ANN ARBOR - Ernest Shazor was rated the No. 1 safety in the country coming out of high school.
He was a Parade All-American and USA Today All-American at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit.
Shazor arrived at Michigan in 2001 with high expectations, but quickly got lost in the safety shuffle.
"It's frustrating when you come in here as the No. 1 safety in the nation, and you're not put to the back, but you're put to the side, for a moment," he said yesterday. "I struggled a lot with it.
"I had to sit down and talk to coach [Lloyd] Carr. We had a long discussion about me redshirting and he said it was up to me if I wanted to, and I decided I had to sit out that first year."
Shazor struggled through a few tough months, but then used that experience to make himself a better player.
He earned his first letter as a redshirt freshman in 2002, seeing action as a backup and special-teams performer in 12 games. He finally moving into the starting lineup at strong safety last season, and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors and helped the Wolverines win the conference championship.
"I didn't think it would take me that long to be a starter," he said. "I just had to kind of wait my turn. When I first got here, there was like five or six safeties ahead of me and I was taking the last couple of reps in practice, so I had to learn real quick on the run.
"But the one thing about Michigan is, everybody who comes here always gets a chance to play. It all depends on what you do with that chance."
Shazor, a junior, has made the most of his playing time in his second season as a starter.
He was named the Big Ten's defensive player of the week yesterday - the first UM defender to be so honored since linebacker Larry Foote in 2001. Shazor had a career-high 12 tackles in Saturday's 27-24 come-from-behind victory over Minnesota, including 11 solo stops and four tackles for losses.
Asked to sum up Shazor's dominating performance against the Golden Gophers, defensive end Pat Massey said: "Unbelievable."
"I just watched the film, and I saw him come up and stick his nose in there a bunch of times and make big hits or big plays," Massey said. "Usually, when you see defensive backs making tackles, they're kind of swimming around blockers and grabbing guys by the legs.
"But you watch Ernest, and he's going through blockers, and then he's going through running backs."
At 6-4 and a slender 226 pounds, Shazor looks more like a linebacker than a safety.
"I don't feel out of place," he said. "I love playing safety. I think that it's one of the best positions on the field. You have a lot of responsibilities, but you can roam a lot, and it gives you freedom to make plays."
Shazor and sophomore free safety Ryan Mundy split the duties of making the defensive calls, but there's no doubt Shazor is one of the Wolverines' leaders.
"I really look up to Ernest," Mundy said. "Ernest, to me, is the man. I'm just trying to learn from him."
Defensive tackle Gabe Watson said Shazor does a good job of keeping everyone focused on the field.
"Ernest keeps his head up throughout the game," Watson said. "He keeps talking to guys and saying things like, 'We need to get to the quarterback on this play.' If a certain player or a team hits a big play, he'll say, 'We need to get the ball now.'
"It's nice having him around, because he is high intensity and has a motor."
Shazor is a candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back. He leads the Wolverines in tackles with 40 - that total ranks him just 24th in the Big Ten - and he shares the team lead in tackles for losses with seven.
"I am playing closer to the line this year and that is probably why I have more tackles," he said.
Shazor has 122 career tackles, including 16 for losses, 12 pass breakups, four interceptions, three sacks and one fumble recovery. His 88-yard interception return against Miami (Ohio) in the opener was the third-longest in school history. It also was the first of three defensive touchdowns scored by Michigan this season.
"I've come a long way," Shazor said. "I feel good about my game right now."
QUICK HITS: Michigan is 7-2-1 in its last 10 games against Illinois, and has won four in a row. .●.●. Lloyd Carr will work his 300th game as a member of the Michigan coaching staff Saturday. He also will be looking for his 60th Big Ten victory in 76 games as UM's coach. .●.●. The Wolverines' defense forced 19 turnovers in the first four games, but have none in the last two, and have dropped to second nationally in that category. .●.●. Receiver Braylon Edwards needs 103 yards against the Illini to break Anthony Carter's career yardage total of 3,076 that has stood for 22 years.
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Ernest Shazor was rated the No. 1 safety in the country coming out of high school. He was a Parade All-American and USA Today All-American at Martin Luther King High School in Detroit. Shazor arrived at Michigan in 2001 with high expectations, but quickly got lost in the safety shuffle.