March 12, 2008

Spring preview: Mouton ready for starting role

Though still learning a new position, Jonas Mouton might have earned a starting job at linebacker last fall had a high ankle sprain in fall camp not impeded his progress. He enters this spring healthy, motivated and the frontrunner to replace Chris Graham at the WILL …

"I used to talk to [former defensive coordinator] Ron English pretty regularly and before he left Michigan, he told me that Jonas has a chance to be a very special player," Venice High School coach Angelo Gasco said. "Especially since he moved to linebacker … he is so athletic for the position and has a knack for hitting people. Ever since he came to our school, he's shown he knows how to deliver a blow.

"Jonas is a really good guy, a hard worker, a great teammate, and he loves the game. He's a real student of the game. His brother played at Tulane and they talk a lot about football. I think he's the entire package."

A four-star safety recruit out of Los Angeles, Mouton didn't last at defensive back for long, transitioning to linebacker willingly when it became apparent he was getting too big to play safety. A hot topic in his recruitment - Michigan among others sold him on the opportunity to play defensive back - the decision, unexpectedly, wasn't a big deal to Mouton.

"When he was here at Venice, I don't think he lifted all that much because he was afraid of getting too big," Gasca said. "But he couldn't avoid that at Michigan and when he got to be about 230 pounds he called me up and just said, 'Coach I need to play linebacker.' He wasn't upset about it. And the truth is, even when he played safety for us, I always thought he was at his absolute best when he was closer to the line of scrimmage."

A top performer in the spring last year, Mouton might have put up quite a fight for playing time in the fall had the injury not occurred. A high ankle sprain, it took weeks for him to recover fully. He did not make his U-M debut until the sixth week of the season, against Eastern Michigan. He notched his first career tackle a week later, and finished with five on the season.

"Clearly the best way to improve is to play and Jonas was always confident that if he was healthy, he could hold his own and compete for a big role, but he wasn't healthy," Gasca said. "But he remained really upbeat. He called me before they played Northwestern and just couldn't stop talking about how excited he was to be traveling with the team. He always called to check in with us -- I appreciate how much he cares about his former school."

Like many of U-M's current players, Mouton was uncertain what to expect when Rich Rodriguez was named head coach. He had developed a special bond with English and linebackers coach Steve Szabo. Rodriguez's staff at West Virginia hadn't shown much interest in Mouton while he played at Venice, but Gasca suspects that's because they realized there was little hope of wooing him to Morgantown.

"When I last spoke to Jonas, he was really positive about things," said Gasca. "He knows he has a great opportunity this spring. He's put in two years, now there is an opening and he's determined to win a starting job. I think he'll win it because he works so hard and I can't see any football coach not being impressed with him. He's fun to be around, plays the game the right way, is intense and loves to smack people around. That's my ideal kind of player, and I think the new coaches will watch a few practices and just be glad Jonas is on their team."

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