LIVONIA — The introduction said it all.
“This kid is what Michigan football is all about,” Master of Ceremonies Derrick Walker proclaimed.
And the crowd gathered in Laurel Manor for the 89th annual football bust erupted.
Senior defensive end Brandon Graham, Michigan’s first defensive player to be voted team MVP twice, received nearly a minute-long standing ovation, by far the longest of the night.
Graham stood proudly at the podium, flashing his lovable smile to the crowd as he fought back tears.
“I said I wasn’t going to cry, but y’all tempting me,” he said with a laugh.
The last two-time team MVP was running back Mike Hart in 2006 and 2007. The only other players to earn that honor were wide receiver Anthony Carter, running backs Ron Johnson and Tom Harmon and guard Ralph Heikkinen.
Graham, the nation’s leader in tackles for loss, recited his page-and-a-half thank-you speech before embracing Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez and receiving his ‘M’ ring.
“I spent two days (working on it),” Graham said. “I just wanted to memorize it more than anything.”
But Graham wasn’t the only one who received a prolonged standing ovation. Rodriguez took the podium with a very supportive crowd, one that was certainly encouraged by his sense of humor.
“I want to set the record straight since our last ball game, walking off that field, there’s been a lot of rumors and speculation about my future,” Rodriguez said. “I’m here to set the record straight. I am not a candidate for the University of Notre Dame position.”
Rodriguez added a few more laughs before turning serious as he addressed the crowd for over 15 minutes. The second-year coach thought there were more life lessons this season than in any of the other 25 he has coached.
But Rodriguez didn’t stay serious for long, closing on an enthusiastic note.
“We’re going to have these busts celebrating Big Ten championships and Rose Bowl victories and competing for a national championship,” Rodriguez said in closing, prompting another standing ovation.
Warren not wavering: Donovan Warren sat calmly, donning a bright pink tie as he listened to his senior leaders give their sendoff speeches. But if the junior cornerback has his way, he might not be giving a speech at next year’s bust.
Warren told several media outlets he is strongly considering leaving early for the NFL.
“I’m definitely, I’d have to say heavily, I like the chances of me coming out,” Warren told the Detroit Free Press.
The Long Beach, Calif. native recently applied to the NFL Advisory Committee, a service that evaluates early-entry candidates.
Players usually receive feedback from the advisory committee in a few weeks about their possible draft position. Warren said he planned to make his decision in the coming weeks.
According to ESPN.com’s NFL DraftTracker, Warren is listed as the No. 4 cornerback and the 42nd-best prospect, making him a potential second-round pick. Rodriguez said he spoke with Warren earlier Thursday and encouraged him to make an educated decision with his family.
“If a guy’s a first rounder and he has that kind of opportunity, you certainly understand that,” Rodriguez said. “Beyond being a first rounder or a high second-round pick, I think they’re always better served finishing their degree and playing their fourth year.”
Graham, who never applied to the NFL advisory committee, said he would give Warren advice on his decision to go pro.
“If you’re going to leave, then be on that board,” Graham said. “If you’re not, just don’t answer the phone. That’s what I did. I already knew I was staying.”
Warren tallied four interceptions and six pass breakups this season despite battling what Rodriguez called some “tough ankle pain” stemming from ligament issues.
Smith tears ACL: Freshman tailback Vincent Smith tore his ACL against Ohio State and will undergo surgery, Rodriguez said yesterday. Smith will miss spring practice.
List of Award Winners:
Bo Schembechler MVP, as voted by players: Graham
Dr. Arthur D. Robinson Scholarship Award for top senior student: Zoltan Mesko
Bob Ufer Bequest for senior who demonstrates the most enthusiasm and love for Michigan: David Moosman
Hugh R. Rader Jr. Award for top offensive linemen: Mark Ortmann and Stephen Schilling
Roger Zatkoff Award for top linebacker: Stevie Brown
Richard Katcher Award for top defensive lineman: Mike Martin