Surrounded by his family front row at Lucas Oil Stadium earlier this month, Chris Hutchison was in disbelief. It was there, celebrating a Big Ten Championship with his son, that it hit him: none of this should happen.
“It’s his whole career. It’s his legacy,” Chris said of Michigan senior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who had just been named MVP of the game. “Honestly, I didn’t think this team had any. I didn’t think we would be here even two weeks ago.”
Michigan being Michigan under Jim Harbaugh at the time, Chris was right.
Aidan’s career had paralleled Michigan field performances over the past few seasons: sometimes good but never great. An ankle injury slowed Aidan down earlier in his career. Michigan winning 10 games, which it has now done four times in seven seasons with Harbaugh, made less and less sense.
But college football is all about evolution. The teenagers enter the physical training camp which is the big ball. In some form, they come out as changed men, sometimes as champions.
Aidan Hutchinson’s transformation has his name among the best in the sport, perhaps even the pinnacle of his family. This second statement, however, can be a stretch. Her mother, Melissa, is a 15-year veteran as a model who is also an artist and photographer. Chris, who played for the Wolverines from 1989 to 1992, is an emergency room doctor who gave birth to Aidan 21 years ago.
Sisters Mia and Aria are also accomplished: Mia as a professional photographer, Aria as a yoga teacher trying to get into medical school. All four have helped shape The Son, Brother and All-American, a 265-pound wrecking ball who practices yoga and meditation.
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Melissa said. “Aidan is more than most people know. “
We’ve seen a lot of them so far. The No. 1 overall pick screened in the 2022 NFL Draft was a 6-foot-1, 155-pound high school freshman. He was bullied when he was young for participating in competitive dance, a skill that translates into football and has helped him develop the balance and skills needed to reach the quarterback.
Then Aidan harassed himself. He makes the college football playoff semi-final at the Orange Bowl as the physical and mental center for the Wolverines. His 14 sacks broke his father’s school record in a single season. He was not afraid to wear his father’s number (97), playing the same position, chasing the same dreams. Both became All-Americans.
“It hit me in high school,” said Hutchinson, who added 70 pounds at Divine Child High School in Dearborn, Michigan. “I knew I was going to be a D-end. I knew I wanted to wear 97. I always wanted to be there, to be in the position that I am today. [my father’s] records, winning Big Ten championships, being an All-American, things he’s done. It’s so cool to see it all come full circle. “
The difference between the two? His father has five Big Ten championship rings from his time as an on-board terror.
“He looked at my five rings and thought, ‘I’ll never have one,'” Chris recalls. “Up to [the Big Ten Championship Game], I didn’t think that would ever happen. ”
So we heard.
As for this validation, everything is there now. A week before this Big Ten title win over Iowa, Michigan was a touchdown underdog hosting Ohio State. You don’t need to remember the Buckeyes won the last eight games. Wolverines broke the streak with a resounding 15-point victory that announced this Michigan driven by this Harbaugh was different… this time.
In that game, Hutchinson broke his father’s one-season record with three sacks, which gave him 14 for the Michigan campaign.
“It was like, ‘Who’s 97?’ He can play, ”said Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud, a sack victim.
All of this was ultimately enough for Hutchinson to be invited to New York as a second defenseman under Harbaugh to become a Heisman Trophy finalist (Jabrill Peppers).
“I know Charles [Woodson] somehow called his shot: “If Aidan gets three sacks, he’ll go to New York.” What did I do ? I had three bags and I’m in New York, “Hutchinson said.” I thought it was pretty cool that Charles called it his shot. It was pretty crazy. “
Hutchinson is a unique blend of confidence, humility, articulation, marketability and accomplishment. Who is 97 years old? He’s special, really special.
He starts each day with a cold shower “because it wakes me up”. By fending off the NFL and coming back for his senior season, he bet on himself.
Harbaugh told a story from January when his precious D end went to the strength trainers and asked them, “Make sure you burn me out. Get it all out of me.”
“There is an all-you-can-eat buffet here,” they replied.
“He ate it,” Harbaugh said.
“When I was evaluating my rush plan for this year, I really believed that no one could block me because I have the power, I have the speed. I have the whole package,” said Hutchinson.
Following the shooting in Oxford, Mich., It was Hutchinson who suggested the team dedicate the game to Tate Myre, a 16-year-old high school football player who was killed while facing the shooter.
In a fortuitous Hutchinson-inspired moment, the Wolverines wore a No.42 Myre patch on their jerseys, then scored 42 points as they beat Iowa.
“Tate was a warrior,” Harbaugh said. “A soccer player, a wrestler. The best athlete in the school. He could have easily gotten away with it. People were running away from the fire. He was rushing at it.”
Hutchinson is the son of a father whose roots go back to medieval England. Her mother’s ancestry dates back to Latvia and Switzerland. Michigan was not automatically a destination. Chris gave his son a tour of Notre Dame, Purdue, Wisconsin and even the state of Ohio. When Alabama belatedly became interested in the recruiting process, Chris reminded his son that he had already committed to Michigan.
“He said, ‘Daddy, Alabama is here,’” Chris recalls. “I looked at him and he turned around. He said, ‘I know, I know.’ It’s one of those life lessons: ‘I’m making a commitment, and that’s what it means even if this flashy thing happens in town.’ “
Two weeks after that performance against Ohio State, Hutchinson was indeed in New York, finishing second in the Heisman vote against Alabama QB Bryce Young. This is the best result by a defensive lineman since Hugh Green of Pittsburgh also placed second in 1980. Manti Te’o of Notre Dame was the last defenseman to score this high in 2012.
“Offensive players can take control of the game,” Hutchinson said. “It’s expressed in their position as quarterbacks. But defensive players aren’t necessarily ranked by sacks and stats. I could have a game with a sack and play my best ball.… I could have three sacks and not not playing my best, they are offensive players who are sometimes more able to be a game-changer.
“If you’re a game-changer as a defensive player, that’s pretty important.”
Love for Hutchinson sprang up after that Iowa game. Teammates on the podium accepting the conference trophy chanted “Hutch for Heis-man”. Offensive lineman Andrew Vastardis said Hutchinson “showed up every week. He changed the game. Every day in training, every day in meetings. More engaged than any other guy I’ve been with.
With play on many levels, Hutchinson seems like that force that can take control of a contest defensively. His 15 pressures against Ohio State were the most against a Power Five schedule in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus.
Depending on the game, he can speed up the rush, bull rush or beat the tackle of the jump. Add defensive end David Ojabo (11 sacks) and Michigan’s No.2 takes on Georgia’s No.3 with one of the deadliest combined forces in school history.
“There have been a lot of comparisons with the Watts and the Bosas,” Chris said. “I don’t think he fits into any of those molds. I think he’s kind of one of those people, somewhere between TJ and JJ. [Watt], a little of [Joey] Bosa got mixed up in there. I think he has his own mold. “
It took a loyal son and Wolverine to put this season into perspective. The 12-victory campaign is only the third in the history of the school. (Ohio State has 10 such seasons, all since 2002.) The Big Ten title was Michigan’s first since 2004. Harbaugh, underachieving at his alma mater in the past, became the national coach of the year.
“It was a bit tense in Michigan the previous years,” Hutchinson said. “Now that we’re back it’s a little relaxed.… I feel like college football is better when Michigan is up there near the top.”