'Forever a Chip': Mike Danna fulfills lifelong dream of playing for Michigan, treasures time at CMU
Mike Danna's recruitment was picking up steam upon his senior year at Warren De La Salle High School. Then, in the first week of the 2014 season, he broke his leg.
Due to the injury, many Power Five schools with serious interest pumped the brakes. Central Michigan, the only school to offer, remained true to the previous commitment that Danna made on June 10, 2014.
Growing up less than an hour away from Ann Arbor, Danna's childhood dream was to play football for the University of Michigan.
Both his parents rooted for Michigan. For a short moment in his life, Danna was a Michigan State fan, but he eventually became a faithful fan of the Wolverines.
Unfortunately, Michigan was never an option for Danna out of high school.
Instead, he established himself in Mount Pleasant – playing for Central Michigan University.
"All in all, I wouldn't regret anything," Danna said. "It was truly a blessing and honor to be here. I'll never forget the memories and relationships I made."
Danna had an astonishing 2018 campaign, featuring 65 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two touchdowns for the Chippewas.
He was a member of the All-Mid-American Conference First Team defense and a Pro Football Focus All-American. Two months after the season concluded, Danna also became a member of the new NCAA transfer portal.
Entering his name in the transfer portal eventually conducted Danna to make the move from CMU to Michigan on Feb. 19. Once he graduates at the end of the semester, Danna will be immediately eligible to play in the 2019 season as a graduate transfer.
"It's crazy that I'm able to live out this dream," Danna said. "I love CMU to death, but there comes a point in time when you have to do things for your career, life and family."
Entering the portal, gauging interest
After jumping in the transfer portal in late January, Danna began hearing from programs across the country. Off the top of his head – Michigan, UCLA, Michigan State, Iowa, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Florida and Pittsburgh.
His first visit was to Michigan from Feb. 1-3. It was there he had the chance to sit down with coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Don Brown.
Danna also spoke with multiple defensive linemen and linebackers from the Wolverines. Those players discussed the game plan going onward after losing to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Florida in 2018.
"We're taking this season and attacking it with a full head of steam," Danna remembers one player telling him. "We're chasing the goal to win the national championship. We got a lot of work to do."
The following weekend, from Feb. 8-10, Danna went out to UCLA. It was after the visit to see the Bruins that Danna wholeheartedly knew Michigan was his home.
"The whole recruiting thing was a lot," Danna said. "I had different coaches blowing up my phone all day, every day. I just wanted to go to my home and get the ball rolling."
Harbaugh was blunt with Danna, and the message was clear – playing time is earned, not given.
And that's how Danna likes it.
"Nothing's going to be handed to me, and that's all I'm about," Danna said. "I'm about earning everything. I'm all about letting my hard work speak."
Danna's father, Vaughn Danna, instilled in him the mentality that nothing comes easy. Vaughn, 57, taught his son to fight until he can't wage war anymore, thus helping him overcome challenges in life.
The passed down intellect is something Danna decided he will bring Michigan and carry with him for the rest of time.
Following the 2018 season, Michigan lost its top two defensive ends in Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Danna said he's excited to work with Brown and defensive line coach Shaun Nua to help fill the void.
"It's an honor to be in his system," Danna said of Brown. "We were able to build a solid relationship when I came down. We watched film, broke down how he wants to use me, what I can do for the team and what can happen if we all are a family."
Running back Tru Wilson, an old teammate of Danna's at De La Salle, currently plays for the Wolverines. Danna is also close with Michigan fullback Jared Wangler, another fellow De La Salle graduate.
"They were talking with me throughout the process and guiding me," Danna said. "If I needed to know anything about Michigan, they helped me.
"Really, I'm happy to reunite. It's kind of like we're back in high school."
'Forever a Chip'
Down 21-7 at halftime against Western Michigan in 2017, quarterback Shane Morris, a former De La Salle and Michigan graduate, helped the Chippewas rally back. He threw a game-winning 77-yard touchdown pass to Corey Willis to bring the Victory Cannon Trophy back to Mount Pleasant.
While Morris was throwing touchdowns, Danna was shutting down Western Michigan's offense in the second half. When time ran out, he celebrated on the field with his team at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo.
It was Danna's favorite memory at CMU.
"You can't beat that," Danna said. "We fought back and that was the best team experience I've ever been a part of. Beating those Western boys is always a beautiful memory."
Danna took a redshirt in 2015 and found consistent playing time throughout the next three seasons. He finished his CMU career with 151 tackles, 27.5 tackles for a loss, 15 sacks, one pass defended, four forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.
The next step in Danna's journey is to the Big House, taking the gridiron in front of 100,000-plus fans every weekend. He said his decision was ultimately made to help accomplish his goal of playing in the National Football League.
"Obviously, Michigan gives that platform to help me be where I want to be at," Danna said. "I'm going to a bigger platform to get to a bigger place, it goes hand-in-hand."
When asked about his feelings on Ohio State, Danna kept it short and simple.
"I'll see them in the fall."