Braiden McGregor getting past mental hurdles, ready to step into starring role

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When you’re a Michigan football edge rusher, there’s a good chance you’re going to be an early-round NFL draft pick, at least if you’re a starter. In the Jim Harbaugh era, every starter thus far who has departed for the NFL has been a high-level draft pick, while Mike Morris is set to await his turn in April. Thus far, Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton, Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, Kwity Paye, Josh Uche, Aidan Hutchinson, and David Ojabo have all been, at worst, third-round NFL picks, with many of the aforementioned going in the first round.

But for the unproven younger players, they first need to show they can play up to the level of their predecessors.

Michigan needs a replacement for the aforementioned Morris, and Braiden McGregor, entering his fourth year with the program, is hoping for a complete turnaround. McGregor tore his ACL in his senior year of high school and then had to overcome both the physical and mental hurdles that came along with that. With the latter, he didn’t quite realize how debilitating it was until things started to click for him — which it did late in the season last year.

His difficulties held him back, but now that he’s gotten a taste of success, he’s letting go of any of his constraints.

“I think a lot more than I thought,” McGregor said of feeling held back by his physical ailments. “First year, freshman, edge guy, you’re not really expected to do anything. But I think just mentally was the biggest thing for me of I was this recruit in high school and all that. And, thinking like, when I first got here, man, maybe I pick the wrong — I should have played tight end, or, just something different from like — why is it not working? Something’s not clicking.

“And then sophomore year, I felt like it started to click a little bit. And then last year, I felt like my body and the way that I moved was good, but I think it was all like, the confidence, you know? I haven’t played real football in two, three years of meaningful snaps against good, great competition when it means the most. So, I think it really made me to where I am now where towards the end of the year, against Ohio State, OK, I got knocked down on a play and I’d say, alright, whatever, come back next play. It sounds cliche, but it really was it was all mental for me. And finally past it now and feel strong mentally and physically. So excited.”

Now McGregor is in spring ball and expected to be the next great Michigan edge rusher. It’s a much different scenario from where he was previously when he was a complement to the other pieces at the position.

He says his defensive coordinator, Jesse Minter, has compared him to Aidan Hutchinson, noting he has all the similar physical tools, so as long as he’s mentally ready to go every rep, he has that capability to play at the highest level.

“Going into last spring it was, ‘What can he do?'” McGregor said. “‘He played a little bit here and there, he didn’t really make an impact. He’s just out there.’ So I think last spring was just like, ‘OK, let’s see what he can do.’ But this spring, it’s like, ‘You’re expected to be our guy on the edge and make an impact.’ It’s the guys before me, stepping into their shoes. So it’s a lot different than the previous spring. But I’ve taken it and ran with it. So, I like it.”

Instead of wondering, McGregor knows he’s going to be out there with Jaylen Harrell, and possibly transfer Josaiah Stewart. Now that his struggles are behind him, he’s confident that he can go out there and be an impact player. Thus, spring ball this year is a huge building block for him.

“I think it helped me a lot, just the coaches feel like they have my back. And, you know, stuff like that,” McGregor said. “I’m excited. It’s spring ball. And everyone’s like, ‘Oh, you know, like, this is where we get better.’ But I’m like I wish we had a game right now. So I’m just excited. It’s awesome.”

Fans will get a chance to see McGregor in action on April 1 at 3 p.m. EDT at the annual spring game at The Big House.

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Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire