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ANN ARBOR — Allen Gant thought it was a joke.
When Greg Mattison mentioned the fact that Gant had put on some weight at the start of the summer and might want to consider switching positions on the football field, Gant figured Michigan’s defensive coordinator was speaking strictly with his tongue planted in his cheek.
Then Mattison clarified his stance. He planned to move Gant from safety to strongside linebacker for his second season with the Wolverines.
“I really didn’t know what he was getting at, and finally he brought me to my office and told me about the position change,” said Gant, a Sylvania Southview graduate.
“My eyes lit up.”
Gant immediately embraced the move. After a freshman season in which he redshirted and underwent wrist surgery, Gant was eager to move.
All-Big Ten linebacker Jake Ryan is recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL and said he expects to resume playing in October, and likely starter Brennen Beyer has missed several practices because of an undisclosed injury. That has put Gant in the mix at the position entering Michigan’s second week of preseason practices.
“Going to linebacker is a natural position for me,” said Gant, a redshirt freshman whose father, Tony, played football at Michigan from 1982 to 1986. “I feel like I’ll be able to compete every day at that position.”
Playing safety during his senior year at Southview, Gant had 79 tackles — including seven for a loss — one interception, and two forced fumbles, and he was originally projected to play at safety when he committed to the Wolverines in June, 2011.
“At safety, there’s rarely a point where you’re on the line of scrimmage,” Gant said. “At the position I’m playing, at [strongside] linebacker, the majority of the time I’ll be around the line of scrimmage and in the box.”
Roy Manning, Michigan’s first-year outside linebackers coach, explained the learning curve in moving from safety to linebacker.
“I always mess around and say that secondary is easier, because you just need to know the coverage,” said Manning, a former Wolverines linebacker. “But when you’re moved up at the linebacker position or on the defensive line, things happen a lot quicker. Now you have that run-pass conflict all the time, and you really have to have disciplined eyes.
“It’s been an adjustment for Allen, but I’m really and pleasantly surprised with how well he’s done in just a week at the position.”
Ryan’s role as de facto coach has also benefited Gant.
“He has a lot of experience playing games here at Michigan, and helping me throughout the summer and in fall camp, especially,” Gant said. “He’s helped me out a lot.
“As far as him setting an example for me, Jake has helped me out in learning what the expectations are and knowing those at the position.”
Gant also believes he’s entered his second camp better prepared psychologically and physically. He’s put on weight since last summer and has a stronger understanding of what his responsibilities are, football-wise.
“With a year under my belt, despite the position change, I know what the expectations are for myself and for the team,” Gant said. “Doing my job, competing every day, and I feel I’m getting a lot better.”
While his spot on the football field has changed, Gant has found one common thread between his first August with the Wolverines and this August.
“One thing I really look forward to in camp is just being with my teammates every day,” Gant said. “This is an opportunity for us to come closer, both offensively and defensively, to enjoy a nice bond and have a great brotherhood. That’s one thing I look forward to, every year.”