A former Eastwood prep football player, now approaching 60-years-old, once said tackling former Springfield High School, University of Minnesota, and Denver Broncos running back and return specialist Rick Upchurch was “like trying to stop a freight train.”
University of Michigan senior safety and co-captain Jordan Kovacs, a 2008 Clay graduate, knows the feeling.
When someone like Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller heads his direction, Kovacs says, “I’m thinking I’d better get him down. Some of these guys are very big. I learned right away how to tackle because if I was going to hit a guy up high I was going to get run over. So, I like to tackle legs, I like to tackle knees, and they all fall the same. That’s my motto.”
|Jordan Kovacs (32) in Michigan's win over Air Force. (Photo
courtesy of U-M Photo Services)
Kovacs has gotten so good at it that he is now among Michigan’s top 20 all-time in career assists (seventh, 125), forced fumbles (seventh, 5), total tackles (10th, 297), tackles (14th, 172), and career tackles for a loss (19th, 23). He still has seven games to continue moving up.
A six-foot, 202 pound three-year varsity lettermen, Kovacs is second on the team this season with 31 tackles, including 21 solos and two for a loss, putting him among Big Ten leaders despite the Wolverines playing one less game then most teams.
He was leading the team with 30 tackles (20 solo) entering the Big Ten opener at Purdue, but was injured that week in practice and saw limited playing time, getting one solo tackle.
To get where he’s at, Kovacs admits some pain was involved, including the day after a game.
“There are some games where you are really sore — especially the Air Force game in week two. You had guys chopping at your legs and hitting you every which way. I’m not used to that as a safety, but it comes with the territory. You really learn to adjust,” Kovacs said.
“Jordan Kovacs” has become a franchise-name at UM — so much so, that if a game is televised you hear it from broadcasters repeatedly. Kovacs says, “I’m not that big of a deal,” but even his teammates must think he is.
Kovacs and senior quarterback Denard Robinson were both voted co-captains by their teammates before the season began — he’s that big of a deal.
“It is different. It’s great — truly an honor,” Kovacs said. “When I first walked on I never imagined being a captain. At that point, I was just worried about making the team and fulfilling my role — whatever that was. Things just progressed, and I was just very fortunate to step into this situation.
“It says a lot about my teammates and my struggles, and what I've had to overcome to be where I am today. But it truly is an honor and something I really appreciate. The only thing I can do is be the best leader I can be for this team and that's how I will pay them back."
The day after the vote, second-year coach Brady Hoke said, “I'm really proud of both of the guys who were selected to be captains by their peers. Both of them deserve that, and they've been tremendous when you look at their leadership and what they've done for us as a football team to this point.
"I think they both have always had a voice, and again, since we've been here, 19, 20 (months), I don't know how long we've been here, but they've always had a voice. I think they've always represented themselves, number one, in a first class manner at the same time they've done a good job within the framework of the team. I think Jordan and Denard both from their actions speak so much more loudly than their words. I think the comfort level that — being a senior — probably has allowed them to speak more prominently."
Against Purdue, behind a 340-yard (235 rush, 105 pass) performance from Robinson, Michigan won 44-13 at the Boilermaker’s Ross-Ade Stadium. The Wolverines jumped out to a three-touchdown first half lead. With his effort on the ground, Robinson set the Big Ten career quarterback rushing record with 3,905 yards.
The Michigan defense allowed just 210 total yards, as well as only 13 points for the third consecutive game. The Wolverines improved to 3-2 overall heading into last Saturday’s Homecoming contest against Illinois.
Wolverines on track
Kovacs said despite non-league losses to ranked teams Alabama and Notre Dame, he believes Michigan is on track to vie for a conference title.
“I hope we win the Big Ten championship. That’s why everybody comes to Michigan,” Kovacs said. “You come to Michigan to play in big games and win Big Ten championships. I think that's one thing that Coach Hoke emphasizes, as well as the rest of the seniors. It's all we've ever cared about since I've been here and our expectations have always been the same. The team, the team, the team, and Big Ten championships."
"Obviously we've got our own goals that will stay in-house, both offensively and defensively. That hasn’t changed. Obviously, we lost a couple games and it hasn’t always been what we expected, but we look at it as a clean slate (in the Big Ten).”
Kovacs believes under Hoke, fans will get what they expect from Michigan football.
"You can't say enough about him (Coach Hoke). He's an unbelievable coach who has an unbelievable passion for Michigan football. I think that's what separates him from all other coaches. He's a tough-loving guy. He's one of those guys who can get on you, but you don't take it personally. You know he's a football coach and you know at the end of the day he truly cares about you. That's the thing that's unique about him. He can rip you but you know that he loves you. It's really easy to play for a guy like that," Kovacs said.
“I know for a fact that this program is headed in the right direction. It’s got the right guy in charge,” Kovacs said. “He’s a guy who has been with this team before and he understands the tradition.”
Kovac’s family remains part of the act, too. Father Lou Kovacs was a defensive back at UM in the early 1980s, lettering in 1982.
“He’s proud and so is the whole family. My dad has been to every game. He traveled to Iowa (other years) and they are going to go to Nebraska, Minnesota this year — they are going to go to all of the games and I think they’ve enjoyed the process just as much as I have,” Kovacs said.
One other Clay grad is in the mix — Kovacs’ girlfriend, Kat Rasmussen. She recently entered law school at UM and plans to be in Ann Arbor for three more years, Kovacs said.
So, no matter what happens after Kovacs graduates, he will find time for Ann Arbor. That’s OK, he says, because that way they can still dine at one of Kat’s favorite restaurants, Middle Kingdom. The downtown restaurant is also Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ favorite Chinese eatery.
“It’s (Ann Arbor) beautiful. It’s a great little town, a great area, and I’m definitely going to miss it. My girlfriend goes to law school here, so I’ll always have a reason to come back, I guess. I don’t think I’ll ever get too far from here,” Kovacs says.
However, if the NFL does call when he finishes at UM, he’ll be ready.
“I’ll give it a run. Obviously, this season comes first and that is where I’m most concerned, but at the end of the day I’m trying to keep my options open, whether it be playing and giving the NFL a run, or maybe coaching, or I’m going to get my degree in kinesiology (majoring in movement science), so we’ll see where it takes me,” Kovacs said.