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Friday, September 1
Updated: September 2, 3:08 PM ET
Navarre not intimidated by first start

By Jeff Potrykus
Special to

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr should mail a note of thanks to two of his coaching colleagues -- Colorado's Gary Barnett and Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez.

If not for Barnett's desire to return to his coaching roots and if not for Alvarez's integrity, Carr wouldn't be able to turn his offense over to redshirt freshman quarterback John Navarre this weekend.

And if Carr didn't have Navarre to step in until junior Drew Henson (broken foot) can return to the starting lineup, the Wolverines' season might have ended before it started.

"I have tremendous confidence in John Navarre," Carr said after announcing Navarre would start in the season opener Saturday against visiting Bowling Green. "He'll step in and do a great job until Drew returns. John Navarre, just like going to be surrounded by a good football team.

"John is an extremely poised guy. He very seldom shows any emotion. He's tough."

Navarre, a 6-foot-6, 228-pounder in the mold of former Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac, almost didn't make it to Ann Arbor, though.

I have tremendous confidence in John Navarre. He'll step in and do a great job until Drew returns.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr

In fact, the Wolverines were just his third choice.

After his senior season at Cudahy High School, located just minutes south of Milwaukee, Wis., Navarre was rated by most national recruiting services as the top prospect in Wisconsin and one of the top 100 prospects in the country.

Navarre was being recruited by Wisconsin but committed to play for Northwestern. But when it became clear Barnett was going to take over Colorado's program, Navarre backed out his commitment. He quickly contacted Alvarez about playing for the Badgers.

No go.

Alvarez had no scholarships available for a quarterback because he had already received commitments from Jim Sorgi and Scott Wille. Sorgi is currently No. 2 behind Brooks Bollinger and Wille was No. 3 before being sidelined with an ankle injury.

Alvarez told Navarre, an all-state defensive end at Cudahy, he would be given a scholarship to play defense.

"The two kids who had already committed to us, we had promised them we would only take two quarterbacks," said Wisconsin assistant head coach John Palermo, who handles the Badgers' in-state recruiting. "To Barry's credit, he did the honest thing."

Navarre appreciated the honest but didn't want to play defense.

Michigan's staff learned of Navarre's situation and quickly made contact.

"Lloyd Carr called and said you can compete for this job," said Carey Venne, who coached Navarre at Cudahy. "They really wanted him from the get-go."

Navarre didn't hesitate to commit to the Wolverines.

"He was prepared to step on the field as a freshman at Northwestern," Venne said. "It's probably fortunate that it didn't happen. This is a different profile program and he has been forced into this situation."

Navarre, who compiled a record of 33-4 in his three seasons as a starter at Cudahy, admitted he was a bit stunned when Henson's injury thrust him into the starting lineup.

"When it first happened," he said, "I kept saying, 'Come on, Drew, get up.'

"But after that, I was ready to run the rest of practice."

But is Navarre ready to run the team with more than 100,000 potential critics in the stands, watching his every move?

His high school coach believes he is.

"He went through their summer practice after his senior in high school," Venne said. "I saw the spring game and John completed passes to seven or eight different receivers. He did quite nicely. John is a quick study. He understands football.

"He's going to have to do the job and he will."

Jeff Potrykus covers the Big Ten for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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