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Michigan football's Jim Harbaugh: Big Ten return shows 'that faith paid off'

Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh, holding the hand of his daughter Addie, marches with players, their parents and supporters outside Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, to protest the postponement of the fall football season on Sept. 5, 2020.

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By ORION SANG | Detroit Free Press | Published: September 19, 2020

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(Tribune News Service) — Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh was adamant in his belief that a college football season could be played.

As it turned out, Harbaugh and his players got their wish, when the Big Ten announced earlier this week that there would be a a nine-game season beginning Oct. 24.

During an appearance with ESPN's "College GameDay" on Saturday morning, Harbaugh described his reaction to Wednesday's news.

“That was a good feeling," Harbaugh said. "There’s a lot of juice. That’s been our best practice of the fall. Guys are excited about it. They want to play.”

While limited in his public speaking engagements, Harbaugh was vocal throughout the past month-and-a-half about his desire for a college football season during the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, he wrote an open letter, citing Michigan's testing results (which featured a low positive test rate) and COVID-19 protocols. The following day, the Big Ten announced it would postpone all fall sports – including college football.

Then, two weeks ago, Harbaugh participated in the parent-led protest that began outside Michigan Stadium on the day the team's season would have started if not for the postponement. He told reporters, “Free the Big Ten. Like my brother, John Harbaugh, said. I mean, says it all. We want to be free to play.”

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Why was Harbaugh a relentless advocate for the return of college football?

“For the guys that are playing, for the coaches and players, mainly, guys that have trained so hard to put themselves in a position to play," he said Saturday morning. "Some have trained their whole lives. It’s not just a game to some people."

Now that the season has been announced, Harbaugh feels his team will be prepared. Despite dealing with "a lot of challenges this year" in what Harbaugh described as an "unprecedented time," he saw plenty of players step up, with new leaders forged during the offseason.

"Guys kept the faith," Harbaugh said. "We were practicing, we were preparing, training kind of felt like a military operation, like the Navy SEALs or the Marines – we didn’t know when our next battle is, but we wanted to stay operational and ready, and now we get the chance to have a season. Game on.”

[ 36 days of chaos: How the Big Ten could have avoided a postponement mess ]

His message throughout the offseason: "It’s better to be prepared and not have your opportunity come than have your opportunity come and not be prepared."

Along with the Big Ten's announcement of the season, the conference also released new COVID-19 protocols that include a mandatory 21-day sit-out period for any player that receives a positive diagnosis.

“We want to be healthy," Harbaugh said. "We want to stay healthy. Take the coaching that we’re getting. Social distancing. Washing your hands, wearing your mask, we’re doing all that. Staying healthy and the competitive edge so you can be out there on the field and have your opportunity to play.

"No doubt, our guys have done a really good job in that and they’ve got to continue to stay diligent. An eight-game season, out 21 days, that’d be at least three games or more. Definitely want them to stay positive, test negative and get ready to play like a Wolverine.”

Harbaugh told the "GameDay" crew that he and the Wolverines would've loved to be playing Saturday. Their season, though, grows closer by the day.

"Our guys were doing the training," Harbaugh said. "They were doing the working, doing the running, doing the practices. And hoping. That faith paid off. Still some weeks to play, but I was very excited we have a game coming up Oct. 24.”

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