Willis Barringer signs autographs yesterday for Michigan fans on photo day - as a safety, not a cornerback.
ANN ARBOR - When Willis Barringer signed to play football for Michigan two years ago, many considered him a sleeper.
Twenty days from now, Barringer may carry a new label by his name - starter.
The redshirt freshman from Scott High School appears to have the inside track on the Wolverines' starting strong safety position, and likely will be in the lineup for the Saturday, Aug. 30, home opener against Central Michigan.
“I feel good,” Barringer said yesterday during UM's annual photo day at Michigan Stadium. “I feel like I'm improving in my play every day. I feel like I'm getting better every day. I'm ready to get the season started.”
Barringer, 5-11 and 193 pounds, is battling fifth-year senior Jon Shaw, a three-year letterman, and junior Ernest Shazor for the No. 1 spot at strong safety.
“Willis loves to practice,” said starting cornerback Jeremy LeSueur, a fifth-year senior. “He always wants to learn and he's always trying to get better in every aspect of his game. He's been really impressive so far. He's just got to keep it up and things will work out fine for him.”
Barringer was a three-year starter at Scott, where he played for coach Matt Davis. He had 85 career tackles and 10 interceptions, while rushing for 1,901 yards and 24 touchdowns to earn All-Blade, All-City and all-district honors.
Barringer, rated the 49th-best player in the Midwest by recruiting guru Tom Lemming as a high school senior, had college scholarship offers from Toledo, Bowling Green, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin and Michigan.
He said he chose Michigan “because it gave me the best combination of football and academics.”
UM coach Lloyd Carr said offensive coordinator Terry Malone, a Bowling Green assistant from 1986-95, deserves a lot of the credit for helping land Barringer, who first made his mark at the Michigan football camp in 2001.
“Willis was one of those guys we were interested in coming out of high school,” Carr said. “But we had not made a decision on whether to offer Willis [a scholarship] and Terry continued to pound the table at our staff meetings and say, `Look, we need to get this kid. We need to go. We need to do it.' So, finally we did it, and I'm glad we did.
“Willis is a great competitor. He's done a very good job thus far. Like any young football player, he'll have some bumps along the road. That is a position that you're going to have some ups and downs. But he's done a very, very good job.
“I would say that he has a good chance to be one of the starters there.”
Barringer, who bench presses 300 pounds and has been clocked at 4.3 in the 40-yard dash, was shifted from cornerback to strong safety prior to the start of spring drills.
“It's not been that difficult of a move,” he said. “Playing corner has really helped me become a better safety. I think it's important to work hard all the time when you're on the field, and I always try to do that.”
Barringer made another switch this spring, going from jersey No. 33 to No. 19.
“No. 19 was my number in high school,” he said. “I wanted to go back to it because it's been great for me over the years. It's brought me a lot of luck.”
Barringer won't be the only newcomer at safety for the Wolverines, who are ranked No. 7 in the ESPN/USA Today preseason coaches' poll after going 10-3 last season.
Junior Marlin Jackson, the Big Ten's preseason defensive player of the year, has been shifted to free safety after starting the past two years at cornerback.
Jackson, who pleaded innocent last week after being arraigned on felonious assault and aggravated assault charges, has been practicing with the team while awaiting a preliminary hearing Wednesday.
He made 20 starts at cornerback the last two years and was a first-team All-Big Ten performer a year ago while earning spots on four different All-American teams.
“Marlin is really a good player. I've learned a lot from him,” Barringer said.
Carr said moving Jackson was possible because of the development of LeSueur and junior Markus Curry as cornerbacks.
“The decision was based on Michigan football and what is the importance to our team, yet I would not have made that move if Marlin had not been open to it,” Carr said.
“And I do think in the long run, it will be a tremendous advantage to him personally.”