Next Man Up: Michigan Football Players Who Could Fill Rod Moore’s Shoes

Zeke Berry and Brandyn Hillman will be called on by Michigan football to solidify one of the best defenses in the Big Ten without Rod Moore.

2024 CFP National Championship - Michigan v Washington
2024 CFP National Championship - Michigan v Washington / Alika Jenner/GettyImages
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The last thing that any fan wants to read about is injuries to star players before the whistle has blown on a regular season game. That’s why the news about Michigan football safety Rod Moore was so devastating this past week.

Michigan’s defense is the unit with the fewest question marks next season and the most impact players returning. It is the defense that the Wolverines will once again lean on while the offense finds its identity at the quarterback position and on the offensive line.

For reasons others have articulated, Rod Moore was going to be crucial to that game plan. It was more than the 38 tackles and 2 interceptions, it was the leadership and big game experience that he brought to the table for a team looking to keep the winning momentum going as the Big Ten expands and Sherrone Moore begins his tenure as the Wolverines’ head coach. With so many elite players graduating and/or moving on to the NFL, Michigan football needed Moore to step in and take the reigns of this defense just like Sainristil and others did before him.

Now, though, it will be two young Michigan men who will be asked to fill the void left by Rod Moore. 

Zeke Berry

Zeke Berry graduated from De La Salle High School in 2022 and was a four-star prospect as rated by 247 Sports as well as ESPN. Berry was the number 181 overall player nationally, the number 14 safety and the number 12 player in the state of California. Last year he played in 11 games but mostly on special teams. He was a very highly regarded recruit with offers from several powerhouse programs, and so the hope is that he can play to that potential in 2024, as he will now have his chance. 

Brandyn Hillman

Hillman was also a four-star prospect and was the No. 214 overall player nationally, the No. 9 athlete and the No. 5 player in the state of Virginia. He was a dynamic athlete in high school playing quarterback, defensive back, and even punter. He did not record significant playing time for the Wolverines last year but did see action at defensive back and on special teams. 

The Future of the Position 

It’s impossible to have any discussion about Moore’s injury without mentioning the transfer of Keon Sabb and how that decision further complicates this situation. Sabb was another experienced defender who Michigan football could have relied on to bolster and lead the secondary in Moore’s absence.

That ship has sailed, however, and it’s now left to Berry or Hillman to play a starting role for the Michigan football defense next year. Transfers happen and are a reality of this era of college football, but it’s unfortunate that Sabb’s departure happened when it did, just before Moore’s unforeseen injury.

There’s no way to sugarcoat the situation here. Berry and Hillman have only a handful of tackles and little playing time. It’s next to impossible for those outside of the program to accurately predict how they will impact games next year. The hope is that Michigan football will do what they always do: focus fundamentals and develop players who buy into the Michigan method and are in it for the long haul. Both young men will benefit from being on the defensive with several leaders who can take more than their share of the load with Moore out. 

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Kenneth Grant and Mason Graham are going to rush the passer with a ferocity we’ve come to expect from Wolverines on the defensive line. Will Johnson is going to lock down the opposing team’s best receivers. Whether it’s Berry or Hillman, they are not going to be on an island, they have help and others to lead them, both on the field and on the sidelines. They will be put in a position to succeed and it’s up to them to seize that opportunity.