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Walk-on Burzynski makes his move

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When he had the chance, Taylor Lewan spent some time becoming a mentor. While technically only a season ahead of Joey Burzynski, he is eons ahead of him when it comes to experience.

Lewan is the left tackle who could be an All-American this season. Burzynski is the utility offensive lineman who slowly started to show progress as a walk-on. But he wanted to get better.

He wanted to have a shot. So Lewan worked with him.

"I think Joe might have surprised himself," Lewan said. "He came in this spring and no one maybe thought of him as a starting guy and he took that to heart and he's been working in the offseason.

"I've worked where it's just been me and him, and he's doing everything he can to have an effect on this team."

The relationship has paid off. Burzynski was the surprise of the spring, spending the majority of Saturday's public spring scrimmage lining up next to Lewan as a starter instead of being buried beneath scholarship players on the depth chart like most walk-ons.

As a walk-on, players typically have to be special for long periods of time even to get noticed, let alone play. Safety Jordan Kovacs, Michigan's recent well-known walk-on success story, was a depth chart afterthought until he consistently showed up on plays in practice and then did the same in games.

Now, the Wolverines might -- might -- be adding someone else.

That Michigan started and played Burzynski with the first unit on a still-forming offensive line in the scrimmage for the public to see says much about how far he has come. He theoretically has had to beat out a fifth-year senior in Elliott Mealer and a highly touted redshirt freshman Chris Bryant.

"He plays very consistent," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "He plays with good leverage and good technique."

His potential ascent -- and it isn't set that he'll even win the job when the season starts Sept. 1 against Alabama -- began last fall, when he began to force his coaches to pay attention. He made enough plays in practice that they started to watch.

He also benefited from a rare situation at Michigan, where there were major depth issues on the offensive line, giving walk-ons a chance to run here and there with the second unit and on scout teams. Here, Burzynski made an impression.

When he returned for the start of spring practice, it happened again. It took three or four days for Borges and the other coaches to notice again.

By the middle of the spring, the 6-foot-1, 284-pound Carlsbad, Calif., native whose parents are both Michigan graduates had joined the first unit.

"He worked his butt off," Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "He's still not in a starting position, but he's competing for one. He's worked his butt off and worked hard for (strength coach Aaron) Wellman. He's very attentive and takes everything to heart to improve.

"A guy like that is going to improve. When you're a walk-on and you're battling to get into that depth, you'll never get into that depth until you get somebody's attention."

Now, he has the attention of everybody heading into the fall.