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July 28, 2013Tate Forcier could throw the football but was only an adequate runner. Denard Robinson was an elite runner but an average passer. Rich Rodriguez was still on the hunt for the perfect blend of both skills, and in the 2010 recruiting class he found that specimen in Devin Gardner.
No. 12 - Devin Gardner - 2010
Even before the ink dried on the 2009 class, which would net both Forcier and Robinson, Michigan was chasing Gardner. The four-star, regarded as the best dual-threat QB prospect in the country, had been on the scene since the spring of 2008 when TheWolverine.com first interviewed him going into his junior year at Inkster.
Though Michigan State made a play and Notre Dame was in the hunt too (and he would announce a top five of Baylor, LSU, West Virginia and Kansas in addition to U-M), Gardner was thought to have privately narrowed his list down to two - Michigan and Ohio State - with the Wolverines always in the lead.
Reports surfaced in March 2009 that Gardner was ready to announce for the Maize and Blue, but he backed off a verbal commitment, causing considerable consternation among Michigan fans worried that the state's best player was having second thoughts. The idea of him donning the scarlet and gray, and torching the Wolverines like Troy Smith had done, was downright terrifying.
That nightmare scenario played out for only a month, though, with Gardner pledging to Michigan on April 3, 2009.
In the fold, Gardner, who would be named an Under Armour All-American, could help attract others to the program, but while he had plenty of star power, the Maize and Blue found themselves mired in another losing season - a 5-7 campaign after a 3-9 mark in 2008 - and the 2010 class slumped.
Still, Michigan had its crown jewel and he would enroll early (after a minor setback), providing Gardner the chance to compete with Forcier and Robinson as early as his rookie season in 2010.
Looking back, that 2010 class has largely been labeled a train wreck. Players such as Demar Dorsey, Conelius Jones, Antonio Kinard, Davion Rogers, Austin White and D.J. Williamson never should have been recruited by U-M because of their poor academic and citizenship histories (not to mention some of them were fringe BCS-level players).
Within two years, almost half the class was already gone, and now entering their fourth season of eligibility, only 10 of 27 members remain. Attrition happens. It's a fact of life. But since 2002, no individual Michigan recruiting class has failed to graduate half of its signees; the 2010 class will be the first (and further research would probably show it's the only class in U-M history with that distinction).
Thus, players like Gardner, Jake Ryan, Courtney Avery, Jibreel Black (and their six classmates) are beacons in an otherwise dreary cohort.
For Gardner, 2010 threatened to be a wasted year. As part of the disciplined doled out to Forcier, Rodriguez named Gardner his No. 2 QB, and the 6-4, 210-pound rookie would appear in three games, completing 7 of 10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a touchdown.
Forcier would work his way out of the doghouse, dropping Gardner to third on the depth chart, and leaving many a fan steaming that the talent's redshirt campaign was burned. As it turns out, Gardner was suffering from a back injury that would be documented and earn a redshirt last winter.
In 2011, he served as Robinson's backup with Forcier dismissed from the team, and would play in nine games filling in for an injured Robinson (sometimes as little as a play here or there) while he also saw some action in a 'deuce' formation that utilized Gardner at quarterback and Robinson as a running back/slot receiver.
Of course, the story of 2012 is well known by now. Not wanting to waste him, and not wanting to be wasted holding a clipboard, the coaches and Gardner agreed to a position move to receiver. He had 16 receptions, including four touchdowns, in eight games before returning to quarterback in the aftermath of the Nebraska debacle.
Gardner's performance over the final five games - 18 total touchdowns, including 11 through the air - earned him respect in the locker room and has kicked off an avalanche of excitement entering the 2013 season. If all goes according to plan, the Detroit native will captain the Wolverines to a Big Ten title, throwing for close to 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns as he unseats OSU's Braxton Miller as the conference Player of the Year.
If he does that, and Ryan returns healthy in October or November, and players such as Black, Avery, receiver Drew Dileo, and a few more of their classmates provide critical contributions, the 2010 class may just shed its black-eye reputation, deserving praise instead of the condemnation that has defined it so far.
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