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Dan Feldman: Threet’s future unclear, but his past is impressive

BY DAN FELDMAN
Daily Sports Editor
Published February 16, 2009

At Michigan, you hear a lot about those who stay.

But what about those who leave?

Redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet became the most recent player to depart from the Wolverine football team when he announced his transfer early yesterday morning.

Of every quarterback who has thrown at least three passes in a season since 1949 (as far back as Athletic Department records go), just nine didn’t complete their eligibility.

Two of them left in the last two years — both after Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez.

Ryan Mallett, arguably the most highly touted quarterback recruit in Michigan history, stayed just one year (2007). He transferred to Arkansas last winter and will probably start for the Razorbacks next season.

And now Threet will play somewhere else, too. (Don’t assume it will be a Football Championship Subdivision or Division-II team. Because he already transferred once, Threet will have to sit out next season no matter the level of his new school.)

Mallett said he left because he didn’t fit Rodriguez’s spread offense. Threet, rivals.com's No. 9 pro-style quarterback in 2007, faced a similar predicament. But he stuck it out for a year.

When Threet transferred to Michigan from Georgia Tech in 2007, he told his high school coach he thought he could beat out Mallett. But Mallett transferred, and Threet had a different challenge.

So Threet found himself battling Nick Sheridan, a former walk-on who didn’t receive any scholarships out of high school, for the starting spot in a system in which he didn’t really fit.

By staying and giving Michigan another feasible option besides Sheridan, Threet opened himself to public criticism from the Wolverines’ coaches. Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee described Threet’s three-interception performance against Michigan State on Oct. 25 as “inconsistent, like it always is.”

Threet, on the other hand, always praised Sheridan publicly and never took credit for any success the team had (although he didn’t have many opportunities).

Some of Michigan’s coaches could take a lesson from Threet, but what can be learned from the other seven experienced quarterbacks who left early? There's no clear direction for a player in this position.

Jason Forcier, whose brother Tate signed with Michigan as a quarterback two weeks ago, left after Mallett beat him out for the backup job in 2007. He was Stanford’s third-string quarterback this year.

Drew Henson and Clayton Richard both left the Michigan football team to play baseball.

Henson skipped his senior season to sign a six-year, $17-million contract with the New York Yankees in 2001, but he had just nine major league at-bats. He also played nine games in the NFL, including two for the Detroit Lions last year.

Richard left the football team after two seasons to join the Michigan baseball team as a pitcher. After one successful season, the Chicago White Sox drafted him in the eighth round of the 2005 draft. He played in last year’s All-Star Futures Game and could be in the White Sox’s rotation this season.

Records on Stacy Johnson and Paul D. Palmer aren’t very clear, but it appears each played just two years — Johnson from 1976 to 1977 and Palmer from 1958 to 1959.

Gary Lee also played just two years for Michigan (1978-79). A year ago, his contract to be head coach at Flint Southwestern High School wasn’t renewed. It recently become public that he used two players who were released from their prison sentences to attend school and play football.

Matt Gutierrez’s situation might be the most relevant to Threet’s. Gutierrez appeared to be the heir apparent to the starting job in 2004, but a shoulder injury allowed a freshman named Chad Henne to start.

Gutierrez was the Wolverines’ holder for a year before transferring to Idaho State, where he threw for 2,237 yards and 16 touchdowns in his final season of eligibility. He’s now the third-string quarterback for the New England Patriots.

The 6-foot-6, 230-pound Threet has some NFL potential because of his size and arm strength. But it’s nearly impossible to predict whether he’ll make it.

As these eight players show, a quarterback who has Michigan experience doesn’t always make his mark elsewhere. Threet’s 200 passes last year were more than the other eight ever attempted in a season, but nobody knows what’s in store for Threet.

But it's clear Threet’s past is impressive, even if he didn’t put up electrifying numbers. His attitude speaks much louder.

When the season was still full of promise, Sheridan flicked an eight-yard touchdown pass to freshman Michael Shaw to give the Wolverines a 7-0 lead over Utah in the season-opener.

Nobody was more excited than Threet. He greeted Sheridan on the sidelines with his arms stretched wide and hugged the man who had just taken the job he wanted so badly.

Whatever happens from here, credit Threet for handling a difficult season with class.

— Feldman wants to know what happened with Johnson and Palmer. He can be reached at danfeld@umich.edu.

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