January 31, 2008

Cissoko eager to become a Michigan Man

Even though he was a coveted prospect by the time he committed to Michigan in January 2007, four-star Detroit cornerback Boubacar Cissoko did not have a good start to his football career. He missed all of his freshman season at Cass Tech with an injury and was awful as a sophomore, he can admit now …

Cissoko had spent the offseason between his freshman and sophomore year working to become bigger, stronger - he had no control over his 5-8 height or he probably would have worked on that too. Physically, he had evolved incredibly, but he had overlooked the technical aspects of the cornerback position, and the oversight burned him in his second year.

"I thought I was going to have a good year, but it seemed like in every game someone caught a touchdown over me and Dominique Douglas, who plays at Iowa, had a huge game against me," Cissoko said. "That was a learning experience for me. It made me work harder, it made me into the cornerback I am today because I never wanted to see another touchdown pass end up in my man's hands."

"He got serious about the position, serious about understanding everything that goes into being an elite cornerback," Cass Tech head coach Thomas Wilcher said. "We told him that because he wasn't ever going to be 6-0, he needed to work on his feet, his hips, his recognition of coverages, his closing speed, his strength, and he really got after all of those things. He just decided he was going to be great and to be great he had to perfect a lot of the things that get overlooked when you don't have incredible size."

Cissoko played well enough as a junior to earn an invitation to the 2007 Army All-American Junior Combine. He impressed, earning Junior All-American honors from Rivals.com while making its initial list of Top 100 prospects in the Class of 2008.

After a stellar senior season in which he was selected for the Detroit Free Press Dream Team, Cissoko was named to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl East Team. When he arrived in San Antonio, he was somewhat surprised by the looks he got from other players. They were the same looks he'd seen many times before - looks like he didn't belong there.

By the time the game rolled around on Saturday, however, Cissoko had won over teammates with his personality and earned the respect of the wide receivers he had matched up with.

"I noticed a couple times guys would back off the line of scrimmage a bit because they didn't want to get physical with me," Cissoko said. "That felt good. All week in practice, other players would come up to me and tell me how surprised they were with what I could do. They took a look at me and didn't realize I had the tools to match up.

"I really enjoyed my time down there. It was a great challenge. Every day you were competing against the best players in the country and I knew if I could hold my own down there, against guys 6-4, then I can do it in college. I gained more confidence as the days went on. It was a good week for me. I left feeling really good about my abilities."

Cissoko recorded a team-high two pass break ups in the contest, but he also allowed a pair of touchdown passes. Wilcher doesn't fault his star for getting beat, though he jokingly harasses him about it.

"He got burned for a few touchdowns because he got caught in zone coverage not knowing where to go," Wilcher said. "He doesn't play zone for us so that's something he's going to have to learn. He called me up and was all upset about it. He wants to be in man-to-man. He wants to be responsible for the guy opposite him and not a certain space. He's just a competitor that wants to win every one-on-one battle and usually does. Give him the opportunity and he's going to rise up."

Cissoko committed to Michigan because that's the place "every football player in this state wants to go to" and didn't waver much when Lloyd Carr retired, turning the program over to Rich Rodriguez. He briefly though about looking around, maybe revisiting the notion of Ohio State, but the mere thought of becoming a Buckeye sickened him.

"When you choose Michigan like I did last year, you become one of them and I just couldn't see myself anywhere else," Cissoko said. "Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State … you just don't think about those guys when you're a Michigan Man."

Cissoko had no reason to panic either. He hit it off immediately with Rodriguez and his assistants.

"They're hungry," he said. "You can see they want to win championships. That's why they came to Michigan … to go to BCS games and play for the national title. I'm fired up to play for them. What more can you ask than to play for a guy that is as hungry to win as you are."

In 2007, Michigan started true freshman Donovan Warren at cornerback but with Warren and fifth-year senior Morgan Trent returning to Ann Arbor in the fall, and senior Brandon Harrison locked in at the nickel back, there may not be the opportunity to compete for a significant role right away. Cissoko won't back down from competition, though. He's prepared to wrestle a chance at playing time out of a teammate's possession.

"I've been proving people wrong my entire career," Cissoko said. "Just give me a chance to show you what I can do, and I will."

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