He could have been the big man on campus.
First liner. Scoring leader. A star of the division. A big fish in the NCAA's biggest hockey pond.
That he gave it up to, in all likelihood, ride buses in American Hockey League anonymity should give you some idea of how badly forward Andrew Cogliano wants to be an Edmonton Oiler one day.
"It was a tough decision. I worked a lot of years to go to Michigan," said Edmonton's first pick (25th overall) in the 2005 Entry Draft, who left the Wolverines two years early to get a head start on his pro career.
"It was a big experience for me and a big step in my life. I just figured it was time for me to go. I had a good season last year and two good world juniors. So I just thought it was right for me, a time to step up.
"Edmonton came at me strong, with a good contract and high hopes for me. You can't really turn your back on something like that and ignore how they're coming at you and how they want you. They wanted me to come out, so I trusted them and trusted their judgment."
Cogliano, who was eighth in NCAA scoring last year with 24 goals and 26 assists in 38 games, took the first step on the long road to becoming an NHLer yesterday morning, hitting the ice with 10 other Oilers prospects for the first day of their annual development camp.
"It's just good to come out here and get to know the guys, get to know management and get a feel of what it'll be like at training camp," he said.
Leaving Michigan, and all the trappings that come with being a top line player there, wasn't easy, but he's sure it'll be worth it in the end.
"I started my first year on the third line, worked up to the second, so this was my year to be on the first line and an assistant captain, but I just thought it was my time to leave. It's time for me to start moving on and be a pro."
The Oilers think he isn't very far away.
"There wasn't a lot more he could get out of the college game, in our minds," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "He's accomplished a lot of the things you need to do to position yourself where you can compete for a job.
"He has a lot of experience. I'm sure he's feeling like he's ready to play. We're going to give him a look, that's for sure."
He'll likely end up in Edmonton's AHL affiliate in Springfield, but MacTavish sees enough talent and spirit in the five-foot-10, 185-pounder to think he might not finish the season there.
"We think he's ready to make that jump. Whether it's the NHL or the AHL depends on what he does through training camp. But we think if he has to go to the AHL, he's a player who can come in and help us halfway through."
Cogliano is ready to do whatever it takes. If not, he'd have been content with big fish status in the NCAA.
"I'm coming to try to make the team, but you have to be realistic - the AHL might be a reality for me. I'll just have to make the best of it.
"I'm going to do all I can this summer to make the team.
"If I do, it's something special, if not, then I have to work my way up."