Michigan DE Aidan Hutchinson hopes to be the first defensive player to win Heisman since 1997

Scooby Axson

NEW YORK – Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud knows exactly where Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is.

Except this time, Stroud is happy that Hutchinson is in another room fulfilling media obligations in midtown Manhattan instead of checking every play and pointing to his offensive line and knowing there is a possibility that moments later, he is within arm’s reach, about to drag Stroud to the turf.

Stroud and Hutchinson are Heisman Trophy finalists, along with Alabama’s Bryce Young and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, and have gotten to enjoy this week’s awards circuit without the constant reminder of what took place at the Big House.

“We have been talking a little bit,” Hutchinson said about Stroud. “It’s all cool, we have a lot of respect for each other especially us both being finalists.”

Stroud wanted to get the 41-27 loss out of his mind as quickly as possible, but agreed the respect level between the two is high.

Two weeks ago, in the biggest game of the year, Hutchinson spent every other play in the Buckeyes backfield, registering 15 quarterback pressures and three sacks as Michigan overwhelmed its hated rivals in a win that sent the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff and left Ohio State wondering what if.

“It’s tough. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings here,” Stroud said. “Football is a game. I think it’s the right thing to do and the professional thing to do is just to leave a game at the game. He is a great player.”

At the beginning of the season, Hutchinson heard the chatter like everyone else, especially about his coach Jim Harbaugh’s status on the hot seat due to an inability to win the big game. While doubt never creeped into Hutchinson’s head, the talk about his underachieving team was constant.

But after winning the Big Ten title in a rout against Iowa, Hutchinson is finally realizing what it means to be a defensive player vying for the sport’s most coveted piece of hardware.

When asked what he would say if someone told him before the season that he would be one of the most dominant players in college football, Hutchinson, as usual, was humble and reflective.

Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson is a Heisman trophy candidate.

“I would tell them that would be my dream. To be a Heisman finalist and competing for a national championship,” Hutchinson said. “That’s where every team wants to be. Every player wants to be here. It’s a real testament to my hard work and what I put into this season.”

Hutchinson, the Lombardi Trophy winner and Big Ten defensive player of the year, has been shooting up NFL draft boards as each week passes. He set Michigan’s single-season record for sacks with 14, including seven in the final three games.

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But it’s not lost on him about his chances of winning the Heisman. A defensive player hasn’t won the award since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997.

“I think offensive players can take over the game more because it’s rooted in their position. Quarterbacks or running backs if they are playing well, they are probably going to win the game and to be game changers."

While Hutchinson wreaks havoc on the football field, the quiet, calm demeanor off the field can be attributed to his parents, Melissa and Chris, a former Michigan captain and All-American who now is an emergency room doctor. But having their son as a Heisman finalist has taken a little getting used to, especially for his mother.

“I think I am having an out-of-body experience,” Melissa said.

Chris was a little more analytic about his son’s performance in 2021.

“Having a defensive guy at a pretty much quarterback-dominated award speaks volume at what Aidan has been able to accomplish this year. He has really asserted himself as one of the best players in the country, if not the best,” he said. “We talked about the Heisman and we didn’t really think it was going to happen. A lot of things had to happen with the team success.”

Hutchinson is listed at 6-6 and 265 pounds, which is typical for most edge rushers and he credits a lot of his success and ability to rush the passer to yoga and meditation.

“Football is very hard and tough mentally and to have things in your alone time and really focus on yourself and your core beliefs is important. It’s good for the soul, so those are things I do to refresh and get back on track,” Hutchinson said.

His mother says that she grew up in a household studying Eastern philosophy and has always passed it on to her children. One of their daughters is a master yogi, helping Aidan stretch while encompassing a mind, body and spirit modality.

She has sometimes put it to good use.

“My eyes are closed,” she said. “It’s either that or I am in the bathroom stall meditating. And that’s when Aidan always gets his sacks. I have to look down at my phone to see what happens, but I didn’t have to do that against Ohio State."

Chris says his son’s ability has progressed in baby steps with each year.

He started 13 games his sophomore year, recording 4.5 sacks before fracturing his ankle and playing only two games in an injury plagued 2020 season that was already cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Aidan said he didn’t realize how dominant he could be until this past offseason after working his way back from surgery. If any NFL scouts are listening, he gave his own scouting report.

“I really believe that (no) one was going to be able to block me because I have the power, I have the speed, I have the whole package. So, if something is not working out, I can just adjust on the fly. That’s what makes me so versatile,” he said.

But after the Heisman hype is complete on Saturday night, Hutchinson’s singular focus is on the College Football Playoff semifinals against the Georgia Bulldogs, who have their own defense that has to be reckoned with.

Follow Scooby Axson on Twitter @ScoobAxson