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
”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
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
”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