NEW ORLEANS — His teammates raced around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, high-fiving fans, while he meandered behind. His roommate, fifth-year senior wide receiver Junior Hemingway, was the game’s most outstanding player and had developed into the go-to-deep threat he was supposed to be.
But Darryl Stonum cracked a smile.
The wide receiver didn’t play a snap this season, in what was supposed to be Stonum’s senior year. A drunk driving charge — his second since coming to Michigan — caused Michigan coach Brady Hoke to suspend him for the season, which ended up being the Wolverines’ best in years.
So while his teammates basked in their success, Stonum stood back.
“It was a learning experience,” Stonum said, his voice lowering, just moments after Michigan finished off Virginia Tech in overtime, 23-20. “It was pretty hard. But everything happens for a reason. I’m just glad coach Hoke kept me around to be a part of this. And I’m back — I’m back now.”
Out of the limelight, he became the best practice squad receiver he could be, his teammates said. During practices in New Orleans, starting cornerback J.T. Floyd was beat on more than one occasion by Stonum.
“He’s embraced what happened to him and has learned from it,” said senior tight end Kevin Koger earlier this week. “A lot of guys might get suspended and then they’d just transfer. But he stuck it out. And he’s like a brother to me, so I’m proud of what he has done.
“When he’s been through everything he’s been through, and all the turmoil and all the speculation, I’m just glad he stayed.”
But it’s fair to ask: what could’ve been? What if junior quarterback Denard Robinson had Stonum, who is arguably one of the fastest receivers on the team?
Instead of Hemingway, it could’ve been Stonum. But the player Robinson calls “Big Play” Hemingway made two spectacular touchdown catches, saving Michigan’s Sugar Bowl chances, while Stonum watched from the sidelines in a sweatsuit.
“He makes that play in practice all the time,” Stonum said. “That’s the plays he makes. I’m proud of him. I love him. I wish him the best.
“I’m going to miss him when he’s gone, but we’re always going to be best friends. We’ll always stay in contact — forever.”
Stonum should return next year for a fifth year as one of Michigan’s top receivers and kick returners. Gone are Hemingway and seniors Kelvin Grady and Martavious Odoms. But Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo all return. At 6-foot-2, Stonum could fill in Hemingway’s shoes as a bigger target Robinson can trust.
It appears Hoke has a mature, humbled and motivated receiver to add to his lineup.
“It just motivates me for next year,” Stonum said, watching his teammates celebrate.
“They’re going to see a beast.”