Freshman puts best foot forward

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- He came here on his recruiting trip, the coaching staff that had been recruiting him for San Diego State now fully immersed at Michigan, when he made his decision.

Despite the legacy and Michigan's desperate need for a kicker who actually could make field goals, Matt Wile wasn't sure what he was going to do.

Then he showed up in Ann Arbor and the choice became easy.

"I had not made up my mind when I had come on my visit to Michigan," Wile said. "[San Diego State] was never out of the running. It was between them and two or three other schools.

"But when I got here, it just felt right."

It helped, too, that the coaching staff he had gotten to know at San Diego State -- both with his father, Peter, being the Aztecs' team physician and in his own recruitment -- had ended up at Michigan.

Couple that with his family's history at the school -- Peter attended Michigan's medical school, as did his grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather -- and it made sense.

Leave paradise. Come to a place where the seasons vary a little bit more than warm and sunny in the winter and warmer and sunnier in the summer.

So he did, unsure exactly what his role would be. He thought he might kick -- Michigan had been 4 of 14 in field goals in 2010. Punting, though, wasn't supposed to happen. Michigan had sophomore Will Hagerup, one of the most promising young punters in the country.

Then Wile arrived. Hagerup got suspended for four games. And all of a sudden the true freshman had to learn to punt.

"I hadn't really been practicing punting," Wile said before the season. "When I got here, they asked me to start practicing. I punted in high school.

"Just hadn't punted since I committed here for seven months. I started practicing again, so I had to get my operation time down and back."

It's been a mild adventure. Wile admitted being more nervous on his first college punt than kickoff. He felt he did "OK" in his debut against Western Michigan, "well" against Notre Dame and "mediocre at best" against Eastern Michigan. He has averaged 38 yards a punt with 2 of 10 inside the 20-yard line.

But it isn't exactly what he expected when he arrived, when he thought he might have one responsibility -- not two or three, which he currently has.

"I worry about a kid that mentally couldn't handle it, but I don't think that he's that guy," special teams coach Dan Ferrigno said in the preseason. "He's a pretty tough kid. He played linebacker and running back and all that in high school. He's not just a kicker.

"He's been in some pretty pressure situations."

Now, with Hagerup coming off suspension next week and possibly wresting his punting job back from Wile, there is an element of pressure to how Wile performs.

Even if he loses the punting job, though, he'll keep his kickoff duties. And he's still Michigan's long field goal kicker. Wile said he made a 59-yarder this year in practice and bounced a 55-yarder off the crossbar and through the uprights last Thursday.

"He's hanging in there," Hoke said. "He had a couple kickoffs and had the one punt that was not what he wanted. But I think he's done a nice job."

One aspect that won't bother Wile? Playing his hometown school. He said he only knows the Aztecs who hosted him on the visit, would rather be playing this game in Ann Arbor instead of getting to go home, and didn't even watch SDSU growing up, only watching the Chargers in the playoffs.

It's why Saturday won't bother Wile.

"I haven't really thought about that," Wile said. "Just focused on the game. I'm sure it may be hard for my dad.

"But for me, Michigan's my team."

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.