You’ve probably heard plenty about resurrection lately.
As Easter Sunday passes and thoughts turn back to the semester’s final week of classes, take a moment to reminisce and dream along as we delve back into the year that was through the lens of Michigan athletics.
It was certainly a year of resurrection — of Michigan football, of Michigan basketball and of the Michigan brand. With that in mind, we offer you Daily Sports’ second-annual awards — The Schefters.
Named after ESPN personality Adam Schefter, one of the Daily’s most esteemed alumni, the awards honor the best of Michigan athletics in the last year. Schefter worked as a Daily Sports Editor in the late 1980s and currently serves as ESPN’s NFL insider.
The single rule is simple: An athlete can win only one category. Beyond that, it’s no holds barred.
Without further fanfare, here are the 2012 Schefters:
Best Cinderella Story: Shawn Hunwick, ice hockey
Michigan’s fifth-year senior goaltender never really lost the title, even after winning it in last year’s edition of the Schefters.
Exactly a year ago — April 9, 2011 — the 5-foot-7 Hunwick took the Wolverines into overtime of the NCAA Championship Game before surrendering the game-winner to Minnesota-Duluth’s Kyle Schmidt. It was his 24th birthday.
Then, in his fifth-year senior-season, Hunwick carried a young Michigan team to a No. 2-overall seed and into the program’s 22nd-consecutive NCAA Tournament, where they lost in the first round.
Instead of his unlikely career ending there, Hunwick received a surprise call from the Columbus Blue Jackets on the morning of March 28. Hunwick was going to the NHL. Wearing a No. 31 Blue Jackets sweater over his Michigan equipment, Hunwick sat on the end of the bench in Columbus’ 4-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings — the team he idolized growing up.
On Friday, Hunwick played the final 153 seconds of the Blue Jackets’ last game of the season. The shrimp who came to Michigan as a third-string practice goaltender had made the NHL.
Today is his 25th birthday. And his Cinderella story lives on.
Breakout Athlete of the Year: Fitzgerald Toussaint, football
Entering fall camp, the Michigan football team was looking at a handful of candidates for the starting tailback spot. The argument seemed a moot point — the Michigan running game would undeniably be run through junior quarterback Denard Robinson.
So we thought.
Toussaint took the starting role early in the season and bolted for 1,041 yards last season as a redshirt sophomore. His average yards per rush (5.57) was better than Robinson’s (5.32), and the pair became the first Michigan tandem to break the 1,000-yard plateau since Rob Lytle and Gordon Bell in 1975.
Best single-game performance: Junior Hemingway, football, in the AllState Sugar Bowl
Rarely will two receptions for 63 yards earn you a place in Michigan lore. For Hemingway, a fifth-year senior wide receiver, those two receptions couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
They came at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Hemingway scored both of Michigan’s touchdowns in a 23-20 victory over Virginia Tech.
And if his miraculous play on the field didn’t seal the deal, his postgame speech atop the winner’s podium did.
“It shows our heart. It shows our determination. It shows everything we’ve been through, because we’ve been through a lot,” Hemingway said through a stream of tears, cheers and confetti. “People don’t understand that, but to come out here and win this bowl game with the people I’ve worked so hard with from day one feels so good. Ain’t nothing like it.”
Game of the Year: Under the Lights: Michigan vs. Notre Dame
This category can’t be argued.
What better to signal the resurrection of Michigan football than the program’s first night game at Michigan Stadium? And it was a classic.
Yellow pom-poms flashed through the record crowd of 114,804 in the Big House.
Just a few ticks before midnight, Robinson completed Michigan’s furious comeback by floating a pass against the night sky to wide receiver Roy Roundtree in the corner of the endzone.
The end result was a 35-31 Michigan victory. The end result was the unquestioned Game of the Year.
Team of the Year: Michigan men’s basketball
With the sting of a first-round loss to Ohio in the NCAA Tournament still present, this might seem like a foolish pick. Trust me, it’s not.
Under Michigan coach John Beilein, the team that lost star point guard Darius Morris to the NBA a year ago bounced back to win a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
It sounds impressive. It’s more than that.
Freshman point guard Trey Burke — an unheralded recruit — propelled the overachieving Wolverines to their first conference championship since 1986. It ended badly, and Burke may be headed for the NBA, but what that program displayed this past year was something none of us expected.
Coach of the Year: Brady Hoke, football
Hoke arrived last January to replace former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who went 15-22 in three seasons in Ann Arbor.
Twelve months later, Hoke had carried a team loaded with Rodriguez’s players to a victory in a BCS bowl and an 11-2 season. Hoke was named the winner of the first Hayes-Schembechler Trophy, given to the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
He brought countless adjustments to the Michigan football culture, including (1) a rule banning the color red from Schembechler Hall, (2) referring to Ohio State as simply “Ohio,” (3) referring to his team, Michigan’s 132nd in history, as “Team 132” and (4) bringing player numbers back to the winged helmet.
Most of all, he brought winning back to Michigan. Forget everything else. That’s enough.
Female Athlete of the Year: Emina Bektas
Bektas has taken the women’s tennis scene by storm.
The freshman sensation is ranked No. 10 and fills Michigan’s top singles spot. Boasting a 25-6 overall record, as well as a sterling 14-2 doubles record, Bektas is a four-time Big Ten Athlete of the Week honoree.
The Indianapolis native will lead Michigan into the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments in the next month.
Male Athlete of the Year: Trey Burke, men’s basketball
There were several deserving student-athletes in this category. It could have been filled by Hunwick or by wrestler Kellen Russell, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for their names. It could have been swimmer Dan Madwed or football center David Molk.
But Burke takes the cake.
As a freshman, Burke averaged 14.8 points and 4.6 assists per game. Considered a step down from Morris as the season opened, Burke proved every doubter wrong. While the host of starters struggled down the stretch and into the postseason, Burke was a complete floor general. He didn’t just live up to Morris’s billing, he surpassed it.
In the Big Ten Tournament opener against Minnesota, he dropped 30 points to give Michigan the overtime victory.
Whether or not he returns for a sophomore season, Burke gave Michigan one heck of a season to remember.
Career Achievement Award: Kellen Russell, wrestling
There’s not a lot left to say about Russell, who won consecutive national championships at the 141-pound level. You could give him nearly every one of these awards.
He was Michigan’s only individual national champion in 2011-12. In a year that was defined by resurrection, Russell didn’t have to change a thing.
He finished his career at Michigan with a 134-12 record. Only one grappler beat him in his junior and senior seasons. The three-time All-American also became the first Wolverine wrestler to capture four consecutive Big Ten championships.
On Saturday, it was announced that Russell was given one of the final two freestyle wildcard selections for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City at the end of April.
Russell has left his mark on Michigan, but his legacy will extend long past the confines of the Bahna Wrestling Center. Because he’ll leave the only way he knows how — as a champion.
— Nesbitt can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter: @stephenjnesbitt.