Michigan’s Robinson can count Obama among his fans

Denard Robinson was known by a relative few outside of Florida

when he arrived in Ann Arbor three years ago.

Now, it would be difficult to find a sports fan who doesn’t

recognize Michigan’s star quarterback, and many – including

President Barack Obama and LeBron James – count themselves as fans

of the electric athlete with an infectious smile, flowing

dreadlocks and untied cleats.

And now, Shoelace is a senior.

The Wolverines are ranked No. 8 in The Associated Press’

preseason college football poll.

Robinson has captivated the masses as one of college football’s

most exciting players for three years now, using sprinter’s speed

and running back-like vision to break records and rivet viewers.

Along the way, he has gotten more comfortable as a leader.

Robinson spoke on behalf of Big Ten players at the conference’s

kickoff luncheon this summer, and he cracked at least one joke at

Michigan’s media day when comparing his speed to the fastest person

on the planet.

”I think I’d get Usain Bolt in a 40-yard dash,” Robinson said

with a grin. ”I watched his start. I think I’d get him.”

Obama gave Robinson a shout-out from in front of a crowd last

winter when he visited Ann Arbor and granted him a one-on-one

audience for a couple minutes.

”I talked to him and got a picture with him,” Robinson

recalled. ”He told me that we should be a team to be reckoned with

we’ve got to make the most of it.”

Robinson didn’t, or didn’t want to, understand, why so many

people wanted to talk to him two years ago as a sophomore when he

became the first NCAA player to pass for 2,500 yards and run for

1,500 in a season. He said back then that he didn’t have cable,

making it easy to avoid watching highlights of himself on ESPN, and

shunned social networking for a while. Eventually, Robinson joined

his teammates on Twitter and learned a lesson when someone else

posted messages.

”Even when my Twitter account was hacked – front-page news – I

turned it into a positive,” he said.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke has stressed the importance of

Robinson becoming more of a leader on and off the field, when no

one is watching and in front of reporters.

A bit reluctantly, Robinson has done it.

”I get a little comfortable with it, but still I would rather

be behind the scenes and be with my teammates,” he said. ”I would

personally rather just be hanging out with the fellas.”

Robinson regards himself as just one of the guys, not a big man

on campus, keeping the humble ways he had growing up with six

brothers and one sister in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

”He doesn’t ever big-time anybody,” teammate Taylor Lewan

said. ”He’s really become a huge leader with his words and

actions. Every time I come in, he’s here working on his steps and

timing with the receivers. If he’s not doing that, he’s watching

film. If he’s not doing that, he’s encouraging teammates to do the

right thing.”

Robinson has made two big decisions the past two offseasons and

both have benefited college football’s winningest program.

He turned down opportunities to transfer two years ago when Rich

Rodriguez, whose personality and spread offense drew Robinson to

Michigan, was fired. Last winter, he chose to stay in school so he

could become the first in his family to graduate from college and

to improve his chances of being a quarterback in the NFL.

Robinson dodges any questions about what he calls, ”the next

level.” He is focusing on getting himself and his teammates ready

for opening the season Sept. 1 in Cowboys Stadium against defending

national champion Alabama. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban has tried

to deflect questions about the Wolverines, saying it’s too early to

talk about them – but did acknowledge their quarterback is

something special.

”Denard Robinson is one of the most explosive players in

college football,” Saban said. ”Their offense really is geared to

his talent, his ability. It’s going to be very challenging for us

when we start getting ready to play Michigan to be able to come up

with a system and a scheme and enough discipline for our guys to

play things the way they need to play them to contain this


Good teams, though, have figured out a way to slow down Robinson

by forcing him to rely on his inconsistent arm and surrounding him

well enough to limit big plays with his feet.

Robinson has thrown almost as many interceptions (eight) as

touchdowns (10) in eight losses the past two years. In the team’s

two setbacks last season, to Michigan State and Iowa, he ran for

fewer than 100 yards combined on 30 carries in those games.

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges has tried to get

Robinson to ”calm down his feet” in the pocket, to avoid throwing

off his back foot and to settle for routine plays instead of trying

to score on every pass or run. Going under center regularly for a

second straight year, after being in the shotgun in Rodriguez’s

offense, and getting another year to learn what Borges wants him to

do in his hybrid of a pro-style offense and a spread has


”Year Two in the offense, I’m making some growth and I’m trying

to get better every day,” Robinson said. ”I always feel like I

have room to improve.”

Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/larrylage

AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to

this report.