Denard Robinson poised for leadership role with Wolverines

He's on every watch list for the Heisman Trophy, he's poised to break NCAA records and he's on the cover of Sports Illustrated's College Football Preview. 

Yet Denard Robinson remains extremely grounded and humble as he prepares for one of the most highly-anticipated senior seasons in Michigan history.

"Growing up, that's a dream come true," said Robinson about seeing his face on the Sports Illustrated cover. "You think about yourself and you see all the guys who came before you. You say, ‘I want to be just like this person, I want to be just like that person,' and then you finally get the opportunity to be on Sports Illustrated. I want to thank God for that. That's great accomplishment and He blessed me with that."

The expectations of being the SI cover boy might weigh heavily on the average 21-year old college senior, but Robinson is far from average. He enters his senior season poised to break the all-time Michigan record for most yards gained in a career.

Chad Henne accounted for 9,300 yards of total offense from 2004-07 and Robinson is 1,140 yards away with 8,160.

He's also eighth on the school's all-time rushing list with 3.229 yards.  He is 1,811 yards shy of Mike Hart's record set in 2007.

The only Wolverines player to rush for more than 1,800 yards in a single season is Tim Biakabatuka, who ran for 1,818 in 1995. If Robinson has taught us anything in his two full seasons under center, it's to expect the unexpected.

"It's not me, it's just the team," said Robinson.  "I think if all 11 people are working together and we're connecting in all three phases, with the run game, the pass game and the play-action game, that's when things come together. 

"If we have success this season, that's when I'll be on the cover in January, or someone else will be on the cover on the team.  That comes with wins.  For me to be on the cover you gotta have wins.

"It's all about the team, that's my biggest thing.  Just the team, the team, the team."

Robinson's embrace of the long-standing Michigan credo shows how much he's enjoyed his time in Ann Arbor.  After Rich Rodriguez was fired after the 2010 season, many expected Robinson to depart as well, but he returned for his junior year with a new coaching staff on the way. 

Then some suggested he might pursue a career in the NFL after his junior season and Robinson again pledged his allegiance to the Wolverines, announcing his decision to return for a final campaign at quarterback. 

His teammates voted him co-captain of this year's squad last Sunday.

"It tells you about his maturation process and how he really has taken this team," said head coach Brady Hoke.  "He's really separated himself with his leadership, with his work ethic and with his message that he sends every day."

Robinson's skill set is unique and dangerous, but it poses challenges to an offensive coaching staff that has succeeded at the collegiate level using a pro-style attack.

"I think sometimes they just gotta say, 'Okay, this is what he's blessed with, let him use his talent sometimes,'" said Robinson.  "Sometimes they say, 'Allright, we gotta hold you back and you gotta do what we want you to do.'  Coach (Al) Borges always says you have to think like the offensive coordinator.  If the quarterback and the offensive coordinator are not on the same page, it's not going to be a successful offense.  So we have to be on the same page at all times."

Throughout his career in Ann Arbor, Robinson has posted phenomenal rushing numbers, but his struggles throwing the ball and poor decision making have been costly at times.  

Last season, he threw 15 interceptions, including a pick in the Wolverines loss to Michigan State that was returned for a game-sealing touchdown by the Spartans.

"Me throwing 15 interceptions is not acceptable as a quarterback. No quarterback should throw 15 interceptions in one season," said Robinson. "That's something I do have to work on. The offense that I was in last year, now I've got year two under my belt and it's like, 'Okay, now I can make the most of this situation now.

"I'm not a neophyte anymore.  I'm not a new person to this offense, so now that I know everything about the offense. I can actually read the defense and move forward into that and be able to hit the receivers out of breaks - timing.

"That's some things I didn't have last year that I have now."

Michigan's matchup with Alabama will air live this Saturday on WXYZ at 8pm.  Tune into Action News preceding the game for Tom Leyden's one-on-one interviews with Denard Robinson and Brady Hoke.

Follow Tom Leyden on Twitter @TomLeyden and Denard Robinson on Twitter @DenardX

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