ANN ARBOR - Only at the University of Michigan is it acceptable if W follows Z.
For most of the last four football seasons, tenants of the student section at Michigan Stadium have celebrated punts - yep, they got excited over punts - by positioning their fingers into the shape of the letter Z.
It remains to be seen how those fans plan to improvise this season now that the subject of that tradition, Zoltan Mesko, is collecting a paycheck with the NFL's New England Patriots.
"There's this," Mesko's replacement, Will Hagerup said, as he stretched his fingers to make a W. "But I definitely have to prove myself before I can get things like that."
Hagerup will get that chance - provided UM's offense stalls at least once in its season opener against Connecticut - in seven days at the Big House.
Speaking of days, it was one year and one day ago that Hagerup, out of Whitefish Bay, Wisc., committed to UM, and provided the Wolverines insurance that they'd enter the post-Mesko era with a suitable replacement.
A top five punter nationally, Hagerup was pursued by several heavyweights, like Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Ohio State, and state school, Wisconsin. Indiana, where Hagerup's brother Chris punts, wanted him too. His choice to sign with UM was based on a number of factors, immediate playing time not being one of them.
"To be honest, I didn't think about [the void at the position] that much," he said. "I was choosing the college and the team before I was choosing playing time. You get on campus and coaches will promise you a spot and will promise you whatever. So I wasn't really thinking too hard about whether I'd play this year or next year. I was just choosing a place I could be happy at and get a good degree."
Anyone who has spent a little time with Mesko and Hagerup can draw some parallels between the two. Mesko, in addition to twice being named first team Big Ten, was honored four times on the conference's academic list. Hagerup too is a cerebral individual, and like his predecessor, is passionate about his craft.
As a senior, Hagerup punted 22 times, landing seven within the opponent's 20-yard line, and averaging 42.9 yards per attempt. By comparison, Mesko had a career average of 42.5. In a statistic suggesting Hagerup applies adequate hang time to be a factor at the college level, opponents averaged just three yards per return against him.
"Our freshman punter is a real talent," Rodriguez said. "I mean a real talent. He's had some days where he kicked, and I said, wow, look at this."
Rodriguez laughed as he noted Hagerup's tough self criticism, saying that in the wake of an average punt, Hagerup "gets mad at himself and the whole world."
At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds Hagerup is certainly cut from the same physical mold as Mesko, who finished his career at 6-5, 231. Their kicking styles are similar too, Hagerup said, even though Mesko is a lefty and Hagerup a righty.
Hagerup says he and Mesko forged a friendship, which remains strong today, when Mesko hosted Hagerup during an official visit to campus last fall. That however will not mean Hagerup uses his mentor's career as a benchmark for his own.
"It's definitely good to have goals and all that, but I can only be as good as I can be," Hagerup said. "He did some unbelievable things here, and I look at his number and they're pretty remarkable."
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