The duel for Denard
Wolverines, Gators battled nearby UCF for prospect who wanted to play QB
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Denard Robinson will leave Michigan next week as one of the most dynamic players in school history. He set school and conference quarterback rushing records and dazzled defenders with his agility and speed.
His route to the school, though, mirrored some of the same questions in his college career.
"I was told I couldn't play college football. I was told I couldn't play college quarterback," Robinson said at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon in July. "I was told I was too short. I was told I couldn't make it at a school like Michigan."
He did, but his path to being a Michigan commit was a long and winding one.
Part I: Robinson becomes a prospect
After throwing for 1,961 yards and rushing for 428 more along with 19 total touchdowns his junior season, colleges started to notice the quarterback at Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High School.
The biggest question, and it has dogged Robinson throughout his high school and college career, was where best to use him. Was he a quarterback? A running back/wide receiver? A defensive back?
Tony Gibson, then-Michigan defensive backs coach: They sent me down because everybody was kind of recruiting him as a corner, so I went down by myself the first time and I was out looking at DBs and they said there was a good DB out there who could run and stuff.
Denard Robinson (in the book "Three and Out"): Scott Shafer offered me as a defensive back.
Taylor: The kid just really grew from that sophomore year to junior year. The speed alone and to see the body catch up to his speed was, to use his speed and agility, some of the things he did with his feet were ridiculous.
Gibson: When I saw him running around and doing those things, running the option, running the zone read, the stuff he was doing at quarterback, I thought, 'Man, this kid is the closest thing to Pat White that I've seen.'
Rod Smith, then-Michigan quarterbacks coach: What happened was basically I saw him. Then we were recruiting some quarterbacks and he was in the mix. We got a couple of commitments from other guys so not that we got off him, but we slowed our recruiting down.
Taylor: Denard wanted to stay in Florida and UF was his No. 1 choice in the beginning.
Robinson to the Gainesville Sun on July 18, 2008): I like the coaches here [at Florida] a lot. They are great. I love the facility, too.
Part II: Robinson decides to be a quarterback
In late April 2008, Michigan had picked up commitments from two QBs -- Kevin Newsome from Chesapeake, Va., and Shavodrick Beaver from Wichita Falls, Texas. Rich Rodriguez and his staff knew they needed to find a quarterback to fit the spread zone read option system they were bringing to Ann Arbor.
By August 2008, Newsome decommitted and Michigan replaced him with a quarterback from California, Tate Forcier. Around the same time, Robinson's recruitment began to pick up as he told Taylor he wanted to play quarterback in college.
Taylor: We discussed he was going to have some coaches coming in here who wanted him to play DB and play receiver and get ready for that. This is what I did. I pushed the kid at what he wants to play. Denard was so very adamant that, 'Coach, I want to play quarterback.' I said, 'If that's what you want, all the coaches who come in to talk to me, I'll tell them if you're going to recruit him as a DB, don't do it.' I did that to a couple of schools.
Robinson (in "Three and Out"): That was my goal, to play quarterback.
Vic Koenning, then-Kansas State defensive coordinator (hired in December 2008): He was a guy who was never a question that I can recall. It was, hey, you're going to be a quarterback and we're going to get you the ball as many times as we can. I knew Rich [Rodriguez] was in the process of looking at that kind of guy at Michigan also.
Michigan was about to have another spot in its class open up when Beaver decommitted in December 2008.
Beaver (to the Tulsa World on Dec. 19, 2008): It's about who you're going to be with over the next four years. I was impressed with how (the Tulsa coaches) carried themselves. They told me everything that was offered, and everything made sense.
Smith: When Shavodrick backed out, we said, 'OK, we have to go find another one.' We looked at who we liked and Denard was always rated high on the list. So we had Gibby go back and see if he would be interested. Coach Gibson was going down to see Adrian Witty at the time, so he wrapped up two birds with one stone at the same school. When Witty was interested and Denard was interested, Gibby was recruiting the school so that's how Gibby ended up recruiting him.
Taylor: I can still picture that day Gibby made the call to either Coach Smith or coach [Calvin] Magee, that they needed to recruit this kid as a quarterback. I remember that day on the practice field. He was standing on the sidelines and said he had to step away and make this phone call. I don't know why, but I remember it. Maybe because I know how much Denard wanted to play quarterback in college and not play DB or wide receiver.
Rodriguez: They called me up and said, 'Coach, this guy is better in person than he is on film.'
Smith: By it being so late [in the process] and he had not yet committed to anybody, that gave you a little bit of hope that, hey, he's the one that is telling us that I'd be interested if it is at quarterback, that gave us hope it could work out. If it had been a situation where a lot of teams had been recruiting him as a quarterback, per se, some bigger schools, that would have been tough.
Robinson (to the Miami Herald on Feb. 3, 2009): I decided to take my time to make the decision. I don't regret it. I didn't want to make a quick decision and make a mistake.
Part III: Robinson takes official visits
Robinson took official visits to Georgia, Florida, Kansas State, UCF and Michigan. Those would be his final five, although Tennessee entered the picture late, and not all of those schools recruited him as a quarterback the entire time.
Georgia would be Robinson's only official visit during his football season. In December, Robinson visited Florida, which was about to win its second national championship in three seasons.
The rest of Robinson's visits came after the football season, which presented another set of problems for the Wolverines and the Wildcats.
Greg Mathews, former Michigan wide receiver and Robinson's host on his official visit: I hosted a lot of guys. It was just another recruit at the time. Didn't know he would be a star, aside from watching his highlight tape, watching him scramble back 30 yards and end up scoring.
Rodriguez: There was a little bit of snow on Michigan Stadium. I remember our concern was he's from Florida, it's cold. I know he was kind of excited to see snow for the first time. I dropped down and said, 'This is what they do when you have time. Let's make a snow angel.' So we dropped down and made snow angels together and threw snowballs at each other and had a little fun. Had a good time with that, so it was like, 'Ahh, the weather will be OK.'
Smith: He mainly wanted to know, 'Am I going to play quarterback, or is this a deal where I'm going to play quarterback sometimes and play a different position?' We told him, 'This is a full-time deal. We want the ball in your hands every snap and run our offense.' Once we convinced him of that and showed him how we would use him and play to his strengths, that kind of sold him on the fact that these guys are being up front and honest with me. Then you create the bonds you do with guys on the visits.
Mathews: He came with his teammate, Adrian Witty. Friday night, I took him out, man, we had fun. It was a good time. Took him out to some parties, showed them a good time.
Koenning: At that time there weren't the direct flights into Manhattan from Dallas. What we had to do was we brought the guys into Kansas City after dark and then put them on a bus and played movies and kept them distracted, so they didn't look out the window and got them over to Manhattan.
Robinson (to the Herald on 2/3/09): It was in the 20s at Michigan and it was in the 20s when I went to K-State. But it wasn't that bad. The cold weather is not an issue.
Part IV: The run-up to signing day
In the final month of recruiting, Florida received some interesting news. After winning the national championship, Tim Tebow decided to return to Gainesville, Fla., for his senior year.
Robinson (to the Miami Herald on 2/3/09): [Meyer] said I could share time at quarterback with Tebow the way they did it when Tebow was a freshman and he shared time with Chris Leak.
Rodriguez: We felt we were going to be right up in there, but we knew that Florida was going to give us a battle going all the way until signing day. They have a great program and were closer to home.
Robinson (in "Three and Out"): I wasn't coming to Michigan to play corner.
Robinson decided he wanted to wait until signing day to make a decision, which meant schools would be recruiting him all the way until the end, both with phone calls and in-home visits.
Robinson (in a speech at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon): I was so self-conscious about the area I grew up in that I used to hold recruiting visits at my grandparents' house.
Koenning: I do remember vividly the home visit. We walked up to the house and there were a couple of iguanas up there sunning themselves that were three or four feet long. Kind of sitting on the edge of the roof.
The final week of his recruitment, the Miami Herald reported he had Florida and Tennessee in his home that Tuesday, Georgia, Auburn and Central Florida that Wednesday and Thursday and then the entire Michigan offensive coaching staff that Saturday -- the final day coaches could be on the road.
Gibson: We went to the home just about every week, we met with the grandparents, the dad. The whole family is close. He has sisters and brothers and they were very involved with it all.
Rodriguez: They were just good people. ... You could tell how close the family was, first off, and how proud they were of Denard. That's the thing that struck me, how they were really, really proud of him, and they should have been.
Gibson: The last time we went in, I know we took a private plane and took our whole offensive staff except for our offensive line coach, everybody else was down there. Myself, Coach [Fred] Jackson, Coach Smith, Coach Magee, Coach [Tony] Dews. I was the only defensive guy because I was recruiting him. We took everybody in on the last one. It was the last day, a Saturday, and after that it was a dead period.
Robinson (to the Miami Herald on Feb. 4, 2009): Every time they visited me, they brought all their coaches. It's about feeling comfortable and feeling like you belong. That's the way they made me feel. I know they will take care of me when I get there.
Gibson: Everybody felt that we were in this thing, we have a great shot and did all we could do. Now, it's up to him and his family.
Part V: Signing day
Robinson informed Taylor of his college decision a couple of days before signing day but kept it a secret from everybody else for a special ceremony. Wearing his red and gold letterman's jacket along with a black shirt and red-and-black striped tie, Robinson, along with his close friend Witty, would announce their choices.
The final schools involved with Robinson still are a source of some confusion.
Taylor: It was really close down to the wire between UCF and Michigan. Denard is a really smart kid and Coach Godsey was a great recruiter and had a demeanor like myself. Denard really wanted to be around the coaches that he liked, not just go somewhere to play. I think it started to come down toward the end toward Michigan because it's the Big Ten, too.
Robinson (to AnnArbor.com on 7/27/12): It was between Michigan and Florida.
Taylor: [Robinson] told me during the week that he was leaning toward Michigan and was going to sign with Michigan.
Robinson (to the Miami Herald on 2/4/09): We've known for the longest. I just wanted to see how things played out with other schools and listen to what they had to say. But I felt right about Michigan from the beginning.
Taylor: Mom needed a little convincing. It was hard, really hard for her. Denard, I remember sitting there, in the media center in the back room, he's like, 'You've got to trust me, Mom, everything is going to be OK.' Michigan is far away. There was a little tension on signing day.
Rodriguez: We were really excited because we were starting all over with the quarterback situation at Michigan. You build your offense around your quarterback. Tate had just came in and we had to get another quarterback or two in that fall class, somebody we felt could come in and compete.
Gibson: Coach Taylor, he called me up [the morning of signing day] and he messed with me a little bit. He said, 'Hey man, I don't think Denard is going to come.' I was like, 'What?' Then he started laughing.
Taylor: I was kidding with them. They always asked, through the whole process of recruiting, what do you think? What do you think? I'm telling you, it was very close. Very close.
Robinson (at his announcement, according to the Miami Herald): We're going to Michigan.
Smith: When we got Denard we were extremely happy because we thought we had two really good quarterbacks in Denard and Tate. We thought we could win the Big Ten championship with those guys.
Robinson (to the Miami Herald on 2/4/09): I want to be the face of Michigan.
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