PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Michigan football not only has high expectations for the rest of the 2022 season, but also for the future.
The offense has long been predicated on running back and tight end play. Though the Wolverines have lost tight ends and will lose more, the future is still bright in Ann Arbor. Certainly, that’s how tight ends coach Grant Newsome looks at it.
The maize and blue lost Erick All, first to injury and then to the transfer portal. Luke Schoonmaker is graduating, as is Joel Honigford. But in the past three games, Colston Loveland, a freshman from Gooding, Idaho, has stood out, reeling in two touchdowns in the two biggest games of the season.
Newsome shared his thoughts about why Loveland has caught on, and how important he is to this offense now.
“The crazy thing is like we saw this with Colston in the springtime you got here we knew a pretty special player,” Newsome said. “And, obviously, Erick going down and then Schoony coming in and out of some games, were banged up a little bit in the middle of the season, he really never missed a beat. He capitalized on those opportunities and really kind of carved out a role for himself as a true freshman. He’s worked incredibly hard.”
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On third-year tight end Matthew Hibner
One player we still haven’t seen a lot of is third-year tight end Matthew Hibner.
Hibner’s claim to fame this season was recovering the fumble on the opening kick against Maryland, but he’s been biding his time until he can be a factor in the offense itself. The former four-star from Burke, Virginia, certainly has the skills, we just haven’t seen them yet.
Newsome shared more about what he’s seen from Hibner in practice, as well as his overall outlook on what he brings to the table.
“Yeah, he’s playing really, really well right now. And again, it’s kind of a unique situation where we’ve got an NFL tight end who’s a fifth-year guy, and he’s starting a lot of reps. Colston’s come on, and kind of done some real good stuff as well. But Matt’s doing an incredible job. I really, really think highly of him. He’s obviously showing up on special teams, recovered a fumble against Maryland, three tackles this year on special teams, including that big hit against Purdue. So he’s playing his tail off right now. And I’m excited to see throughout this playoff and into the next season how that kind of translates more to tight end.”
On former Indiana tight end AJ Barner joining the team
Hibner will still fight for playing time in his fourth year, however, since Loveland will be back and the Wolverines added a big piece via the transfer portal in December.
AJ Barner was a leader for the Indiana Hoosiers team, and even represented IU at Big Ten media days this year. He committed to Michigan and could have an inside track for a starting role.
Newsome explained why the Wolverines decided to go out and get another tight end, despite the current roster and recruiting additions of Deakon Tonielli and Zack Marshall. He said it was a no-brainer to bring in a player of Barner’s caliber to Ann Arbor.
“We’re super excited about obviously,” Newsome said. “Losing Schoony, losing Joel, you’re kind of losing that inline, wide tight body. Gonna bring in a guy who not just can fill that role, but has excelled at that role. And has started in our conference. It just made all the sense in the world to bring a guy like that who can come in and contribute immediately and fight for a starting spot.”
But what did he and the staff see in him that made them interested?
Newsome mentions his ability not just to be able to catch the ball, but also his prowess in blocking — the combination of which is precisely what will get you on the field in Ann Arbor.
“First, just physically very imposing, extremely well-built, very tall and athletic, physical, can do all the kind of inline blocking that we ask our guys to do, which is not the case across the country,” Newsome said. “It’s tough to and he’s (done) it not just in college, but in this conference, which is tough. And then, obviously, you watch the Ohio State game they played last year and he goes up and catches a fade on one of their corners. So he really kind of fits all that we do, he can handle the inline stuff and the running game and also be able to go out and flex out and catch passes.”