One year ago, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner went through a lot in his first season as the full time starter under center.
This off-season, Gardner began the process of stepping into an even bigger leadership role, not changing, but at least altering his approach as the only fifth-year senior starter offensively for the Wolverines in 2014.
“I’m not a big time yeller type guy,” Gardner said. “I’m more of an encourager and just let them know – now I’m a fiery guy. But I’m a guy that’s just going to go out and give it everything I have and let my words speak to let them know I’m there for them.
“I talk to them about the Ohio (State) game and other different games and I feel like they understand.”
Despite a slew of sacks in the month of November including being sacked seven times in back-to-back games against Michigan State and Nebraska -- both losses, Gardner’s biggest task in 2013 was keeping his offensive line in tact mentally.
With little experience and underclassmen in the middle of the line, in between NFL draft pick offensive tackles in Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, the going was tough until the final game of the regular season.
Michigan’s offense, and protection up front, found a rhythm against Ohio State. Although Gardner broke a bone in his foot, he called upon the young group to step-up the rest of the way, much like he’ll have to do this upcoming season.
“I feel like once I got hurt I went to them and talked to them about not being able to run, not going to be able to move as well as I usually can,” Gardner said. “I feel like they took that too heart and took it on their shoulders.
“I watched the series after I got hurt, I’ve watched it a million times and I got sacked one time after I got hurt. That’s pretty impressive by them and I just wanted to express that to them so that they know that they can do it.
“Sometimes you doubt yourself and that’s something that everybody has to deal with and I feel like with them being so young it was harder for them to fight it off. Finally they believe in themselves and they’ve been working really hard and I’m excited.”
Now in the process of replacing Lewan and Schofield, how could the Michigan offensive line be better? How could a line that lost a first round pick and third round pick in the NFL draft possibly make improvements?
Gardner knows one thing, it’s time for guys to grow up quickly and come together as a unit, something he’s seen in summer workouts.
“I feel like we had two leaders, two big time leaders in Schofield and Taylor, but I don’t think Schofield was much of a vocal leader,” he said. “So you had one guy who was trying to get an entire offensive line. Now you’ve got three guys that played a lot of football and even more guys than that and they can help each other to be effective.”
“I just know that leadership has no age,” Gardner added. “I don’t care what year you are. If you played a lot of football and you’ve been through the fire with your teammates and brothers, I feel like anybody can lead.
“It’s not reserved for fifth-year seniors or fourth year seniors or juniors, redshirt. I feel like anybody can lead, there is no age on leadership.”
Either way, adversity can teach quite a bit.
Now in full swing of fall camp, Gardner is hoping the failures a year ago and be parlayed into positives on the year ago, not that he’s lacking in confidence even after the season he had.
“The success doesn’t teach you that much,” Gardner said. “It just shows that you can do it. I’m not short of confidence, so I kind of believed that I could do it already, 500 yards at Indiana was a little different for me; that’s like video game.
“A lot of the things that I’ve done, I’ve always thought I could do it. The hardships are the things that really teach you and the things that you can really learn from.”