Ever since David Underwood arrived at Michigan in the fall of 2001, he’s never been afraid to show his roots.

Even in Ann Arbor, which Underwood describes as having “a lot of diversity” compared to his rural home of Madisonville, Texas, the junior is proud of where he comes from.

That’s because the quaint little town, made up of 5,000 people, is a large part of who Underwood is today: A softspoken, simple guy; a guy who can take something as big as his battle for the backup running back spot, and turn it into something as trivial as a walk down a country road.

“Well, (a position battle) is like when you are walking down the street, and you see a pear tree,” Underwood explained. “You’re really hungry and that pear looks really good. You just kind of reach up and snatch it, and you don’t let anyone get it back from you.”

Underwood reached up and snatched the backup role in spring and fall practice by outworking his competition and improving each facet of his game.

Saturday, in Michigan’s 45-7 win over Central Michigan, Underwood made it clear no one was getting it back. He rushed 11 times for 64 yards, a career-high total. After two years of waiting his turn, it was a special afternoon at the Big House for the junior.

“Playing time was something that I just wanted so badly, so I just went and got it,” Underwood said. “I worked hard because I didn’t want to be in the position I was in during my freshman and sophomore years.”

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said Underwood was giddy about his first chance at significant playing time.

“I always ask them if they’re nervous (before their first real chance to play), and if they say no, that worries me,” Carr said. “Because the truth is, they should be nervous. Especially David, because David knows going into this season that he’s going to play an important role on this football team, and I think you’re going to see him get better and better.”

Carr now considers Underwood a balanced, complete running back. He has improved his pass blocking, as well as his tendency to hold the football dangerously in front of his body instead of tucked neatly at his side.

“It felt good to just get out there and show what I can do,” he said. “It felt like I was in high school again.”

Those were the days for Underwood. The other 4,999 people knew him as “Little Earl,” as he was nicknamed after the famous “Texas Rose” Earl Campbell for his low and powerful running style.

Being a celebrity isn’t the only thing Underwood has missed during his years in Ann Arbor. He misses his mom, little sister and little brother, who are still there. Homesickness has been something Underwood has had to fight.

“Freshman year, I was homesick,” he said. “I didn’t get to go home until December. It was really a burden.

“Thanksgiving, I almost cried because everyone else was going home.”

There are certain things that Underwood gets emotional about. There are others, like his lack of playing time the past two years, which he keeps to himself. Underwood thought about transferring, but he never said anything.

“That’s the way I was raised,” Underwood said. “If you have a problem, you don’t point the finger at other people and you try to correct the problem yourself. That’s what I did last year. I just kept my mouth closed and corrected the problems.

“The rough times have helped me become a better person as well as a better player.”

Underwood is hoping that his 11 carries Saturday weren’t just a tease for the rest of the year. He says that there is a very logical way to handle both he and starter Chris Perry’s number of carries.

“You have to go with what’s working,” he said. “If Chris is hot, why take him out? If I’m rolling, why take me out? Just as long as I’m playing and out there contributing, that’s all I want to do. I expect there to be a balance and for both of us to perform well.”

Little Earl has another talent. Sometimes, his dreams come true. Literally.

“A lot of things that happen on the field, I see weeks in advance, I visualize and dream them,” he said. “I swear to you that I dreamed about looking at a stat sheet and seeing Chris Perry rush for like 238 yards on 16 carries (he ran for 232 on 22), I’m not lying.”

The next pear Underwood will try to snatch is continued minutes in Michigan’s crucial nonconference games against Notre Dame and Oregon and during the Big Ten schedule.

All he has to do is dream it.

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