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Former walk-on Kovacs living his dream at Michigan

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Former walk-on Kovacs living his dream at Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Jordan Kovacs was stuck in the stands as a fan at Michigan Stadium as a freshman, stewing about having his dream delayed by a lingering knee problem.

``It ate at me because I knew I was so close to making it on the team,'' Kovacs recalled recently in an interview with The Associated Press. ``It made me hungrier.''

Four years later, Kovacs will start the 45th game of his storybook career Saturday when the 20th-ranked Wolverines travel to his home state to play No. 4 Ohio State.

``I'm still pinching myself,'' Kovacs told The AP. ``It's quite a story and it's been quite the ride, but I don't want it to end and thankfully the story isn't over yet.''

He grew up in Curtice, Ohio, about 15 miles southeast of the Michigan state line, hoping to follow his father's footsteps onto the field at the Big House.

College football's winningest program, though, didn't recruit him. Smaller schools such as Hillsdale, a Division II program in Michigan, didn't even want to offer the undersized safety without blazing speed a scholarship.

Kovacs sent in an application to attend Michigan and his father sent a highlight tape to Schembechler Hall, where Rich Rodriguez was getting ready for his first season as coach, and was put on a waiting list by the school's admissions office.

In June of 2008, running out of time to find a place to take classes and play football, Kovacs accepted an offer to be a preferred walk-on at Toledo. Remarkably on the very same day, then-Michigan director of football operations Brad Labadie called his father to say his son could get into the school and would have a shot to try out for a spot on the team.

``Jordan's tape didn't make him a slam-dunk to be on the team, but what helped him was it was obvious that his dream was to play at Michigan when he called or emailed me,'' Labadie, who now works in the insurance business, said Tuesday night. ``With walk-ons, we'd ask the question internally, `Does the kid or the dad want this?' And without a doubt, Jordan wanted it as much as much as any walk-on ever at Michigan.''

Kovacs then went through walk-on tryouts and earned a spot on the team.

Another obstacle, though, turned his dream into a nightmare.

Kovacs told Michigan's head athletic trainer, Paul Schmidt, who he knew as a kid, that he was still having problems with his surgically repaired left knee and that knocked him off the roster.

``He let me walk out the back door because he could tell how upset I was,'' Kovacs recalled. ``That was probably the most disappointing moment of my life because I reached my ultimate goal, my dream, and it was taken away from me just like that because I was honest about my knee.''

Kovacs walked back to his dorm, tears rolling down his cheeks, and called his parents to schedule another surgery on his knee in the hopes of getting healthy enough for another tryout the following spring.

When he and his mother showed up for the appointment in October of 2008, they were told that he wasn't scheduled for surgery, but she wouldn't take no for an answer and the procedure was done that day.

``So many weird things like that happened along the way,'' Kovacs said.

Kovacs made it through tryouts a second time in 2009 - and passed his physical - and quickly went from backup to key contributor that fall when safety Mike Williams left a game against Notre Dame.

``I remember standing on the sideline right next to him, he grabbed his helmet and had that deer-in-the-headlights look on his face,'' senior center Elliott Mealer recalled this week. ``You were kind of like, `Geez, I don't know how this guy is going to take this.' But he went out there and he hasn't looked back since.''

Kovacs ended up starting eight games as a freshman and has stayed on the field as a starter - earning All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition as a sophomore and junior - and earned the honor of being voted as a captain this season.

Lou Kovacs said he played only in ``mop-up duty'' from 1980-82 for Bo Schembechler at Michigan and is beyond proud of what his son has been able to accomplish at the same storied program three decades later.

He took his son to Ohio State for a few games against Michigan when he was a kid and will be in the stands at the Horseshoe with mixed emotions as he watches his him play the Buckeyes in his last regular-season game.

``Jordan had a great career, but it's a little sad that it's coming to an end,'' Lou Kovcas said Tuesday. ``He's a determined young man - and always has been - and has been very focused on reaching his dream. And the attributes that helped him do it, will serve him well for the rest of his life.''

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter:http://twitter.com/larrylage

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Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

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Associated Press

Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

The sudden resignation of Barry Trotz as the coach of the Stanley Cup champion Capitals is the most stunning Washington coaching departure since Joe Gibbs retired from the Redskins about 13 months after the team won its third Super Bowl in a 10-year span. 

In the years leading up to Gibbs’ departure, there were some rumblings that he might leave. As early as 1986, John Madden said that Gibbs was a candidate to burn out of the profession early. During the 1989 season, Gibbs said that he was contemplating retirement, but he retracted his words the next day. In 1990, columnist and TV pregame panelist Will McDonough reported that Gibbs would retire after the season. Retirement rumors popped up again in early 1992, just two days before Super Bowl XXVI. Again, Gibbs denied them. The Redskins easily beat the Bills to claim their third championship in 10 years and there was no apparent reason why such a successful coach would think about leaving. 

Redskins fans had become so used to hearing the Gibbs retirement reports that many just started to tune them out. So on the morning of March 5, 1993, when reports of Gibbs’ resignation as coach started to circulate, many were in a state of denial.

That turned out to be wishful thinking. The fans were given a hard jolt of reality when the team announced a noon press conference. 

There the coach was on TV, as promised, confirming the news. He said it was a family decision. 

“Every year, we get away and talk about it,” Gibbs said. “We always reach the same conclusion. This year, it was different. The boys didn’t encourage me one way or another, but they understood when I told them what I was thinking. I think Pat’s happier than anyone. This isn’t an easy lifestyle for a coach’s wife. The coach is the guy who stands up and hears everyone tell him how great he is. The wife is the one waiting at home alone while the coach is spending every night at the office. 

“I wanted more time with my family. I wanted more time with my sons. I look at this as a window of opportunity with them and I couldn’t let it pass.” 

Although he has been diagnosed with a condition that has caused some pain and some difficulty in sleeping, Gibbs said that health was not a factor in his decision. 

Richie Petitbon, the team’s longtime defensive coordinator, was named the team’s new head coach. It had to be one of the shortest job interviews ever. 

“I get a call from Mr. Cooke who tells me Joe has retired and that he wants me to coach the Redskins,” Petitbon said. “After I picked myself up off the floor, I said yes.” 

After hearing the news, most Redskins fans had to pick themselves up as well.  

Petitbon lasted only one season as the head coach and the other eight head coaches who followed, including Gibbs himself in a four-year second stint, have been unable to get the Redskins back to the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the Caps’ head coaching job is widely expected to go to Todd Reirden, who was Trotz’s top assistant just as Pettitbon was Gibbs’. 

Washington fans hope that the Caps have better fortune with Trotz’s successors. 

More Redskins

- 53-man roster: Roster projection--Offense
- 53-man roster: Best players 25 or younger

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

 

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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 19, 37 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on defense; the offense was posted yesterday.

Defensive line (7)
Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Stacy McGee, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

I don’t think that McGee’s groin injury will be an issue, but it seemed that Jay Gruden was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, so we will have to wait until training camp starts. This is one more than they normally carry here and Hood’s presence on the roster could be in danger if injuries force the team to carry more players at another position. 

Outside linebacker (4)
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Anderson is certain to make the roster, but he was mostly invisible during the offseason practices that were open to the media. The spotlight will be on last year’s second-round pick in training camp. After a zero-sack rookie season, Anderson will be under pressure to produce this season. 

Inside linebacker (5)
Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Zach Vigil, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton

The player I have on the wrong side of the bubble here is Martrell Spaight. If he does work his way on, the spot most in jeopardy is Vigil’s. Harvey-Clemons got a lot of reps with the first team in OTAs and the team thinks he can help in nickel situations and perhaps more. And Gruden called Hamilton a potential future starter. So the two younger players seem safe, leaving Vigil vulnerable.

Cornerback (6)
Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Holsey, Greg Stroman

As is the case with the running backs that I looked at yesterday, this group seems to be pretty well set. It’s not that it’s an exceptionally strong group, but there isn’t a lot of real competition. Behind these six are three undrafted free agents, and while Danny Johnson, Kenny Ladler, and Ranthony Texada all have had flashes in the offseason practices, they are extreme long shots to make the roster at this point. 

Safety (4)
D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

If there are concerns about Nicholson’s health—to be clear, as of now there are none—Fish Smithson could make it as a fifth safety. 

Specialists (3)
K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg

It looks like the Redskins will have the same trio of specialists for the fourth straight year. I will look it up at some point but for now, I’ll say that it’s been a while since they had such stability here. 


Defensive players: 26
Rookies (5): 
Payne, Settle, Hamilton, Stroman, Apke
New to the Redskins in 2018 (7): Rookies plus McPhee, Scandrick
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (13): Rookies plus new players plus Vigil (released in the final cut, re-signed later in the season). 

On the 53-man roster:

24 offense, 26 defense, 3 specialists
Rookies: 8
New to the Redskins in 2017: 12
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster: 16

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline  

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 37
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 51
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 74

The Redskins last played a game 170 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 82 days. 

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