Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown says he didn't see or hear the moment that middle linebacker Ben Gedeon took command of his defense. He felt it.
Brown described a practice earlier this month when he heard Gedeon barking out orders to his teammates and sensing the rest of the group around him instinctively kick into gear like a team of horses at the pull of their reins. It was a crucial step for the first-year starter who will be orchestrating an intricate, high-octane Wolverine defense this fall.
"He knows it's his show," Brown said. "When you can feel a guy, when you can hear his voice and then you're watching guys snap around him, that's really important."
Gedeon is no stranger to college football. He's appeared in every game but one during his first three seasons at Michigan, but his 70 career tackles during that time have all come in a supporting back-up role. Now, surrounded by veteran linemen, All-American athletes and soon-to-be NFL draft picks, Gedeon is taking the keys to what could turn out to be the sleekest and most powerful defense in college football.
The Big Ten's deepest defensive line, one of the nation's top cover corners and the school's most anticipated and potentially electric athlete in a generation will all be taking their cues from Gedeon. It's a surprisingly comfortable spot for the soft-spoken, square-jawed Ohioan who has grown up around unique talents.
The third of four Gedeon children, Ben grew up competing with his older brothers. Alex, 26, has two degrees from Harvard and captained the Crimson to an Ivy League championship in 2011. Sam, 24, played sprint football and rugby at the Naval Academy. On Gedeon's path from contributing role player to running the show at Michigan, he hasn't had to look far for advice or examples.
"I talk to them a lot," Gedeon said. "[Alex is] an impressive guy with the whole leadership deal and diagnosing offenses and stuff like that. …[Sam is] a tough dude. Those guys are the most mentally trained and mentally strong guys you can talk to."
The neighborhood crew from the Cleveland suburb where the Gedeons grew up also included a future major league pitcher and a couple others that went on to play college ball. Ben was always the youngest, but quickly outgrew the little brother tag and competed with all of them in daily backyard football and baseball games.
When Sam returned home for a semester break with his academy-issued boxing gear, the boys tried that too, which led to the infamous Christmas morning knockout. Sam and Ben, then a junior in high school, agreed to keep their punches below the neck during a morning sparring session before opening presents. Ben took advantage by dropping his hands to throw more punches rather than protecting his head.
"He was just wailing away wildly." Sam said. "We called no headshots, but he was just leaving his face wide open so I took a little shot and caught him pretty good."
The punch took Ben off his feet. Their father stepped in to let Sam know he wasn't following the rules, but a woozy Ben stopped him.
"No, that's what I needed," Sam remembers him saying. "I was being reckless."
Accountability was not a lesson he needed to learn upon arrival at Michigan.
Gedeon's teammates describe him as an underrated athlete and a quiet leader who has earned his credibility through hard work and consistency. Growing into a more vocal presence on the field has been an ongoing process this offseason.
"That might be a little out of his comfort zone," Brown said, "but he's moved on and he's not looking back."
His brothers have helped their too. Sam, who asked to keep his specific role with the Navy out of print so as not to call attention to himself, has helped with some tips about delivering clear and concise directions to communicate in a hectic environment. Alex, who now works as a consultant at Bain & Company, has walked him through good ways to deal to work with his teammates in different situations and how to keep his group energized during the grind of camp.
"I think given his personality he's really going to take advantage of where he's at," Alex said. "He's also a guy that doesn't crave the spotlight. I think for a team that has so many great players, it's going to be good to have somebody like that on defense that can kind of be the rock in the center."
The youngest Gedeon sibling, Gabrielle, moved to Ann Arbor this week to start her freshman year at Michigan where she'll try out for the rowing team. Their parents have noticed Ben taking an increasingly large role in helping to get her prepared for a new school and being a student-athlete. After years of collecting advice and directions, he's getting comfortable on the other end of the equation -- on and off the field.
"I've played a lot of football. I've learned a lot," Gedeon said. "I'm ready for it to be my turn."