in special situations and last year he was in six games and had 15 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown. For his career, he has 21 carries for 123 yards and three touchdowns. In the spring game, Orji completed 13 of 18 passes for 103 yards and had five carries for two yards (he was sacked three times) and had an 18-yard touchdown run for the Blue team’s only points in a 17-7 loss to the Maize.

“I think it was on a steady upward trend,” Orji said of his spring practice. “I think the whole offense was. I didn’t really notice anybody on the team, especially the offense, not improving a lot during the spring. I think it was a great opportunity for us to bond with our new coaches and new roles and familiar faces, and also to be able to mesh and combine to make a good offense.”

He was coming off a season in which all of his teammates were hot after winning the national championship, but he also gained confidence from his increased role in Rose Bowl preparations as the Wolverines prepared to face Alabama. He is similar in size to Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe, a quarterback Orji respected when they both came up through the high school ranks in Texas. Orji led the scout team and was tasked with giving Michigan’s defense a good idea of ​​what it would be like to face Milroe.

In the end, while Orji did his job setting up the defense, it was his time facing Michigan’s top-rated defense that proved beneficial to his growth as a quarterback.

“There will never be a group like that again, trying to get the ball to (defensive backs) Mike (Sainristil) and Will (Johnson); it’s tough,” Orji said. “Trying to get away from (tackles) Mason (Graham) and KG (Kenneth Grant) bothers me to this day. So I think it’s definitely nice to be able to go against a really good defense, but it’s even better knowing that they’re going to be wearing the same jersey on Saturdays.”

He also learned a lot from being around McCarthy and said there are lasting effects on returning quarterbacks. They learned from watching him as a player and as a leader. Orji and Denegal, his roommate, called McCarthy last week.

“Two rings later, boom, he answers just updating us with whatever he’s doing,” Orji said. “The biggest thing overall is knowing how to lead, knowing how to direct guys, directing the people around you no matter what position you’re in. He took on a number of different roles during his time here at Michigan, and he really rose to the occasion in all of them.

“It was amazing the way he handled everything, just being able to talk to him at any time, and he talks to everybody on the team. That’s something that he really inspired everybody else to do: be a man of the people. Be able to lead everybody. You’re not just going to lead the quarterbacks or just the receivers or the offense. You have to be able to talk to everybody. That’s what happens when you’re taking plays and then on the field, always being calm, cool and collected, always having a plan and knowing the game before the game, being able to have an idea of ​​what’s about to happen before you throw the ball.”

As Michigan and the rest of college football head into preseason camp in the coming weeks, Orji said the quarterbacks haven’t paid attention to reports about the quarterback competition and who is suspected to be leading the charge for the Wolverines.

Michigan coach Sherrone Moore and Campbell told reporters in June that there is no set timetable for naming a starting quarterback. Orji said Sunday that those making predictions about the quarterback race don’t have all the information.

“It’s pretty easy for the guys that are in the building, because we know what’s going on,” Orji said of not getting caught up in preseason speculation. “I mean, the outside media perception is what it is. People are going to say what they say, and sometimes they’re going to be right, sometimes they’re going to be wrong.

“I don’t think it really has any bearing on our competition. I think we all go back to the facility, work as hard as we can, try our hardest and compete with each other while trying to get the best out of each other, because at the end of the day, we all want to be successful individually. We all want to be the starters, but ultimately, we want the best quarterback at the end of camp, at the end of every practice, to go out and take the snaps on Saturdays. If we want to be an elite football program, we don’t want to do it selfishly.”

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