Note: This is the first story in an eight-part offseason series that dives deep into the potential X-Factors of Michigan football in 2022. Players and Positions Key to Success.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – His story is incredible, if not motivating.
Junior Colson spent the first nine years of his life in Haiti, a poor, troubled Caribbean country that many fly over than visit.
He was later adopted and spent his teenage years in Tennessee, where his new parents introduced him to the game of football. His strength and athleticism quickly became apparent to any onlooker – and Colson rocketed up the national recruiting rankings.
Now, just a year after enrolling in Michigan, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker has a real shot. Colson played as a true freshman last year, even starting seven games and making his presence known, and is set to become a starter for every game in 2022.
“Junior really has it all,” said an enthusiastic Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh in a recent interview for the In the Trenches podcast. “He has a great work ethic, a great attitude; all the physical skills, really smart. A guy you know can run the defense.”
At just 19, that’s quite a compliment. Michigan has had its share of star linebackers — from All-American Devin Bush to Cameron McGrone — in recent years and Colson expects to be next. Last year, as a freshman, he had 61 tackles, had two pass deflections and a fumbling recovery while playing Michigan’s linebacker role on the weak side. That was after Colson arrived on campus after being recruited to a completely different defense system and position by a previous coordinator (Don Brown).
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Still, Colson impressed the coaches enough to win the seed in the second half of the season — and emerge as Harbaugh’s favorite.
“I love Junior,” Harbaugh quipped. “The longer it takes Junior to figure out how good (he) is, the better off Junior will be. Because there is always room for improvement.”
Make no mistake, Michigan will be counting on that improvement in 2022 in the form of increased production and playmaking. Gone is Josh Ross, the Wolverines center linebacker who has served as the group’s heartbeat for the past two years and opened the door for a group of young but talented supports to count on. Joining Colson is Nikhai Hill-Green, a redshirt sophomore who started in an elevated role in six games last season and set the stage for what is sure to come this fall.
“I think we’re interchangeable,” Colson said in November. “He’s just a great player. I see him as a brother to me. He can go in anytime and do exactly what I’m doing, and I can go in anytime and do exactly what he’s doing.”
Colson has never been one to boast about himself. He’s a naturally quiet, shy guy, but his athletic build, high football IQ and awareness make him an intriguing Michigan prospect.
With another first-year coordinator on staff and a high turnover on defense, the Wolverines will need a lot of people at all three levels to back this up. At linebacker, Colson will very well be that guy – and could very well dictate the trajectory that the unit takes under Jesse Minter. Still, Harbaugh remains optimistic about Colson’s future — a ringing endorsement from a head coach who coaches (and prepares) some of the best the Big Ten has had to offer in the past decade.
“You don’t want to think you’ve arrived,” Harbaugh said, “but that’s the kind of player he is.”
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