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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The college coaches made their way to Chaparral High School to get a look at one of the nation’s top defensive linemen.
One offensive lineman caused more than a few eyes to stray from Craig Roh, a 4.0 student and a four-star defensive end. Those college coaches would inquire with Chaparral’s head coach about the offensive lineman who had mobility, size, and a certain mean streak on the field.
Then, Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle would show them Taylor Lewan’s transcripts. Those conversations became short.
Ragle, who is now an assistant coach on Rich Rodriguez’s staff at Arizona, believed Lewan’s path to playing college football was about timing as it was having the tools to be a college player. Mind, in this case, was much more important than matter.
Before Lewan could even consider leaving Arizona, he first needed a moment of reckoning.
“When he came to Chaparral, his grade-point average was a 1.6,” Ragle said of Lewan, who transferred to the Scottsdale, Ariz., school during the spring of his junior year. “When I looked at his transcript, I told him, ’this isn’t what this program is about,’ ” Ragle said. “We told him, ’you’re going to get with the program or get out.’ ”
That was in 2008.
Today, Lewan will play his final game with the Michigan football team when the Wolverines (7-5) face Kansas State (7-5) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
While it wasn’t necessarily where the Wolverines desired to end up — each season, they set a goal of winning the Big Ten championship and going to the Rose Bowl — Lewan will come full-circle, about six miles from where he buckled down academically in order to pursue playing college football.
“My main focus is on the game, but it’s kind of surreal being here and looking at my old field house and practicing on my high school field,” said Lewan, 23, who is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick. “It’s a crazy feeling. I miss it. It’s kind of weird that my last practice in college would be at my actual last high school field.
“I don’t know if there was a specific time I realized that I might have a shot at this. I don’t know if there was a specific time that it was the case, but it’s really a blessing to be in this situation right now.”
Lewan’s college football aspirations weren’t truly cultivated until he transferred to Chaparral from Cave Creek Cactus Shadows. Ragle saw what the college coaches eventually saw, but also saw Lewan’s personality traits.
There was passion, yet some immaturity. A sense of mischief. Some gregariousness that might gear Lewan towards talking to a girl in class instead of completing an assignment that was due by the bell.
If Lewan was to pursue college football, he had to bring up his grades.
Ragle enlisted the help of Rod Humenuik, Lewan’s offensive line coach at Chaparral — Humenuik had coached in the NFL, Canadian Football League, NFL Europe, and in the Arena Football League — to show Lewan what it took to be an elite offensive lineman, psychologically and physically.
Dave Ziegler, a guidance counselor at Chaparral who is now the assistant director of pro scouting for the New England Patriots, recommended that Lewan fulfill his requirements during his first semester at Chaparral and through summer online courses.
“He put his nose to the grindstone,” Ragle said. “It tells you everything about why we’re talking about him five years later and why he’s about to be one of the top tackles to be drafted.”
Lewan has garnered both headlines and scrutiny in his time at Michigan. During a 29-6 loss Nov. 2 at Michigan State, he twisted the facemask of Spartans safety Isaiah Lewis as he was on the ground following the end of a play, then publicly apologized two days later.
Earlier this week, it was reported that the Ann Arbor Police Department interviewed Lewan as part of a probe into an assault in Ann Arbor following the Michigan-Ohio State game on Nov. 30.
Lewan left Chaparral as one of the top 20 prep offensive linemen in the country. He graduated with a 2.6 GPA.
If Lewan had decided to go to the NFL after last season, he could have been a top-5 draft pick. He may have lost a year as a professional football player. In a video posted on the Michigan athletic department’s Web site, a teary Lewan told his teammates that he had no regrets about returning to Michigan. On the patio at his former high school, he looked to the future.
“One more game,” Lewan said. “It will be pretty crazy when it’s over. And then I’ll just go into a whole new chapter in my life. It’s going to be unbelievable.”