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Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs made the team after an open tryout earlier this year. ::U-M Photo Services

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - If one of the heroes of Saturday's win against Notre Dame had kept his big mouth shut, he would have made Michigan's football team last year.

Jordan Kovacs, son of a Wolverine walk-on, knew he wanted to play for his father's alma mater even though the best recruiting nibble he got coming out of Clay High in Curtice, Ohio, was an offer to be a preferred walk-on at Toledo. So when the Michigan freshman learned in 2008 that first-year coach Rich Rodriguez was holding tryouts open to anyone in the student body, Kovacs came ready to play. Kovacs impressed coaches so much during that tryout last season that Michigan coaches invited him back for further evaluation. During an interview with the athletic training staff, Kovacs kept talking long after he should have zipped his lips. "I revealed a little too much information in that physical," he said. "I told them I'd had [knee] surgery. They asked me how that went. I said it went all right, but it felt like it did before. I don't know why I said it."

Elite football programs have money to burn, but they don't like to spend it on major reconstructive surgery for glorified tackling dummies. Coaches offered Kovacs a chance to be a team manager, but he declined. Kovacs went back to the doctor, and on Oct. 2, 2008, he had a second operation on his left knee. His torn meniscus repaired, he readied himself for the spring tryout.

Kovacs was one of five players taken at the tryout. "I just expected to come in, bust my [butt] in practice and hopefully one day play special teams," Kovacs said. "I just wanted to be part of the team. … I never imagined I'd play in one of the greatest Michigan-Notre Dame games ever."

One particularly impressive spring scrimmage earned Kovacs a position switch to free safety and a spot on several special teams. Before he knew it, he was starting on the kickoff team and backing up Mike Williams at free safety.

Kovacs played a little in the season-opening win against Western Michigan, but he figured his contribution would be limited to special teams against the Fighting Irish. Throughout the game, coaches asked him if he was ready as he stood on the sidelines. He told them yes, but he chuckled inside. "Like I'm going to get in the Michigan-Notre Dame game," he said.

Then, in the third quarter, Williams came off suffering from agonizing leg cramps. Suddenly, the kid who was supposed to walk on at Toledo was reading Jimmy Clausen's eyes every play. "We told him to come back again and try out with the general student body," Rodriguez said. "Not only does he try out and make the team, now he's in there playing at safety playing at safety in the middle of crunch time on national TV against Notre Dame. To me, that's pretty special."

Kovacs played well, though he fortunately remembers little about the two-point conversion by Armando Allen that gave Notre Dame a three-point lead late in the fourth quarter. "On that play, I was blitzing," the 195-pound Kovacs said. "As soon as I hit the gap - they had a lineman pulling - and he just clobbered me. I remember seeing it on ESPN. I didn't even know they'd run the Statue of Liberty."

Kovacs isn't sure how much more playing time he'll get, but he'll stay ready. He's also made another promise to himself. The next time he talks to the trainers, he's keeping quiet. "I said I'm never going to come back to the training room," he said. "I'll have to be dying."


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