After five weeks of practice and one game, Michigan middle linebacker Obi Ezeh has no doubt about his role.
Even though he is only a redshirt sophomore, he has become a leader on and off the field.
Ezeh was outstanding in the Wolverines' 25-23 loss to Utah, with 15 tackles, an interception tipped to him by Stevie Brown and a total command of the defense. Ezeh directed others, but still made plays himself.
The performance earned him the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week award.
"He made quite a few tackles," said U-M coach Rich Rodriguez, who cited Ezeh and defensive tackle Will Johnson as the "most productive, played the best for us on defense. Obi is pretty solid, and that's what we've seen every day in practice out of him and Will."
The middle-linebacker position allows Ezeh to play free and direct his inexperienced teammates.
"I love the middle-linebacker spot because I'm in the middle of everything and equal distance from everywhere," Ezeh said. "I feel like maybe for some guys it's hard to make that play all the way over there. In the middle, I can get there a lot faster. I feel like I know some things that let me get to the ball faster, and hopefully some of our guys will pick up on that."
Off the field, he continues to serve as a leader.
His roommates, cornerback Donovan Warren and linebacker Jonas Mouton, are both relaxed Californians. Mouton apparently takes care of himself, but Ezeh has to stay on Warren.
"I try to be more laid-back, too, but I'm a little bit older than him so I know a lot more things going on in the world than him; he's still living in his la-la land," Ezeh said. "It's 'do the dishes, load the dishwasher, sweep the floors.' I kind of run things. ... I have a lot of California everywhere I look. It's probably going to start rubbing off on me."
If that's the biggest drama in Ezeh's life, he must be thrilled. His arrival and early days at Michigan didn't come easily:
• Growing up in the Grand Rapids area, he couldn't play the type of football he wanted because league officials said he was too big.
"I wasn't fat, I was bigger," said Ezeh, who's now 6-foot-2, 248 pounds. "I wasn't freakishly big. What bothered me was having to put that orange sticker on the back of my helmet; that's kind of embarrassing because I'm not fat and that's what that symbolizes."
• He received little major-college interest while he was being recruited, gaining attention mainly from lower-level Big Ten schools and Mid-American Conference teams.
Rivals.com pegged him as a three-star recruit. He was primarily a running back at Grand Rapids Catholic Central, and only the smaller schools were going to let him stay at that position. U-M had taken three linebackers rated higher in his class of 2006.
"It does motivate me," Ezeh said. "It is something that drives you. You see some five stars that come out and they're not even playing right now. It's something that drives you, and in the back of your mind, you feel you need to come out and prove yourself every day. ... I wasn't totally ignored. Michigan gave me a lot of attention. That's what attracted me."
• Once he got to Michigan, he redshirted for a year after having shoulder surgery. Then, last summer, he was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He received probation and three days in a work-release program in October.
That penalty came a month after he entered the starting lineup as the middle linebacker. Last year's experience (10 starts, 68 tackles, two sacks) was on display vs. Utah.
"Obi's stepped into being a vocal leader for the defense," Warren said. "That's why he's making plays like he is."
Notebook: On his radio show Thursday night, Rodriguez said quarterback Steven Threet has the edge over Nick Sheridan this week. He expects both to play on Saturday.
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