- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- David Molk's father sprinted into the Lemont High School weight room, unable to contain his excitement from a phone call from a Northwestern assistant coach.
David Molk had been to football camps and had pushed himself in the weight room with strength coach John Coneset since Molk was a freshman. And this day it finally came -- even though Molk wasn't sure it would.
Northwestern, the Division I team closest to his suburban Chicago home, had offered the center his first scholarship.
"I really didn't think I would get anything out of it," said Molk, a fifth-year senior. "It's kind of funny. My first offer was Northwestern. I remember when they called my dad.
"He ran in and was like, 'Hey, Dave, you got an offer. You can go to college for free. It's Northwestern, too, which is great.' That's how I thought of it."
That Molk received his first college offer while in the Lemont weight room isn't coincidental. He practically lived there with Coneset, who worked at Valdosta State for Hal Mumme before moving to Lemont.
It was Coneset who pushed Molk from a pudgy freshman to the strongest football player the school had ever had. The strength coach, along with head coach Eric Michaelsen, stayed to help him lift one more set after all the other players had gone home.
And it was Coneset who muttered when Molk received that first offer, "It's about d---ed time someone figured it out."
Northwestern did first. Others, including Michigan, did later. However, had Molk stuck with his initial instincts, no one would have at all.
Football takes hold
David Molk quit football once.
He signed up in elementary school because he was bigger than most of his classmates and that's what big kids do -- play football. At his first practice, he ran into the team bully.
"He would cut people in line, spit, push people, stuff like that," Molk said. "I told my dad, 'You know, Dad, there's this kid, he's really mean, does all this, blah blah, blah.' My dad said, 'Dave, if he does anything to you, turn around and punch him.'
"So, next practice, he comes up behind me, spits on the back of my head. I turned around and beat the crap out of him until his stepdad came and pulled me off."
After that, Molk walked away. From the kid. From football until eighth grade. He preferred to play baseball. The incident left Molk with a bad feeling about the sport, so why bother.
Yet something -- still unclear now -- brought him back, and when he rediscovered the sport, he also found out he loved it.
What he liked the most: Hitting.
In order to hit hard, he had to be strong. At Lemont, Coneset taught him how to train if he wanted to play college football -- not that anyone thought that when Molk was a freshman.
"There was definitely no idea he'd be a Division I player," Michaelsen said.
Michaelsen moved Molk to varsity as a sophomore. Coneset pushed him more, although he couldn't keep up with his coach. By the end of Molk's junior year, he became the first player to be able to out-lift Coneset, who benched more than 400 pounds.
"He put up 280 pounds on the power clean like it was nothing," Coneset said. "So yeah, it was pretty impressive. We had a few guys like that, that were pretty strong that went on to play at various schools that were committed. But Dave was head and shoulders above all of them.
"He was a friggin' strong kid."
Coneset and Molk also combined on something else. They took highlights from Molk's past two seasons and put them together in a tape to send to college coaches. Someone, Coneset figured, would want this kid.
They showed it to Michaelsen and sent it to coaches.
"I fell in love with him," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, whose team will face Molk on Saturday. "No. 1, his demeanor, his attitude, he loved the game of football. Tireless worker and just spectacular as far as all the things off the field.
"You put on the tape and he plays the game the right way."
Fitzgerald saw quickness and balance, how his footwork had the potential to make him great. There was also something else -- something not every offensive lineman or player has.
Molk, if you got him angry enough, was nasty.
It was Molk's senior year and Lemont faced its rival, Oak Forest. Having already accepted a scholarship to Michigan, he was blocking for his team's best offensive player, Aaron Nagel, who was going to Notre Dame.
Nagel injured his knee, and both Michaelsen and Coneset recalled Oak Forest's fans and players cheering. That's all Molk needed.
His nasty side came out. Lemont won. Molk, Michaelsen said, had the best game of his career, taking on multiple defenders at a time.
The hours with Coneset paid off. Molk was stronger than almost any player he faced. It would help when he got to Michigan.
"He applies himself to beating the man in front of him," Coneset said. "Not just winning a couple of battles here and there, but really enjoying beating him to the point where it is 'No mas.' "
There is one thing Molk doesn't like to talk about: Injuries.
For two years, it was all he heard. After starting his redshirt freshman year -- he was named Michigan's best conditioned lineman in 2008 -- he was barely in the 2009 lineup. He injured his foot in the third game against Eastern Michigan and missed the next four.
Molk returned against Penn State and tore his knee on the first series. He had rehabbed with former strength coaches Mike Barwis and Dan Mozes once already on his foot. Fixing the knee actually helped the foot heal faster.
In Mozes, he had someone who understood working with him. Mozes won the 2006 Rimington Award, given to the nation's top center, at West Virginia. But a knee injury in his rookie year with the Minnesota Vikings essentially ended his career and put him in the Michigan weight room, pushing Molk like Coneset used to.
"He was a great person to talk to," Molk said. "Barwis was great and he, it's like he knew my body better than I did. It's kind of funny because they said six months and we'd kind of get going again.
"At five months, I was stronger than I ever was before. I credit all that to Mike. He pushed me where I needed to go."
Now Molk looks at the injuries as a minor annoyance. He came back in 2010 stronger -- although averse to answering questions about his knee and what it was like to miss time.
The injuries, particularly his knee, made him focus on what he'd do after football, even though the sports management major admits he doesn't know what that would be.
"It was kind of an eye-opening experience," Molk said. "It was something that I realized, 'This does end. I'm not invincible.' Actually, my grades did pick up a lot. Ever since that semester that I got hurt, I've had over a 3.2."
When Brady Hoke and Michigan's new coaching staff came in, that intelligence and strength would help.
Ready to hit
Al Borges is one of the most innovative offensive coordinators in football. He'll dig back 25 years sometimes -- as he did in developing the Denard Robinson-Devin Gardner diamond package Michigan used against Minnesota -- to find plays that might fit his schemes.
But the real key to any Borges innovation doesn't rest with the skill positions. He can draw and create and innovate all he wants. If no one can block for it, it will fail.
So it starts with Molk.
"It's very, very important," Borges said. "We're lucky, because we've got one."
This praise is a long way from the Lemont weight room, where a picture leans against the window facing out from Coneset's office. He has been meaning to hang it up, along with creating a weight room record board listing the top performers in school history.
The man who will eventually be at the top of the board when it is created is the same one in the picture, watching over the weight room in which he used to spend hours.
It is of Molk, in his Michigan jersey, walking up to the offensive line, ready to hit someone.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.