May 8, 2012

Borton's Blog: Painful memory

The 65th annual Bob Ufer Quarterback Club gathering featured its usual mix of pride, poignancy and humor at the Barton Hills Country Club Monday night. This one also cracked the door open a little further on some past pain.

Kevin Koger found himself among the Senior Athlete Award Honorees, along with Meagan Bauer from women's golf, Amanda Chidester from softball, Shawn Hunwick from hockey, Dan Madwek from the men's swim team, Kellen Russell from wrestling and Matt Thompson from the golf team. Three Spirit Award winners were also introduced and spoke: hockey's Luke Glendening, football's Jordan Kovacs and basketball's Zack Novak.

Novak proved deadpan hilarious, as usual. But we'll present his wry observations in a blog later this week.

Today, it's all about Koger, Brady Hoke, and hope. The recently graduated tight end walked around in a protective boot, the result of his injured Achilles, one that prevented him from getting taken in the recent NFL Draft.

His spirits were as high as ever, and his outlook for the future confident. It wasn't necessarily that way throughout his whole career, he admitted.

Koger indicated that a whole lot changed when Hoke walked in the door. For his part, the head coach noted players like Koger made his transition infinitely easier.

"When you're a coach and you come into a new program, it's always interesting to see the guys who really want to be coached, and guys who are going to do things the right way," Hoke said. "The guys who are going to be committed, the guys who are going to be accountable and respect and trust their teammates.

"We were fortunate to come in and have a guy like Kevin. As one of our team captains of Team 132, his leadership came every day … what he did on that campus, in that locker room and for his teammates is why he's here tonight."

Koger returned the admiration, calling Hoke the epitome of a Michigan Man. He indicated he wouldn't have known how to function as a captain had it not been for the new boss.

He also gave credit back to Hoke for the way the entire senior class operated in 2011.

"It was the expectation at Michigan," Koger said. "The job the senior class and I did this year is the expectation. I appreciate all the praise, but it goes to Coach Hoke … that's what we should do. That's what Michigan should be. I really feel like the program is headed back in that direction."

Then, Koger grew painfully honest. He admitted the doubts he carried into last season. He admitted how mentally beaten up he and a host of his teammates were.

"You go into Media Day, and you give the right and political answers," Koger said. "You always expect to win … but I had my worries. I had my doubts. I'd been through a coaching change. I'd been through a 3-9 season.

"I know how it is. I know how it feels. I know how much it hurts. Not going to a bowl game two years in a row, and going down to Jacksonville in 2010 and giving that embarrassing display, that's not what a Michigan Man is. That's not what Michigan is all about. It was really embarrassing."

The person from whom Koger learned the most came in as a complete stranger, the tight end acknowledged.

"Coach Hoke comes in and, to be honest, I'd never even heard of him. I didn't know who he was," Koger said, as the crowd roared.

"That's the honest truth," Koger cautioned. "But the mentality he instilled throughout the season says a lot about him.

Koger noted that during the "grueling time" of fall camp, Hoke handed out "Victors Manuals." The booklets contain the essentials of Michigan football history.

"I learned more during camp this year, from that book, in three weeks, than I did my first three years at Michigan," Koger said. "It's a testament to the type of person Coach Hoke is."

The now-former captain is anxious to read the next chapters, even though he's done writing them.

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