While the second-half kickoff hung in the air, the Michigan football team didn’t need a big play. Already beating Rutgers, 24-0, the Wolverines could’ve coasted across the finish line.
But for Tyler Cochran, the son of former Michigan All-American defensive back Brad Cochran (1981-85), it was the chance to make his dream come true. Now a senior, the former walk-on is one of this season’s primary kickoff coverage men. A Royal Oak, Mich. native, he didn’t see game action as a freshman or sophomore before earning his varsity letter with an assisted tackle against Nebraska last season.
As the ball traveled downfield off the foot of sophomore kicker Jake Moody, Cochran put himself in a position to make a play. In the middle of a gang tackle, he pried the ball from the returner’s arms just as the whistle sounded. Unclear about the precise timing of the strip and whistle, Jim Harbaugh ran down the sidelines to confront Cochran about a potential challenge. Unbeknownst to Harbaugh, the officials were already huddling to discuss the original ruling of no fumble on the field.
Cochran wasn’t entirely sure whether it was a fumble or not, but the referees determined there was enough reason to take a look under the hood. They made their way to the sideline for a formal review.
“The only thing I was worried about (was) if the whistle was blown,” Cochran said. “I knew (the Rutgers ball carrier) wasn’t on the ground, but as you’ve seen in the NFL a lot recently, they blow the whistle — doesn’t matter if the ball comes out or if you return it. I knew I got the ball out, I just didn’t know which way the call was going to go. I thought it was going to stand when I was watching the video. … It was kind of up to the refs’ discretion at that point.”
Cochran’s gut feeling proved to be wrong. Shortly after reviewing the play, the officials announced the reversal of the initial ruling, sending the U-M sideline into a frenzy. The Wolverines took over on the Rutgers 15-yard line, needing only three plays to extend their lead to 31-0.
As running back Christian Turner trotted into the end zone, Cochran was still receiving praise on the sideline.
“I’ve always dreamed of making a play like that, playing for Michigan,” Cochran said. “It was really exciting, I was really happy about it and my teammates gave me a lot of love after. … Definitely one of the best days of my life. It was a great feeling, really just getting the embrace from my teammates and Coach Partridge (and) my dad after the game.
“It was a really good moment — going to remember it for the rest of my life for sure.”
Just when Cochran thought following in his father’s footsteps at Michigan was out of the cards, his phone rang during his senior year of high school. Harbaugh was on the other line, offering him a spot as a walk-on. Cochran accepted the offer, spurning Air Force and Notre Dame in the process.
“For me particularly, like a lot of sons I guess, my dad was my hero growing up and I thought my dad was the coolest guy in the world,” Cochran said. “(He) played for Michigan, had a chance to play in the NFL for a little bit and I’ve always wanted to be just like my dad.”
“ … I had to come here. This was my dream since I was little and when I got the opportunity I just had to take it.”
Though he may not become one of the nation’s best defensive backs as his dad did in the early 1980s, the younger Cochran will now graduate with a career highlight of his own on the very same field.
And according to his mother, that’s what his father needed for a tear to roll down his cheek on Saturday afternoon.