Blake Corum is not a player who needs a lot of extra motivation.
Currently leading the Big Ten in rushing touchdowns and second in yards, the junior running back has been the bellcow for the No. 4 Michigan football team’s offense all season.
With the Wolverines set to take on in-state rival Michigan State this Saturday, all eyes will be on Corum to rise to the occasion once again and attempt to bring the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to Ann Arbor after two years. In a rivalry matchup of this magnitude, anything said leading up to the match can be used as bulletin board material for the opposition.
But for Corum, the desire to walk away victorious is motivation enough.
“I just want to win,” Corum said. “That can be my bulletin board material. I don’t need them to say anything to get me hyped up. I’m just ready to win.”
Competitive in nature, Corum is always future focused — not dwelling on past games to light a fire. But there are a few moments from last year’s contest against the Spartans that he may just want to hang up on the board.
In the first quarter, with Michigan up 7-0, Corum dropped a swing pass where he had a chunk of open field in front of him. Then in the fourth quarter, Corum and then-freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy mishandled a read option play and fumbled the ball away. Michigan State scored the decisive touchdown on the following drive.
No single play defines a college football game, especially one with 70 combined points. But Corum still took the loss particularly hard.
“I felt like we had it and some things happened,” Corum said. “I was disappointed in myself. (The) dropped pass and then miscommunication between me and J.J. Just disappointment. When I feel disappointed I want to get better.”
Corum took his own advice to heart, almost immediately: When he got back to Ann Arbor after the game, he hit the gym — almost as a comfort. And the gym is a big reason Corum has emerged as the player he is today.
When Corum was in elementary school, he would do over 200 pushups and situps in his bedroom, instilling a work ethic from a young age. In middle school, Corum’s dad would take him to the local high school so he could lift with people several years older.
He built himself into a powerful back, and as soon as he arrived at Michigan his potential was evident — even when he was buried down the running back depth chart to begin his career. He worked to surge himself up the roster with an addiction to the weight room. It was an addiction of the purest kind, getting to the point that running backs coach Mike Hart had to reign him in.
“I’ve learned that it’s not all about going to the weight room,” Corum said. “You can get extra work in other places like the film room. I can find other ways to get better besides killing my body.”
In his first season as the unequivocal lead back, Corum has displayed that mindset. He’s proven himself as an all-purpose back with an ability to make defenders miss in tight spaces. He’s shown he can handle a bulk of the carries and has found his name firmly planted in the Heisman conversation.
With an opportunity to defeat the Spartans for the first time in his career, this weekend is another chance for Corum’s legacy to grow. Michigan has waltzed into the last two rivalry matchups as the favorite and walked away empty handed. The pretext around this year’s game is similar. Corum’s ascension, though, is one thing Michigan State couldn’t account for.
“I feel like I definitely have become a better football player,” Corum said. “So I think that’s the difference.”
Corum claims he doesn’t need any bulletin board material. He took last year’s disappointment to heart, and has come back better because of it. But he’s still driven to make sure Saturday’s contest beckons a different result than last year.
One that doesn’t end in a post-game gym session.