Denard set to speak up

CHICAGO -- The quiet man will step in front of a room full of people waiting on his every word and deliver a speech he couldn't have given or even imagined two years ago.

Denard Robinson will conquer a fear Friday afternoon in Chicago and it will have nothing to do with completing a pass, getting sacked or sprinting through defenders.

On Saturdays in the fall, Michigan's senior quarterback plays in front of 100,000 people and is calm. In front of around 2,000 people at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon on Friday, he'll be a little bit nervous.

Considering how far he has come, he isn't too worried. The fact he's giving the speech is evidence enough how much he has improved. Here's the thing: He actually asked to do it.

Robinson approached Michigan sports information director Justin Dickens earlier this year to submit his name for consideration to deliver the speech on behalf of the players at the luncheon. Dickens had Robinson think about it over the weekend, to realize how much work he'd have to put in.

A few days later, Robinson still wanted to.

"It's a fear I'm trying to get over, speaking in front of people," Robinson said. "I want to be able to do it. I've always been scared to really talk to people. I'm not a person that wanted to talk to anybody random or just in general.

"My freshman and sophomore year, I was never really a media guy or a guy you could pull a lot out of. I wouldn't talk as much, I'd two-word you. Now, I'm trying to elaborate on things."

Robinson's speech is about choices. The choices he made so he could end up at Michigan, win the starting quarterback job and end up speaking on behalf of his peers in front of the rest of the leaders in the Big Ten Conference.

It is a speech he had to work hard at, constantly refining his words with his brother, Daniel, his girlfriend and Dickens, searching for his message and cultivating his public persona. Michigan set up a dry speaking run, having Robinson speak to an auditorium of children in New York last month in preparation for Friday.

"He put a lot into it," Dickens said. "We'd meet just to see how he was progressing and we'd get him in front of a camera and go through it. He hadn't done it like this before."

Robinson noticed how many people actually cared about what he had to say over the past year, a foreign concept to the reserved kid. He had the adulation of a fan base, his face plastered all across the country, but no one knew much about him.

That, he decided, had to change. He decided it was time to grow up.

"Being around a lot of people, as I kept meeting more people, I saw they clinged to the way I acted, the way I talked," Robinson said. "I'm like, 'All right.' I'm not a bad dude. Now, I have the confidence and that support behind me and people actually like me and like my personality and that I'm humble."

Part of making Robinson a better speaker was convincing him to open up about himself. This was more difficult than one would imagine. Robinson has long been a private person, shying away from questions about how he grew up in Deerfield Beach, Fla., and about his family.

He never felt comfortable with himself to share his story. To do this, he had to reveal part of himself to the rest of the world.

"This will probably be the most open I've been," Robinson said. "Probably. I've never been open to the point where I told you where I came from, those situations."

He didn't want to go into any more detail because he also wanted to leave an element of surprise. He wanted to share his story himself in his speech, one as of Thursday afternoon he had almost completely memorized.

On Thursday afternoon, his teammates, Taylor Lewan and Jordan Kovacs, hadn't heard it. Two years ago, they never could have imagined Robinson stepping in front of friends to say more than a handful of words about anything, let alone a crowd of people.

Now, it is part of his maturation.

"He's one of those guys that doesn't like much attention and you know how Denard is, he's not big on speaking," Kovacs said. "If it were up to him, he would never come to Big Ten media day or anything. It's going to be a different situation for him but one he'll really thrive in.

"I look forward to it. He'll be pretty passionate and I think he's got a good message."

It is a message few have heard, including his head coach, Brady Hoke, who said he purposely chose not to hear Robinson's speech before he delivers it Friday. He knows how hard Robinson worked on the speech and wanted to be surprised by its contents.

Since Hoke was hired, he strived to help Robinson mature in every way, both on the field and off. The on-field growth came in his passing ability, footwork and leadership. The off-field growth will finally show.

Denard Robinson will have a breakthrough Friday. The once-quiet man will start to talk and who knows when he'll stop.

"Last year I kind of cracked open the egg. I didn't cook it," Robinson said. "Now, I'm actually trying to cook it and put some flavor on it. Right now, just trying to get better and let people know who I am.

"Let everybody in and let them know what they see is what they get."