Jeremy Gallon stands 5-8, which doesn't put him in position to look a number of standout Michigan receivers in the eye. But the fifth-year senior isn't coming up short when approaching his final season in a Michigan uniform.
Gallon led the Wolverines in catches (49) and receiving yards (829) a year ago. He hauled in nine Devin Gardner tosses for 145 yards on a bum ankle in the Outback Bowl. But for a late defensive breakdown, that effort puts Michigan over the top against a strong SEC foe.
He's caught passes in 26 straight U-M games, and has now been named to the watch list for the 2013 Biletnikoff Award, presented annually to the top receiver in the land. That's not small time, any way you measure it.
"He plays bigger than he is," U-M wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski noted. "He plays stronger than what you would think when you look at his height and his weight. He's a kid that has to lift with the offensive linemen because he's so strong.
"It takes too long to change the weights back and forth. When he squats, when he's on the squat rack, he squats with the offensive linemen."
Entering his final season in a winged helmet, it's all about consistency. Hecklinski insists Gallon needs more of it, and the senior has worked overtime to achieve it.
He's been glued to redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner in the offseason, putting in the time that makes for on-field precision. The late-season connection those two achieved last year is well documented, and they look ready to pick up where they left off against the Gamecocks.
If Gallon takes it to another level, he accomplishes two things, Hecklinski noted. One, he'll push Michigan to another plateau, and two, he'll draw notice from those who can keep him performing in his chosen arena.
"There are guys that play at the next level - Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Tavon Austin - there are all kinds of players like that in the NFL," Hecklinski said. "Steve Smith is probably the most recognizable, with the explosion and everything, when he played for the Carolina Panthers. He was Jeremy's height - maybe a little bit taller, but not much.
"All those guys had the same attributes. They're dependable. They've earned the right to be there. That's what he's got to do every day. He's got to earn the right to be there, because everybody, when he walks in the door, says 'Well, he's too small.'
"But that doesn't mean I'm not better than you, and I'm not better than you, and I'm not better than the guy that's 6-4 over there. Yeah, my initial [look] is not going to open your eyes, but how I play is going to open your eyes.
"He's done that here. He's earned the right to be here. He's done that through the way that he's played, through his toughness, through the way he's learned the game, through the way he performs academically. He's got to continue."
The way to do that, and even improve, comes through the off-season diligence Gallon has pursued. The summertime efforts with Gardner could pay off in a big way, because of little refinements that aren't really so little, Hecklinski noted.
"He and Devin have always been close," Hecklinski explained. "They're like brothers. They've always been close. They have a lot of fun together, and they like being together. They're friends, in the true sense of the word.
"That obviously helps. That goes back down to comfort. When Devin's comfortable with who he's throwing to, then he can drop, make his read and let the ball go and not have any worries about it. Jeremy can run the route and make the adjustment, and know the ball is going to be there.
"There are a lot of little adjustments that people don't see, and don't need to know. That's why it's coaching. It's not just going out there and running a 12-yard curl. There are a lot of things that take place in those 12 yards that have to happen, and a quarterback and wideout have to be on the same page.
"That comfort they've developed, that comfort of just being with each other, that's obviously going to help. It's going to help a lot. The stronger the bond between the players on the team, the harder it is for them to lose, because they don't want to let each other down.
"Those are two kids that don't want to let each other down. Now you keep adding to that, because other players see that and they don't want to let them down. Then you get another one, and another one, and it starts to grow and grow. Now you've got the building of something special. That's how it all starts.
"If you've ever been around the two of them together, you'll know how close they are. Now, they're clowns, too. And sometimes you've got to rein them back in and say, 'Enough.' But they're great kids, and they're great kids to be around."
They don't want to be great kids for opponents to be around in six more weeks. They'd like to be a major pain, as a matter of fact.
They aren't fixated by what others are saying, but it's tough to avoid the talk that Michigan's receivers represent somewhat of a question mark. And Gallon's height doesn't gain him instant respect.
He has to earn it, and he intends to do precisely that.
"That will never end for him," Hecklinski said. "It doesn't for any of them, but for him more so, because of his height. That's the first thing everybody's going to look at."
"When you put the film on, I tell them all the same thing - 'Okay, you put the film on and you compare him to everybody else in the country. Eliminate his height. Just compare how they play, and you tell me how he ranks.'
"He'll do things that maybe some of the taller ones or more recognizable ones won't do. They catch 20 touchdowns. He's the one that will make the plays that will win you the game."
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