Sept. 22, 2016
Every Wednesday during the 2016-17 academic year, MGoBlue.com will highlight a different student-athlete and their academic path. These are our Scholar Stories:
By Steve Kornacki
Michael Jocz is making a difference on and off the football field at the University of Michigan.
Jocz made a big play in Saturday's (Sept. 17) comeback win over Colorado and is putting his mechanical engineering degree to use in research for safer football helmets. He's also fascinated by Mcity, the University's North Campus Research Complex for autonomous or driverless vehicles.
Wolverine head coach Jim Harbaugh lit up when Jocz's accomplishments were mentioned.
"He had his first catch last week," Harbaugh said of his tight end and special teams standout. "It was good to see. And he had a blocked punt this week that resulted in a touchdown. That was great to see. He's consistently been, for the second year in a row, the smartest player on the team in terms of grade-point average.
"He's already graduated in mechanical engineering, and he's on track to do his master's in one year instead of the normal two. He's really good at figuring things out, like you'd expect from a mechanical engineer. He's a great teammate, and I'm really happy for his on-field success now."
His off-field success, which includes a 3.97 grade-point average, came first for the fifth-year senior from Novi (Michigan) High.
Jocz said: "Me and one of my roommates, Ben Pliska, who is also on the team (as an offensive lineman), both are mechanical engineers and did an internship this summer with some professors in mechanical engineering on a new football helmet design for concussion prevention.
"They are in the (NFL) Head Health Challenge. So, we got a little taste of doing some research on helmet designs to combine our two passions of mechanical engineering and football and give back to the sport."
Jocz and Pliska aided their professors on research for the creation of safer football helmets.
"We did a lot of baseline testing," said Jocz. "We built a drop tower to test a helmet on a crash-test dummy with sensors in the head and set up the data acquisition for the computer. Then we tested all the helmets and compared them in lab experiments: with foam or without foam, which combinations work best.
"It was a cool experience to have in the summer and to continue."
The University of Michigan is at the forefront of driverless vehicles with its 32-acre Mcity -- which includes five-lane miles of roads with intersections, traffic signals and a simulated city around it. That's also of great interest to Jocz.
"All the autonomous cars are going around, and (Michigan does) a lot of testing with that," said Jocz, "and Google and the big car manufacturers are working toward that. You don't know how much goes into driverless cars, and trying to work on something that complicated would be pretty cool to make a contribution to.
"I would like to stay around here after I graduate, and so it will probably be something automotive. I'm looking to get into the autonomous vehicles. It's a big buzz field right now. So, Google is putting a research-and-development facility in Novi, where I'm from, and that would be cool."
Jocz, whose father also is Michigan graduate and a mechanical engineer for the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, greatly impacted his son's career path.
"Because my dad was a mechanical engineer at Ford I got experience in solving problems," said Jocz, a fifth-generation Michigan graduate in a family with 17 members who earned degrees from the school. "We worked on problems together, and that drove me to engineering and, specifically, mechanical."
Jocz was asked about handling the demands of playing for the No. 4 team in the nation and the intense studying required in his chosen field.
"Time management is key," said Jocz. "But if I didn't have football, I don't think I would've been as efficient with my time. Football has all the resources set up for me at the (Stephen M. Ross) Academic Center, and I just had to buckle down and work around football as best as I could and also get to professors during office hours to get questions answered.
"There's not a lot of free time. So, when I travel with the team, I'm studying in hotel rooms. It's definitely a challenge -- especially being at a top university with a top football program. But there's no place else I'd rather be."
Jocz plays on the point-after kick and field goal kick units and also has a 27-yard punt return and 12-yard reception this season.
"I've been a role player here," said Jocz, 6-foot-4 and 239 pounds, "and work as a reserve tight end, on the scout team or whatever. My role has changed enough that I contribute on the field, but I just do whatever the coaches want me to do."
He said Wolverine tight ends and special teams coach Jay Harbaugh has made a big impact on him by "expanding my football knowledge" and improving his technique.
Jocz came to Michigan as a preferred walk-on player.
"My high school offensive coordinator, Chris Hare, ran into (former Wolverines offensive coordinator) Al Borges and said I wanted to walk on," said Jocz. "He gave him my film, and they invited me onto the team.
"I knew I wanted to come here since I was little and was excited."
Is there a connection between mechanical engineering and football?
"Definitely in the logical thinking in terms of thinking about play assignments," said Jocz. "But in football there's a little more creativity, whereas in engineering there's a process you have to go through."
It's been a big year for Jocz. He was engaged in January to Natalie Paul, whom he has dated since high school. She graduated from Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, where she played field hockey.
The future is bright for Michael Jocz in every way.