Monday, August 27, 2012

Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs Named 2012 Team Captains

The University of Michigan athletic department announced yesterday that senior quarterback Denard Robinson and senior safety Jordan Kovacs were voted captains by the Michigan football team. Denard will represent the offense and Kovacs will represent the defense.

Via the U-M press release:

"Denard and Jordan are two guys who represent what Michigan football stands for, on and off the field, and they certainly are deserving of being named team captains," said Hoke. "They have played a lot of football here. I know they will do a great job of leading the seniors and Team 133."

Kovacs, a three-year letterman and starter at safety, has opened 33 of 37 career games. He has totaled 266 tackles -- 21 for losses -- five sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and three pass breakups in his career. Kovacs was named to the 2012 preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Lott IMPACT Trophy.

A three-year letterman, Robinson has started 27 of 38 career games in three seasons at Michigan. He has completed 338 of 580 passes for 4,931 yards and 40 touchdowns and rushed 546 times for 3,229 yards and 35 touchdowns. He ranks in the top 10 in U-M history in passing completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns and in rushing yards, touchdowns and 100-yard games (14). Robinson was named to the 2012 preseason watch list for the Davey O'Brien Trophy and the Manning, Maxwell and Walter Camp Player of the Year Awards.

Michigan (Team 133) is fulfilling a time-honored Michigan tradition where the players elect the captains, and typically there are two. (There have been exceptions, however. Former running back Mike Hart noted that during his final year, there were three captains. Additionally, during the 2011 season, Michigan had three captains in center David Molk, defensive tackle Mike Martin, and tight end Kevin Koger, with defensive end Ryan Van Bergen as an honorary fourth.) The elevation of Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs to captain is particularly interesting because the two represent great individual underdog stories of how they got to Michigan.

Denard Robinson was originally a four-star rated defensive back (unrated as a quarterback) from Deerfield Beach, Florida. Despite several offers to play defensive back, Denard wanted to play quarterback. He chose Michigan because Rich Rodriguez offered him that chance. In two years Denard beat out presumed starter Tate Forcier for the job and subsequently set out to light up the college football world. When Brady Hoke arrived in January 2011, there was some talk about Denard possibly transferring, but this turned out to be a canard.

Ever the Michigan Man, Denard affirmed his commitment to stay. All he wanted was the chance to play quarterback. It's doubtful anyone else would have offered him that chance. Denard had already carved out a place for himself as Michigan's quarterback, and leaving the program would mean that he would have to start over. To his credit, Brady Hoke was confident in Denard's ability to play the position and lead the team. "I can tell you one thing," Hoke said in his opening press conference. "We've got a special player in Denard."

Hoke and his offensive coordinator, Al Borges, successfully adapted their scheme to fit Denard's skill set (as opposed to the other way around, a.k.a. "putting a square peg in a round hole") while still at the same time gradually incorporating elements the pro-style offense that they hope to install by the time Denard graduates. As a result, Denard's production didn't exactly drop off and the offense was still very productive, with Denard throwing 2,173 yards and rushing for 1,176 yards, 20 passing touchdowns, and 16 rushing touchdowns.

The Wolverine's 2012 Michigan football preview issue makes an important note:

[Denard Robinson] is a special player, unlike any other in Michigan football history. Robinson has his faults--he was the only quarterback in the nation to throw 12 or more interceptions (15) with fewer than 260 passing attempts (258) last year--but Wolverine Nation loves him just the same.

This is true. We certainly do.

Jordan Kovacs has gained similar infamy in recent Michigan football lore. He is a former walk-on from Curtice, Ohio, who came aboard during the worst struggles of the Michigan defense during the 2009 season under Rich Rodriguez. Kovacs had to walk-on twice (2009 and 2010) before he was eventually offered a scholarship by Hoke's staff in 2011. He has since become Michigan most consistent player on defense.

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison raved about Kovacs in a recent press conference, which is rare for someone as experienced and reserved as Mattison. "There's one that's consistent," he said. "And that's No. 32. That young man has had a tremendous camp. I mean, you talk about consistency, if you graded every play, I would like to see that great [every time]. . . There's a number of them that have been very consistent for a practice, and then they have to come back to the next one. So, I don't want to name names because I wouldn't be doing them justice as far as who's had this practice or hasn't, but that's one I will name. I'll name Jordan Kovacs. He just gets better and better. He's what it's all about."

Kovacs had long been considered one of the primary leaders (if not the leader) on defense, so it should come as virtually no surprise to anyone that he was named one of the team captains along with Denard Robinson. Frankly, I'd have been surprised if someone other than Jordan Kovacs had been named captain.

He now joins the ranks of famous Michigan players who started out as walk-ons and subsequently became captains, players like offensive tackle Jon Jansen, who helped lead Michigan to a national championship in 1997. During the Big Ten Network's visit to Michigan as part of their 2012 football preview tour, Kovacs had a chance to reflect on his journey from walk-on to starter to staple of the defense.

"It was tough," he said. "It was quite the roller coaster ride of emotions, to be unrecruited by really any school and to have to make two student-body tryouts. And then things just fell into place, and to be where I am today, it's not exactly what I was expecting, but I wouldn't want it any other way. I think those struggles are what made me the ballplayer that I am today, and I'm proud of that."

Kovacs and Denard Robinson will lead Michigan into the season opener against Alabama, the defending national champion, in what looks to be one of the most anticipated first games in Michigan football history.

The future, now, is in their hands. They are the captains of Team 133.

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