ANN ARBOR, Mich. — This wasn’t supposed to be the way Denard Robinson’s story ended at Michigan.
After Robinson set an NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback as a sophomore, he was going to battle for a Heisman Trophy — possibly more than one — and end his career as one of the most-celebrated players ever in college football.
Instead, even as the program has jumped back to national relevance under Brady Hoke, Robinson finds himself going into his last game at Michigan in search of a way to get on the field.
After missing time with an elbow injury, Robinson returned to the team as a superback against Iowa and Ohio State. He was used as a run-only quarterback, a running back and a slot receiver.
That worked brilliantly against humble Iowa on Nov. 17, when he rushed for almost 100 yards and distracted the Hawkeyes defense on every play. But Hoke and Al Borges went away from the scheme against Ohio State, and Robinson was benched for most of the fourth quarter in a 26-21 loss on Nov. 24.
Robinson, however, isn’t the type of player to point fingers at his coaching staff.
“We just didn’t have enough plays in the second half for me to get on the field,” he said. “Our coaches were trying to win the game, and I’m going to support them no matter what they call.”
Robinson missed out on the chance to win the team MVP award three years in a row. Fellow captain Jordan Kovacs took the honor at Monday’s awards banquet, but Robinson’s not going to wallow in self-pity as he faces the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl.
“I’m going to spend these last weeks soaking all of this in,” he said. “This is going to be the last time I wear the winged helmet, and that’s very special to me. I’m going to enjoy every second of this.”
Even if his career didn’t have the spectacular finish that he and others might have hoped for, Robinson knows that he’s leaving with Michigan much stronger than when he was recruited by Rich Rodriguez.
“Our senior class is going to leave with our heads held high because it is all of us who turned this around, not just me,” Robinson said. “The fifth-year seniors had to go through a 3-9 season that I didn’t, but we were all here when it was tough, and now we’ve gotten ourselves closer to where we belong.
“This program is better now that it was when we got here, and that’s the most important thing.”
Robinson does regret not having won a Big Ten championship, but even now, he thinks it’s more important to get the younger players ready than to worry about failures.
“Obviously, we wanted to play in the Rose Bowl, but we’re going to make the most of the Outback Bowl,” he said. “We’ve told the guys what it was like to play in the Gator Bowl and play in the Sugar Bowl, and how much it hurt to lose the Gator, and how great it felt to come back and win the Sugar Bowl last year.
“They’ve all been told what it is like, and they will be ready.”
Robinson said he’s still not throwing well, and didn’t sound confident that he’d be back to 100 percent by the New Year’s Day matchup with South Carolina.
“I feel pretty good, but I can’t throw the ball the way I want to throw it,” he said. “I don’t know what needs to happen for me to fix that. I’ll just keep trying and keep getting treatment and see what happens.”
No matter what, the native Floridian expects to play a big role in Tampa.
“I’m going to be back home, and I hope my whole town comes out to support us,” Robinson said. “I’ll be out there at quarterback or running back or wide receiver or wherever Coach Hoke tells me to line up.
“I don’t care where it is. I’m going to be out there making plays.”
Robinson knows that, even before the elbow injury, his limited arm strength and accuracy were going to make it tough for him to be a full-time quarterback in the NFL. He doesn’t believe that means he can’t play on Sundays.
“I know that I can go out on a football field and make plays at any level,” he said. “If you can do that, they will find a way to get you out there. Teams don’t hide playmakers.”
Robinson discussed the NFL only briefly, focusing instead on the end of his college career. He likely won’t get the Hollywood ending but would like a good one.
“Every time you go out on the field, you want to compete and you want to win,” he said. “South Carolina is a great team, and it is an honor to play against the SEC in a bowl game.
“But we’ve already played the top-three teams in the country, so we know what it takes to play at that level. Winning this game would be a great way for our senior class to go out. That’s what I want.”