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Michigan lineman hopes to graduate to NFL success

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Steve Hutchinson wasn't just a big man on campus. He was one of the most highly decorated football players in Michigan and Big Ten history.

Now, Hutchinson is preparing to make a big jump. He may not be entering a new school, but being an NFL rookie may pose an even greater challenge.

His credentials speak for themselves. Hutchinson was a consensus first-team All-American, a finalist for both the Outland and Lombardi Trophies, and one of only three players in Big Ten history to be named first-team all-conference four consecutive years.

But perhaps his proudest achievement is being one of Michigan's captains the past two seasons. After all, Hutchinson came to Ann Arbor hoping to become a part of the school's rich history of success. And he certainly made his mark, becoming one of the greatest linemen ever to play in a program and conference traditonally known for strength at that position.

Success came quickly to Hutchinson as a Wolverine. After redshirting his freshman year and being switched from defense to offense, Hutchinson became a starter on Michigan's 1997 national championship team in his first year of action.

Since then, he's been the cornerstone of one of the best offensive lines college football has ever seen. Hutchinson, along with linemates Jeff Backus and Maurice Williams, are all potential first-round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft (April 21-22).

"I think we set a standard," Hutchinson said. "There's been a lot of great lines at Michigan. I think we made our mark."

Their unit particularly came together this past season, relinquishing only 18 sacks and opening holes for running back Anthony Thomas, another blue-chip draft prospect who broke the school's career rushing record.

Hutchinson himself can recall the last sack he was personally responsible for, during a 1999 game when he played with an injured shoulder. It is the only sack he remembers giving up in his college career.

But the NFL and its assortment of pass-rushing demons will undoubtedly be much tougher, for any rookie lineman, including one as talented as Hutchinson. The entire transition to the NFL will require a major adjustment. Luckily, Hutchinson has an excellent role model.

For his first two years at Michigan, Hutchinson was fortunate enough to be teammates with another outstanding offensive lineman, Jon Jansen. Jansen ended up as a second-round pick of the Washington Redskins, and made a very smooth transition to the NFL, starting every game as a rookie in 1999.

The two have remained in contact, with Jansen offering advice to his younger counterpart. But perhaps even more important is the example Jansen has set.

"It gives me hope," says Hutchinson. "He's a great player, and he deserves everything he gets. He works hard, and that's what I try to emulate as much as possible."

But Hutchinson knows he will have to blaze his own trail and make his own mark.

"I'm going to go in with the attitude that I'm going to work hard," said Hutchinson. "I'm going to be a rookie, and I'm not going to know the ropes. I'm going to have to learn, but I want to go in and help the team in any way I can."

Hutchinson's work ethic and unselfish attitude will serve him well at the next level. And if he can come anywhere close to the success he achieved at Michigan, he will be a stalwart on some NFL club for many years to come.

"I had goals that I had set when I started playing in 1997," Hutchinson said, "and I've accomplished most of those goals."

They must have been pretty lofty goals. Look for Steve Hutchinson to be a big man on campus again.

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