ANN ARBOR - A month into the football season, Jason Avant appeared to be a broken man on a broken football team. The senior wide receiver at Michigan did not like where his team was after a loss at Wisconsin, and he said so.
"We've showed signs that we could be a good team, but we just don't make the plays that we need to," Avant said. "We make plays at certain times of the game, but we're not consistent."
The Wolverines, who play host to Ohio State tomorrow with the Big Ten championship potentially on the line, were a far cry from a contender at that point, in Avant's eyes. While he spoke softly, his body language screamed out about the mounting frustration of a 2-2 start.
"We just don't make plays. At some point, we just have to make plays," Avant said. "We're not going to have people on our side. We've got to come together as a team, because we're all we've got right now."
Since that point Michigan has gone 5-1, and won its last four in a row. The despair in Avant's voice has been replaced with the optimism of others, since a win over the Buckeyes, coupled with a Penn State loss to Michigan State later in the afternoon, would give the Wolverines a third straight Big Ten title.
That outcome seemed too far-fetched to discuss back when Avant bared his soul after the loss to the Badgers, and since then, for all intents and purposes, he has not been heard from again - except when he has his helmet on.
Avant, one of the Michigan co-captains, has not attended the weekly Monday press conferences with the news media. He has been absent from the post-game interviews. Avant has left it to fellow captain Pat Massey to carry the public relations ball.
All Avant has done is just played. The Chicago product, who has started every game this season at flanker, and 28 games in his UM career, is second in the Big Ten in receptions with 70, and his 900 receiving yards lead the conference.
While Avant has not been the front man and the spokesman for the program that most captains usually are, his contributions on the field and away from the media spotlight have been plenty good enough for his teammates.
"He's a great leader who sets an example for everyone by the way he goes about his work, his preparation for a game, and his practice routine," Michigan sophomore quarterback Chad Henne said.
"As a receiver, Jason's as good as they come. He's a guy who makes the quarterback look good. You put the ball anywhere close, and he is going to go get it. He's a great athlete, and that's why he has so many catches."
Safety Jamar Adams said so much of Avant's leadership with the team comes in the form of soft-spoken words, and actions that speak volumes about his character.
"Jason talks about how important it is to play your best in big games, and then he goes out and does it," Adams said. "As one of the team's leaders, he talks about the responsibility to make the right choices when we're off the field, and that's exactly what he does. As a younger player, it really hits home when you see a senior set an example like that."
Avant, an honor student at Michigan who has earned Academic All-Big Ten honors the past two seasons, has also been chosen by the league's coaches as an All-Big Ten second-team selection the past two years for his accomplishments on the field.
Avant comes from a broken family and did not meet his mother until his freshman year at Michigan. He has played hurt more than once in his prolific career. Going into the final regular season game of his career, Avant clearly has what Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was looking for in a captain.
"I think the first characteristic you look for in athletics from a leadership standpoint is a guy that plays with great intensity and has a great will to win, because ultimately in a team game your best players have to perform," Carr said.
"It all comes down to performing. And it's hard to be an outstanding leader if you are not performing your part in the play. Jason has been an exceptional leader. I think that's one of the reasons, one of the primary reasons, he was selected because he brings his work ethic every single day. And his will to compete is exceptional. It has been that way since the day he got here."42.28188 -83.74848