The few handfuls of plays in which Michigan senior quarterback Devin Gardner participated as a freshman before getting hurt won't cost him a year of eligibility after all. The U-M athletic department announced Tuesday that Gardner had been granted a medical redshirt and would be reclassified as a redshirt junior.
Gardner emerged as an outstanding option when senior Denard Robinson went down at Nebraska last year, moving from wide receiver (16 receptions, 266 yards, four touchdowns) to start after redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy struggled against the Cornhuskers. He completed 75 of 126 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions and carried 47 times for 101 yards and seven scores.
Gardner made an impression in his first start, completing 12 of 18 passes for 234 yards and two scores in a blowout win at Minnesota. He accounted for at least two touchdowns in all five of his starts and earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors twice.
"I feel great about it," Gardner told MGoBlue.com. "I'm just happy to be able to help the team as long as a I can. This is a great place to live and go to school. But that's not really the big issue. We have a season this year, got spring ball coming up and I'm really focused."
Gardner quipped that offensive coordinator Al Borges would "probably be pretty disappointed" when he called him with the news.
Gardner and his teammates recently finished winter conditioning in preparation for March 16 spring ball. He's taken on a new role as a leader, and it shows on his chiseled frame.
"I've approached it in a great way," he said. "I had a great winter, led, done things I'm not ordinarily accustomed to doing in stepping outside myself and being the leader I should be.
"I usually don't talk much in workouts, but I've been helping my teammates surge through it really hard. Winter was hard, but we got through it with a great lift on Friday. Now I'm just looking forward to spring ball."
What it means: Gardner's return - should he continue to meet expectations - ensures Michigan one of the Big Ten's top signal callers for two more years. Denard Robinson was the face of the program for three seasons, and deservedly so. Gardner would probably be the first to admit he could have handled his role as a back-up better, but it seems clear he's intent on improving his leadership skills.
If he comes back for his fifth year, as expected, the 6-4, 210-pounder also gives incoming freshman Shane Morris, Bellomy and 2014 Wilton Speight more time to mature. Morris could use a year to get bigger and stronger, and he and Gardner already have an outstanding relationship.
The Wolverines are already a Big Ten contender in 2013, but watch out for 2014. The schedule will be tougher, but that team could do some special things.
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