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Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Hemingway completes final chapter

By Michael Rothstein
WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Junior Hemingway left South Carolina to play at Michigan he figured on joining the litany of wide receivers who used the school to springboard to NFL success.

Maybe that still awaits the fifth-year senior. But what has transpired in his career as a Wolverine hardly has gone as planned. Even he admits that.

Junior Hemingway
A lot happened in the five years Junior Hemingway spent in Ann Arbor, but the receiver sees everything in a positive light.
"I would probably say it hasn't been a career that you would think for it to be, due to some circumstances and due to things happening," Hemingway said. "I'm just doing my job and making it as much of a positive career as I could."

Hemingway always tried to spin things positively, even if they didn't appear that way. He always has been someone who tried to stay happy and enjoy himself, no matter the circumstances.

Even if he barely spoke on the first night of his official visit to Michigan, former wide receiver Greg Mathews said. Or if, when he first came to the school, teammates-turned-friends such as former linebacker/safety Stevie Brown could barely understand what he was saying.

On a 2007 team with future NFL wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington, he still played. He caught only four passes, but it became clear to those playing with him he had massive potential, both because of his ability to leap over defensive backs for jump balls and because of the 6-foot-1, 222-pound frame that led Brown to call him "Fatboy" for the past few years.

Though he played little behind the two future NFL players, he made plays as a freshman in practice and was thought to have enough of a future that Michigan used him throughout the season.

"Almost every day in practice I saw him go up and get balls and make moves after the catch and separate himself," Brown said. "Things that he did on a daily basis in practice."

Things were lining up for him to accomplish what he wanted to do when he arrived at Michigan.

"I had goals, like being one of the best receivers in Michigan history," Hemingway said. "Things like that. But I look at it as you never know what could happen in that time frame, so I just looked forward, kept working, kept progressing and kept doing things for the team."

Those twists kept coming. Lloyd Carr retired after Hemingway's freshman season and Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez. The new coach's offense, a version of the spread, favored slot receivers over outside receivers, both in number of targets and number of catches.

The Wolverines also had three first-year starters at quarterback in 2008 (Nick Sheridan/Steven Threet), 2009 (Tate Forcier) and 2010 (Denard Robinson).

"The slots, they got a lot more balls than the receivers on the outside," said Mathews, himself an outside receiver at Michigan. "Nothing against Coach Rod or anybody; that's just how his offense ran."

Hemingway never complained. He just played -- when he was able to.

Mononucleosis took away most of his sophomore season, allowing him to receive his fifth year. An ankle injury hobbled him during the beginning of the 2009 season, forcing him to miss playing against Notre Dame.

A hamstring injury last season knocked him out of the Connecticut and Notre Dame games, and he also didn't play against Ohio State due to an injury.

"There are things that happened that I didn't think were going to happen," Hemingway said. "I can tell you that for sure. My ankle, things like that."

His final season gave one final twist, this one for the better.

Michigan fired Rodriguez and brought in Brady Hoke. With Hoke came offensive coordinator Al Borges, who ran more of a pro-style offense.

Hemingway was one of the biggest beneficiaries. Along with staying healthy, he has had the best season of his career. He has caught a team-high 32 passes -- the same amount he had last season -- but has a career-high 636 yards and a career-high 19.9 yards per catch.

Playing against Notre Dame for only the second time in his five-year career -- he missed the 2007, 2009 and 2010 games due to injury -- Hemingway had a career-high 165 yards and the longest catch of his career, a 77-yarder.

He says he isn't done.

"I've got a lot more," Hemingway said. "I haven't reached my full potential yet. I have a lot more to go. I think I have a lot of things I can work on and make better.

"I'm still progressing, and that's a good thing."

It is why Hemingway, although he hasn't put up eye-popping numbers in his career -- 86 catches for 1,575 yards and nine touchdowns -- and played in a lot of different systems, has a future in the NFL.

Yes, his friends are biased, but they also have played in the NFL. The switch back to a pro style, the style of offense he was recruited for, should help, too.

"He's one of the strongest guys on the team, one of the fastest people on the team, and one of the heaviest receivers on the team," Mathews said. "He's such an athlete, but I think the pro-style offense will give him a leg up on the next level, because he'll be used to the concepts and the terminology.

"The offense he was recruited for and the offense this year will help him at the next level."

Hemingway never complained. If anything, he said, everything he went through made him better as he closes out his career.

"It feels real weird, actually. I don't want to believe it, but I know it's there," Hemingway said. "It does feel kind of weird. Never knew five years could go by so fast.

"A lot of the seniors, fifth-year guys, went through three coaches. That is what made us stronger, what made us a better group of leaders, too."

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.