Detroit News
Wednesday, August 25, 20000
Detroit, MI
Navarre will get baptism of fire
Redshirt freshman has impressive pedigree as high school standout

 John Navarre
Robin Bucksom / The Detroit News

Quarterback John Navarre came to Michigan after originally committing to Northwestern.

About John Navarre

Age: 19 (will turn 20 on Sept. 9, when Michigan plays Rice).

Hometown: Cudahy, Wis.

Ht. / wt.: 6-foot-6 / 230.

Class / eligibility: Sophomore / freshman.

College highlights: Has yet to play a down at Michigan but was named the backup Tuesday, a day before starter Drew Henson was injured.

High school highlights: Was a three-year starting quarterback and led Cudahy to a 33-4 record. ... A two-year starter at defensive end and was named all-state first team at the position his senior year. ... Earned 13 varsity letters, including basketball, baseball and golf. .. The 10th-ranked prospect in the Midwest by SuperPrep Magazine.

Quotable: Cudahy Coach Carey Venne, on his former quarterback: "He's kind of an ice man. He keeps his emotions in check. He doesn't get shook easy, and that's because he's been such a physical player. Even if he's nervous, he internalizes and fakes it pretty good."

By Angelique S. Chengelis / The Detroit News

ANN ARBOR -- John Navarre was going to get some snaps this season, but the plan was to work him in gradually as Drew Henson's quarterback understudy at Michigan.

Now Henson will miss 3-6 weeks after suffering a broken bone in his right foot during practice Wednesday, so Navarre, a redshirt freshman from Cudahy, Wis., will be the starting quarterback when U-M opens the season Sept. 2 against Bowling Green at Michigan Stadium.

Coach Lloyd Carr said there is no clear-cut backup. Redshirt freshman Andy Mignery and freshman Jermaine Gonzales of Orchard Lake St. Mary's are competing for the job.

Navarre, a 6-foot-6, 230-pounder who has never played a down in college, had been named Henson's backup Tuesday. A day later, he found out he would be the starter.

"One of his goals when he came to Michigan was to be the starting quarterback," Carr said Thursday. "It just happened a lot faster than we envisioned. I have a lot of confidence in him. He's got all the qualities you want in a quarterback.

"What we would ask him to do is play within himself and our system of football, and I don't have any doubts he'll do a good job. He's not scared, he's not nervous, he's looking forward to the opportunity to play. I expect John Navarre to play very well. I think his teammates have tremendous confidence in him. He's a guy, from the day he came here, he's hardworking, he's tough, he's a dedicated guy.

"He's smart. He'll make some mistakes. But anybody who's playing for the first time is going to make mistakes."

Navarre's high school coach, Carey Venne, said his former player is tough and smart. He was a three-year starting quarterback who led powerhouse Cudahy, in suburban Milwaukee, to a 33-4 record and three straight conference championships. He was the nation's fifth-rated pro-style quarterback by Prep Football Report, and he was the 10th-rated prospect in the Midwest by SuperPrep Magazine.

He also was a two-year starting defensive end and was named first-team all-state at the position his senior year. Wisconsin recruited him as a tight end / linebacker.

"He's just big and tough," said Venne, who considers Navarre like a son and spoke to him Wednesday night. "You hear this cliche that he's a quarterback in a linebacker body, and he really is."

Navarre did not take a direct path to Michigan. Venne said he felt some "arm-twisting" from locals to stay closer to home. He didn't want to go to Wisconsin, so he gave a commitment to Northwestern.

That stuck only as long as Coach Gary Barnett, who left Northwestern for Colorado. With Barnett leaving, Navarre rethought his commitment and decided to go to Michigan.

Navarre has drawn comparisons to former Michigan quarterback Elvis Grbac, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, although Navarre is bigger at this stage.

"He's got a great arm," Carr said. "There aren't any throws he can't make. He's tough. He's got a great release, and he can get the ball out there. The most important thing is John Navarre has confidence. I don't have any question he'll do a good job."

Nor does Venne, who watched Michigan's spring game in April and occasionally did double-takes as he tried to differentiate between Henson and Navarre.

"John is ready to do it," Venne said. "I just told him on the phone the other night, 'You were given a scholarship to play for the University of Michigan. An injury occurred, which happens all the time in football, and now you're there to do as good a job as a starter until Drew gets back.'

"This is an opportunity to help Michigan win some football games until Drew gets back, and John's a team player. John can get the job done. John knows football. Cudahy is a football town. It's one of the few sports we're really, really good at. Cudahy is known in the Milwaukee area as one of the top programs, and so John played in a high-profile program. He's where he should be right now."

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