There’s a tried-and-true rule for wide receivers: if you can get a hand on the ball, you should catch it. No excuses.
But in the first few spring practices this season, Michigan redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree was a rare exception. Roundtree was dropping catchable passes, and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez soon noticed the source of the problem for the 20-year-old wideout.
“When we’d look at him, he’d squint at you,” Rodriguez said. “That’s the first sign that you ought to get your eyes checked. After he got his eyes checked, the doctor said he didn’t know how he was walking a straight line.”
The Trotwood, Ohio native wore glasses off the field in high school, but the lack of eyewear in games didn’t affect him too much. He caught 165 catches for 2,637 yards and 28 touchdowns in high school, including 85 grabs for 1,238 yards and 13 scores as a senior.
Then came the added coursework and reading assignments when he started college classes.
“(My eyesight) wasn’t that bad when I got here,” Roundtree said. “Now I read all these books, and it killed my eyes.”
With Roundtree struggling to locate the football mid-route, it was nearly impossible for him to be an effective receiver.
“We got him some contact lenses real quick,” Rodriguez said.
Not quick enough.
“I had to wait for them to get in,” Roundtree said. “Coach Rod was like, ‘Roundtree! When are you going to get your contacts?’ I was like, ‘You’ve got to schedule them for me.’ ”
The contact lenses arrived in time for Saturday’s spring game, and they made quite a difference. Roundtree turned in one of the most impressive offensive performances.
Midway through the scrimmage, Roundtree — playing in the slot — juked to the inside and slipped past redshirt sophomore safety Jared Van Slyke. Early-enrollee Tate Forcier rolled out of the pocket and found Roundtree all alone for a 50-yard bomb.
The play didn’t come against the first-team defense, but it was noteworthy nonetheless. Last season, small, speedy players like Martavious Odoms caught short passes and screens out of the slot position. If Roundtree can complement Odoms as a deep threat, it will add a new dimension to the Wolverine offensive attack — and give opposing defenses matchup problems.
Roundtree caught three passes total in the scrimmage — all from the slot — including another touchdown from Forcier, a quick slant to the middle of the field.
“He told me last night that he really wanted to come off strong today,” said sophomore Michael Shaw, who was Roundtree’s teammate at Trotwood-Madison High School, after the spring game. “I told him, ‘You can do it, we’ve been doing it since first grade.’ For him to come out and play the way he did, it didn’t surprise me, but at the same time, it’s like, ‘You’re finally doing it.’ Hats off to him.”
As Roundtree continues to turn heads, the slot could become one of the most hotly contested positions heading into the fall. Odoms was the team’s leading receiver last season, and Roundtree has emerged as a viable option. Redshirt sophomore Terrance Robinson, who sat out last year with a knee injury, and talented incoming freshman Jeremy Gallon will ensure the Wolverines will be deep at the position.
It’s possible Roundtree will move back to the outside, where he was listed last year. The flanker position is usually reserved for bigger, more physical players, like senior Greg Mathews. But Roundtree, listed at just 6-foot, 175 pounds, never found his rhythm on the outside, and he was redshirted to give him more time to develop his skills.
Rodriguez believes Roundtree has the tools to be an inside and outside threat, saying the receiver will learn both positions for the fall. But on Saturday, Roundtree was happy to be back at the slot, his position in high school.
“Coming in now, back in slot again, I’m used it,” he said. “I like slot more, because there’s opportunities. Like a linebacker, I’m small, but I’ve got heart — like a linebacker can show you he’s got heart.”
Regardless of where Roundtree ends up next season, his play on Saturday has Michigan football fans optimistic for the receiving corps, which was much-maligned last season.
And especially after last year’s position change and eventual redshirt, he just has to take opportunities as they come to him.
“When I’m on the sideline, I’ll hype the defense up, hype the offense up,” Roundtree said. “I’m just going to play my role. If I get the opportunity to play a long time, hey, I’m gonna take that.”