Play­ing long game re­wards Bushell-Beatty

UM tackle earns start­ing role af­ter win­ning weight bat­tle, hon­ing pass-pro­tec­tion skills

The Detroit News - - Sports - BY ANGELIQUE S. CHENGELIS The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It was the sum­mer of Juwann Bushell-Beatty’s fresh­man year in high school at Para­mus Catholic in New Jersey.

Chris Par­tridge, now Michi­gan’s safeties coach and spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor, was the foot­ball coach at the school and spot­ted the 350-pound Bushell-Beatty drib­bling a bas­ket­ball with two hands, al­beit not very ath­let­i­cally.

“And I said to the bas­ket­ball coach, ‘Can I please just have him?’” Par­tridge said this week. “He said, ‘Go ahead.’ That’s the first time he ever stepped on the foot­ball field about two days later for sum­mer prac­tice. It’s been a long road be­cause he had never played be­fore and he was shorter as a fresh­man in high school but just as heavy.

“I just re­mem­ber af­ter his fresh­man year, I sat him down, ‘Does this kid want to keep play­ing?’ be­cause it was a strug­gle for him early. When I sat him down, I’ll never for­get this, I said, ‘What do you want out of your foot­ball ca­reer? Do you want to con­tinue this? What do you want?’ And he looked me in the eye and said, ‘I want to get a col­lege schol­ar­ship.’ From that point on, I said, ‘OK, well you know what, it’s go­ing to take a hell of a lot of work, and

more work than a lot of other peo­ple are go­ing to have to do.’ But I knew that I could push him and he needed to be pushed.”

And now, Bushell-Beatty is near­ing the end of his Michi­gan foot­ball ca­reer, a grad­u­ate stu­dent and starter at right tackle.

He is go­ing home this week­end to New Jersey with the fourth-ranked Wolver­ines (8-1, 6-0 Big Ten), who will face Rut­gers (1-8, 0-6) to­day at High­ Sta­dium in Pis­cat­away.

Michi­gan has nine on its ros­ter from New Jersey, and they’ve all worked their team­mates for ex­tra tick­ets — each player gets four — to ac­com­mo­date fam­ily and friends.

Start­ing de­fen­sive end Rashan Gary said this week there’s a dif­fer­ent “smell” in New Jersey. It’s the fa­mil­iar­ity of the place where they grew up. It’s the smell of home, some­thing that only the peo­ple who were raised there can de­tect and un­der­stand.

“I un­der­stand what he means but it’s hard to put in words,” Bushell-Beatty said this week, re­fer­ring to Gary’s sen­ti­ment. “It’s just a dif­fer­ent feel. Go­ing to New Jersey, it’s a whole dif­fer­ent ball­game. It’s be­ing close to home. There’s a lot of thoughts in my mind when I think about go­ing home to New Jersey.”

The Wolver­ines are enor­mous fa­vorites head­ing into this game at Rut­gers, but Bushell-Beatty has al­ways been a sort of un­der­dog. He started play­ing foot­ball fairly late and has blos­somed this year in his fi­nal sea­son at Michi­gan as a starter.

It was not a rosy be­gin­ning in the opener. Not for him, not for the en­tire of­fen­sive line. But firstyear of­fen­sive line coach Ed Warin­ner stuck with the start­ing lineup, and it has im­proved steadily since that loss at Notre Dame.

“We didn’t play well. I wasn’t sat­is­fied with it,” Bushell-Beatty said of the sea­son-open­ing per­for­mance of the of­fen­sive line. “From that week on, we took the bull by the horns and we knew we had to put bet­ter stuff on tape. There’s a cer­tain level of ex­pec­ta­tion that we have for our­selves, and I think af­ter that we held each other ac­count­able and paid more at­ten­tion to de­tails, paid more at­ten­tion to what’s im­por­tant, study­ing the film, our tech­niques.”

The Wolver­ines’ run game pro­duc­tion has im­proved with lead back Karan Hig­don, who has rushed for 100 yards or more in seven straight games. Hig­don each week has praised the of­fen­sive line, much ma­ligned the last few years, first and fore­most for mak­ing that pos­si­ble.

Michi­gan is third in the Big Ten in rush­ing, av­er­ag­ing 233.0 yards. Last sea­son the Wolver­ines were among the worst na­tion­ally in tack­les for loss al­lowed and sacks and now they are 28th and 37 th, re­spec­tively.

Bushell-Beatty has taken ad­van­tage of fi­nally hav­ing an in­creased role as a starter.

“I don’t think there was a spe­cific point where I de­cided I had to turn things around,” he said. “It’s al­ways been my men­tal­ity that I want to go out there and do great things. More op­por­tu­ni­ties were given to me this sea­son than be­fore, and I took ad­van­tage of them.

“Es­pe­cially with this be­ing my last sea­son of col­lege ball, I wanted to be able to prove to every­body — be­cause I knew it al­ready — I had to show every­body what I’m ca­pa­ble of. Week af­ter week out go­ing out there and do­ing it. That’s my plan.”

Par­tridge does not work di­rectly with the of­fen­sive line­men, but knows what but­tons to push.

Dur­ing win­ter con­di­tion­ing, it was made clear Bushell-Beatty, 6foot-6 and 318 pounds, had to drop some weight.

Last year Par­tridge and run­ning backs coach Jay Har­baugh had a bet on who could last longer on a ve­gan diet. That be­came Par­tridge’s in­spi­ra­tion to mo­ti­vate Bushell-Beatty.

“I made a lit­tle wa­ger with him: If he wasn’t to a cer­tain weight by this date, he would have to go ve­gan,” Par­tridge said of Bushell-Beatty.

“He’s like, ‘No way,’ so he cut his weight down. And I said, ‘Oh, yeah, you’re at that weight, great, but what I meant is, in two months you have to be at this weight or you’re go­ing to go ve­gan through­out the sea­son.’ He got it. He made ev­ery goal. So he re­ally didn’t want to go ve­gan.”

Bushell-Beatty knew he also needed to work on pass pro­tec­tion, and who bet­ter to go up against than Gary, also a Para­mus Catholic grad­u­ate.

“My Jersey guy. My Jersey brother,” Gary said of Bushel­lBeatty, be­fore prais­ing the strides the tackle has taken.

“I know in pass pro when I go against him, he’s be­come more pa­tient. Some­times he’ll be ag­gres­sive and shoot his hands and I get them down and now it’s like, ‘What you go­ing to do Rashan?’ Now I have to make the move and he coun­ters it.

“It’s a great bat­tle. He’s get­ting bet­ter and I’m happy to see what he’s do­ing.”

Bushell-Beatty said fac­ing Gary in prac­tice has given him the con­fi­dence to know he can go against any­one in the coun­try.

“That’s one of the big­gest things for me is fo­cus­ing on be­ing pa­tient,” Bushell-Beatty said. “I pride my­self on hav­ing quick feet and be­ing able to ad­just to rushes quickly. Some­times it’s not all about that. Some­times you have to be more pa­tient in pass pro and be more pre­cise and spe­cific with your move­ments.”

It has been a long road for Bushell-Beatty at Michi­gan. Some­times it takes longer to make a mark, but that’s an­other level of pa­tience he has em­braced. Some­times that makes the re­ward that much sweeter.

“The big­gest thing about play­ing col­lege foot­ball — and even play­ing foot­ball in gen­eral — is how you fin­ish,” he said. “You may not start off on the right foot. That’s how life works some­times, but the way you ap­proach it and the way you go about your busi­ness is the most im­por­tant thing.”

An­thony Lanzilote/Spe­cial to Detroit News

Belleville cel­e­brates the re­gional cham­pi­onship af­ter a cru­cial de­fen­sive stop and an 81-yard drive in the fourth quar­ter.

David Gu­ral­nick/Detroit News

Juwann Bushell-Beatty will be play­ing to­day in his home state of New Jersey, where in high school he switched to foot­ball from bas­ket­ball.

David Gu­ral­nick/Detroit News

“With this be­ing my last sea­son ... I had to show every­body what I’m ca­pa­ble of,” Bushell-Beatty said.

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