Leland Stein III

UM’s Gardner makes smooth transition to receiver

In sports column on September 22, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Detroiter Devin Gardner catches touchdown pass. – Dan Graschuck photo

By Leland Stein III

ANN ARBOR – Obviously this was litmus test for the University Michigan Wolverines, as they undertook their first home game of the 2102 season versus the running instead of flying Air Force Falcons.

Before 112,522 in the Big House the only thing that took flight for the Falcons was the jet flyover that took place after the nation anthem was concluded.

These groups of flyboys really are as run happy a team as there is in college football. Air Force grounded out 400 yards in its first game and pushed the Wolverines around enough to the tune of 290 rushing yards.

Still the hungry Wolverines hung on and chewed up the Falcons through the air and on the ground for a hard fought 31-25 victory. Leading the way was Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson, who combined for 426 yards (218 rush, 208 pass), accounting for all but seven of Michigan’s entire offensive output.

Helping Robinson out were junior quarterback-turned-receiver Devin Gardner and freshman tight end Devin Funchess.

Funchess had four catches for 106 yards and a noteworthy 30-yard touchdown where he out-jumped a defender. He was the first Michigan tight end to top 100 yards since Jerame Tuman had 126 against Colorado in 1997.

However, Gardner was the most comfortable target for the second straight week, catching five passes for 63 yards, including a precision route for his score. Against Alabama Gardner latched onto a 44-yard touchdown pass, showing all his potential.

Leland Stein III

Last week the Wolverines took on defending national champion and then second-ranked Alabama. The Crimson Tide put such a beating on the Wolverines that they were elevated to the top-ranked team in the country while the Wolverines sunk from No. 8 to 19.

“We were hungry for victory,” former Inkster High star Devin Gardner said. “So we did enough to make sure we got this win and got our season back on track.”

During the fall of 2009, Gardner was rated as the No. 1 dual-threat high school quarterback in the United States by Rivals.com and the No. 5 quarterback by ESPNU. He verbally committed to the University of Michigan’s 2010 recruiting class in the spring of 2009 and enrolled at the University of Michigan in January 2010.

Much to his chagrin Robinson was entrenched as the Michigan quarterback and during spring practice Gardner made the switch to receiver.

“In spring practice I saw we were a little short at the receiver position so I took some reps there and did kind of good,” Gardner said, “so they took notice and told me I might be able to help at that position right now. I began to practice hard and work on my mechanics.”

The question I asked Gardner is he now a receiver or a quarterback?

He said emphatically: “I am a quarterback! I saw a way to help this team win games this season so I moved to receiver. But, I still have every young person’s dream. I want to play quarterback for the University of Michigan. I still feel I have the ability and the heart to play the position. In fact I look forward to throwing the ball to Funchess next season. I can’t wait to get the chance to throw the ball to him.”

As for now Gardner is turning into the most stable receiver on the UM team. They play Massachusetts this Saturday at the Big House and it is an important test for keeping this team on track.

Gardner, 6-foot-4, is proving to be a key clog in the Wolverines passing game. 

He noted that the major change from quarterback is blocking. “It is hard trying to block those little defensive backs,” he said. “They try to juke me and move all over the place. But as far as the pass routes, as I quarterback I understand and know all of that.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

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