It wasn’t until after Michigan blew past Florida in last year’s Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl that Chase Winovich mustered up the courage to show the Wolverines coaching staff his impression of Jim Harbaugh.
The team was holding a New Year’s party a few days into January when Winovich provided some of the entertainment. The impression, which he says is not for public consumption (much like his subject's depth charts), included some fired-up meeting-room speeches and enthusiastic whistle-blowing.
“He loved it,” Winovich said. “It was all out of love.”
The junior defensive end believes he doesn’t actually have to work that hard to conjure the comparisons to his unique and ubiquitous head coach. He has said on multiple occasions that he’s more like Harbaugh than anyone else on the Wolverines roster.
“I feel like we’re comfortable with being by ourselves in our own way,” he said. “We don’t have to rely on others. If he wants to do something, he’s not afraid to go after it.”
For Harbaugh, in the past year that meant bucking convention with satellite camps, extravagant signing-day celebrations and a steady diet of viral social-media incidents. For Winovich, that has meant going the extra mile to find a spot on the field.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound lineman bounced from linebacker to fullback to tight end before finding a home on the defensive line. This spring and summer, he bulked up for his new role by sneaking into the team’s weight room most nights for solo workout sessions between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.
“I’d be there for a couple hours and I was the only one there,” he said. “I feel like that’s pretty unconventional.”
It was pretty effective, too. Winovich made his first college start in September, stepping in for injured senior Taco Charlton, and took advantage. Through four games, he has a pair of sacks and 19 tackles, more stops than any other player on a defensive line swimming with future NFL talent.
Assistant coach Greg Mattison said Winovich is faster and slightly stronger than you might expect when looking at him from a distance. But it’s his desire and energy -- part Harbaughian determination, part golden retriever puppy who was just invited to go for a walk -- that has helped him keep pace with bigger and more experienced teammates.
Players and coaches agree that Winovich’s unique personality and willingness to work hard are what puts him in the same conversation as the head coach. Assistant coach Jay Harbaugh, Jim's son, worked with Winovich during his brief stint with the tight ends. He said it wasn’t a perfect analogy, but he could see the family resemblance.
“Chase’s biggest strength is you could make an argument that he cares the most of anyone on the team,” Jay Harbaugh said. “... He’s always positive. [If] anything goes wrong, he just puts a positive spin on it and moves on. I think he’s solution-oriented; he has a high motor and he loves football. I would say it’s a fair comparison.”
Winovich said he has yet to broach the subject with Jim Harbaugh, and he doesn’t want to give the impression that he thinks of himself as a carbon copy. He hasn’t adopted the daily khaki uniform (although he sees its utility) and he probably doesn’t drink quite as much milk. Winovich is his own man, he says, which is probably the trait he shares most with his one-of-a-kind coach.