In wake of Presidential address, Robinson embracing leadership role on and off the gridiron

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Junior quarterback Denard Robinson is taking a larger leadership role for Michigan after an in-the-spotlight off-season around Ann Arbor. Buy this photo

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 22, 2012

Denard Robinson is learning to not smile.

Four days into the Michigan football team’s spring practice, the junior quarterback has emerged as a distinct leader of the offense. Robinson has been a Heisman Trophy candidate, a record-setting quarterback and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

But Robinson’s never had to take the reins as the unquestioned leader of Michigan. After three years, he’s ready for that to change.

“I wasn’t an outspoken person,” Robinson admitted on Thursday. “I didn’t do a lot of telling people (what to do) or patting them on the butt, so that’s what I need to start doing and that’s what I’m taking on this spring.”

But being a leader also means being the bad guy.

“Oh yeah, sometimes you’ve got to get up in (their faces),” Robinson said. “Help them out, give them encouragement. You can’t always be nice to them. I can’t always have a smile on my face.”

Is that even possible? Robinson smiled.

“Oh it’s possible, it’s possible,” he said, laughing.

It’s a work in progress.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Roy Roundtree has already noticed a difference in Robinson’s demeanor. The timing is better. The reads are better.

And the play calls in the huddle are as clear as day.

“I used to tell (Robinson) that he’s so country that you can barely hear him,” Roundtree joked.

Robinson said he has taken freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy under his wing, giving instructions on timing, patience and accuracy in the pocket.

The thought of the electric Robinson’s upcoming senior season as Michigan’s starting quarterback is thrilling. But so is the thought of him passing on his lessons to underclassmen.

“It is exciting to me,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges. “It’s exciting to all of us.”

Ever since Robinson and the Wolverines returned from a Sugar Bowl victory in early January, Robinson hasn’t been able to keep himself out of the headlines or off TV screens.

But the soft-spoken leader hasn’t regretted one bit of the press.

As if Robinson hadn’t already been the face of the Michigan football program, he was singled out by President Barack Obama during a speech at Al Glick Field House in January.

“Where's Denard?” Obama asked. “I hear Denard Robinson's in the house.”

Robinson, hands planted in the pockets of his Michigan varsity jacket, was startled. Obama found Robinson to his left, seated in a roped-off area beside redshirt junior offensive lineman Patrick Omameh.

“I hear you're coming back, man,” Obama said. “That is a good deal for Michigan.”

Two months later, Robinson described the surreal experience the only way he could.

“That’s one of the days that I’m going to sit down and tell my grandkids about: ‘I’ve got a story for you. I met the President.’ ” Robinson said. “That’s one of the things that I’ll always cherish.

“As soon as I got done meeting him, I called my mom, dad, brothers and told them, ‘I just met the President. I just met the President of the United States.’ ”

The cameras have also found Robinson in the Michigan student sections at Crisler Center and Yost Ice Arena. In the past three months, in between off-season workouts, he’s attended men’s basketball, women’s basketball, hockey and women’s track events.

Just how many games? He couldn’t remember.

“I’d go to all of them if I had a chance,” Robinson said.

Still, Robinson doesn’t think the off-season in the spotlight has changed him. He’s learning not to smile, but it’s nothing different.

“No, because I enjoy interacting with people,” Robinson said. “That’s one of the things that I’ve always enjoyed. I come from a big family with me, so meeting people is not a problem with me. I’d love to meet anybody. If I see anybody on the street, I want to say hi to you.

“My goal is to make somebody’s day everyday, so hopefully I can do that.”