By RICKY LINDSAY, Sports Editor
Devin Funchess stood in the midst of reporters inside Michigan Stadium’s away team media room. Tucked inside a corner beside the press conference stage, the junior wide receiver, towered over the media slew awaiting his attention.
A question about Michigan’s latest buzzing topic — wide receiver Freddy Canteen — was asked by one reporter, followed by another. Inquiries about the new-look offense Doug Nussmeier installed were made before the subject shifted back to the speedy freshman.
With each question asked about Canteen, Funchess’s shy, quiet nature rapidly disappeared in exchange for a chuckle and a grin that continually grew.
He’s already seen it all out of the early-enrollee during spring practice; a 44-yard competition down the left sideline was just another play.
“He’s been making that play all spring, so it’s nothing to me,” Funchess said. “After I see something once, nothing really goes out there and is a big threat to me.”
At the other side of the press conference stage, Shane Morris spoke with reporters. The name that has enthralled Ann Arbor quickly filled the air surrounding the sophomore quarterback.
“He’s very fast,” Morris said. “He runs very good routes. And he works hard. That’s what we want at Michigan and he’s doing well.”
Inside the room opposite Funchess stood fifth-year senior quarterback Devin Gardner, swarmed by television cameras and microphones. Even 30 feet away, the topic remained the same: Canteen. After just 15 spring practices, he’s already become a hot commodity amongst quarterbacks in an offense craving a boost.
Freddy Canteen hasn’t even played a collegiate snap. He hasn’t donned the winged helmet with a Big Ten defensive back looming across from him. He’s yet to touch the iconic “Go Blue” banner with his teammates after racing down the Big House tunnel.
But after his Michigan Stadium debut during the annual spring game, he’s already become the center of attention in Ann Arbor.
Had head coach Brady Hoke considered Michigan anywhere near game-ready during the team’s annual spring game, he might want to race back to the drawing board.
The terms “generic” and “vanilla” were tossed around by Hoke to describe the offensive scheme that resembled turf’s version of the perfect poker face. But coming off a offensively-challenged 7-6 campaign, even with a fresh season 146 days away. maybe it’s not a bluff.
Time and time again during Saturday’s scrimmage, the Wolverines defense manhandled the offensive line. Had it been an opposing team, flashes of November 2 — Michigan’s loss to Michigan State that resulted in -48 rushing yards — would be speeding through Gardner’s head. Bruising running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith failed to display the wow factor many had hoped for against an overly-aggressive defensive front that continued to stuff its opponent at will.
With Pitbull’s smash-hit, Timber, blaring throughout Michigan Stadium’s speakers, the Wolverines nonexistent offense quickly learned that good fortunes lay in the arms of a freshman.
Yes, that freshman, Freddy Canteen.
This is reality surrounding the Michigan football program with spring practice coming to its end.
Early-enrollee freshman, some just turning 18-years-old, already have a prime chance to see the field at Michigan Stadium. They’ve only been in Ann Arbor and entrenched in a college lifestyle for three months. If they didn’t choose this path, they’d soon be walking across a stage to receive their high school diploma like their counterparts that have yet to enroll.
But instead, some freshmen are playing against guys three to four years their age. And it’s not just Canteen taking the Wolverines by storm this spring.
Early enrollee Mason Cole has the opportunity to squirm into a deep offensive line, earning playing time at a position rarely granted to a freshman.
“You got a young offensive line,” senior defensive end Frank Clark said. “Anytime you have a freshman starting at left tackle, you know you have a young offensive line. You have a lot of guys that are injured, not fully recovered.”
An upward trend in college football, Clark immediately played with Michigan as a freshman, lining up alongside upperclassmen. While taking on an offensive line considered a crutch for most of last season, Clark sees potential glimmering around the unit. And it starts with Cole’s emergence.
“I think they’re much better,” Clark said. “I believe they only lost two starters, so when you have three guys and other guys in the program returning. Mason Cole, who’s developed faster than I’ve ever seen a kid develop at the age of 18. It’s a lot to look forward to out of that group.”
“He’s kind of a lot like Freddy,” Hoke added. “His program and his high school coach and how he’s been developed, I think you can see that at a variety of programs. And he has a confidence about him. He’s athletic. Nothing seems really to phase him. And that’s kind of unique.”
Michigan has only 12 seniors on its spring roster. Hoke quickly pointed that out after the game, adding how there’s just 32 total upperclassmen.
The Wolverines are a young team. It’s a tough reality for a squad vying for its usual Big Ten championship goals.
But when the freshman enthralling Ann Arbor isn’t crown jewel Jabrill Peppers, the No. three ranked player in the class of 2014, things aren’t too bad.