Note: This is the first story in an eight-part offseason series going in-depth on Michigan football’s potential X-factors 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, stricken country in the Caribbean that many fly over than visit.
He was later adopted and spent his teen years in Tennessee, where his new parents introduced him to the game of football. Quickly, his power and athleticism became obvious to anyone watching — and Colson jetted up the national recruiting rankings.
Now, just a year after enrolling at Michigan, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker has a real opportunity. Colson played as a true freshman last year, even starting seven games and making his presence known, and is in line to become an every-game starter in 2022.
“Junior really has it all,” a gushing Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan head coach, recently said in an interview for the “In the Trenches” podcast. “He’s got a great work ethic, great attitude; all the physical skills, really smart. A guy that you know can run the defense.”
At just 19 years old, that’s quite a compliment. Michigan’s had its share of star linebackers pass through in recent years — from All-American Devin Bush to Cameron McGrone — and Colson figures to be the next. Last year, as a freshman, he tallied 61 tackles, had two pass deflections and a fumble recovery while playing Michigan’s weak-side linebacker role. That was after Colson arrived on campus having been recruited by a previous coordinator (Don Brown), for an entirely different defensive scheme and different position.
Still, Colson impressed coaches enough to win the starting job during the second half of the season — emerging as a favorite of Harbaugh’s.
“I love Junior,” Harbaugh quipped. “The longer it takes for Junior to figure out how good (he) is, the better off Junior’s going to be. Because there’s always room for improvement.”
Make no mistake, Michigan is going to bank on that improvement in 2022 in the form of increased production and playmaking. Gone is Josh Ross, the Wolverines’ middle linebacker who acted as the heartbeat of the group for the last two years, opening the door for a crop of young, but talented, backers who will be counted on. Joining Colson is Nikhai Hill-Green, a redshirt sophomore who started six games last season in an increased role, setting the stage for what is surely 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 myself. He can go in at any time and do exactly what I do, and I can go in at any time and do exactly what he does.”
Colson has never been one to talk boastfully about himself. He’s a quiet, shy guy by nature, but his athletic frame, high football IQ and awareness make him an intriguing prospect for Michigan.
With another first-year coordinator on staff and heavy turnover on defense, the Wolverines are going to need plenty of guys at all three levels to step up this. At linebacker, Colson will very well be that guy — and could very well determine the trajectory the unit takes under Jesse Minter. Still, Harbaugh remains bullish on Colson’s future — a ringing endorsement from a head coach who’s coached (and prepared for) some of the best the Big Ten’s had to offer in the last 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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