ANN ARBOR - When Willis Barringer signed to play football at the University of Michigan, little did he know what he was getting into.
Barringer went from being a big man on campus at Scott High to a scrub for one of the most famous programs in the country, to starter, to the bench, to special teams standout, and, now, finally, back to starting free safety.
Barringer had no idea that opportunity would lead him to experience unpredictable doses of joy and pain, a chance to contribute even if it meant doing so in a supporting role, and that he'd have the good fortune to learn the character qualities it takes to handle the ups and downs of big-time college football.
Barringer changed his outlook without lowering his sights. He didn't mind playing on special teams - really, he didn't.
In truth, he would have minded not playing at Michigan a whole lot more.
"There's nothing better than Michigan," he said.
As Barringer prepares for his final Michigan-Ohio State tussle Saturday at Michigan Stadium, he realizes he has much to be thankful for.
He's honored to be a contributor who's doing his part to help the Wolverines win football games.
"My career has had its ups and downs, but it's Michigan," Barringer said. "I'm playing for one of the best programs in the country."
Barringer is telling the truth, even though his UM career never matched his lofty expectations.
He has started 12 out of a possible 29 games. He has a total of 58 tackles and two interceptions, both coming this season in Michigan's 34-31 overtime win against Michigan State. He has been up and down on the depth chart.
"I had to prove to my coaches I could do my assignments better," he said matter-of-factly.
Coming out of Scott, Barringer was rated the No. 49 player in the Midwest by scouting guru Tom Lemming. He was rated the 27th-best cornerback in the country by another scouting combine.
An all-state performer in track, he was timed at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash and 10.5 seconds in the 100 meters. Powerfully built, he bench-pressed 300 pounds.
He had a host of colleges pursuing him, and, after careful consideration, he narrowed his final choices to Michigan and Wisconsin before selecting the Wolverines.
Funny thing about playing at Michigan, which recruits the nation's top prospects every year. "You're expected to be the best," Barringer admitted.
Sometimes, however, the best-laid plans don't go as planned.
First, Barringer was moved from cornerback, his natural position, to safety, switching his number from No. 33 to No. 19 in the process.
Forced to learn a new position, he worked his way up the depth chart and started five games as a sophomore.
Last season, Barringer returned to the bench and didn't start a game. He accepted his fate and didn't mind playing on special teams and sitting behind starter Ryan Mundy. Barringer adjusted to his new role so well he was named Michigan's co-special teams player of the year.
Through it all, Barringer never stopped believing in himself.
"I just go out and play, whether it's special teams, or half the game," Barringer said. "Whatever, I just want to contribute."
Barringer's willingness to play a suporting role won him recognition from coach Lloyd Carr and respect from his teammates.
"Coach Carr supports his players. He tells us what to do and we try to execute," Barringer said.
Since returning to the starting lineup, Barringer has enjoyed his finest season, recording 30 tackles, breaking up three passes and forcing one fumble, to go along with those two interceptions.
Now he caps off his regular-season career at UM with one final game against Ohio State.
"This is a great rivalry," said Barringer, one of 11 Ohio natives on UM's roster. "It's never hard to get up for a football game, and this game is extra special."
By now we know that Barringer just goes all out and executes the best way he knows how. He does himself and Michigan proud.
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