Devin Gardner learns lessons in handling success, Heisman hype
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Devin Gardner lived with fellow Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson for a year-and-a-half, giving him unique perspective into how Robinson handled his rising fame.
Those lessons turned out to be valuable, now that Gardner's own star is rising after a highly successful four-game stint as Michigan's full-time quarterback. He's even drawn some early Heisman Trophy attention for 2013.
"I'm fine with it," Gardner said this week. "I'm going to stay the same guy, no matter what. I've watched Denard through these years.
"I don't like to put pressure on myself at all, so I don't even listen to that. Putting pressure on yourself is the thing that helps to hurt you. I'd rather just play the best I can."
Gardner said the Heisman hype has already become unavoidable for him.
"I mean, there's no where you can't not hear it," he said. "People tell me all the time, but I just ignore it. Like, 'OK, thanks.'"
Gardner is expected to be the full-time quarterback Tuesday when No. 19 Michigan (8-4) faces No. 11 South Carolina (10-2) in the Outback Bowl.
He opened the season at receiver, but moved back to quarterback after Robinson damaged a nerve in his throwing elbow against Nebraska. A move that net big-time results.
Gardner finished the regular season 57-of-90 passing for 1,005 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He added seven more scores on the ground, leading Michigan to a 3-1 finish.
He matched a school record against Iowa, accounting for six touchdowns in a single game.
Yet, Gardner says his best football is ahead of him.
He grades his performance at just a 'B' or 'B-plus,' saying he committed too many turnovers and didn't convert enough third downs -- even though Michigan converted 27-of-44 third downs in his four games.
That's a 61.4-percent clip, which would have led the country if extrapolated for a full season.
It's clear Gardner has high standards for himself, and refuses to be satisfied -- which could help him handle increasing pressure. In a way, he's taking after offensive coordinator Al Borges.
"I've realized he likes to yell at me, whether good or bad," Gardner said with a smile. "He'll always find something. I don't think I'll ever be able to say I don't have something to work on, thanks to Coach Borges."
It was a whirlwind final month for Gardner, who made his first start at quarterback with just one week of practice at the position. He was learning on the fly.
He handled a tough situation well, though, and expects to take a leap forward now that he has more than a month to settle into the position before facing South Carolina.
"I think as you develop the confidence -- he's always been a pretty confident guy -- but the more snaps, the more he does, the more confident he gets," coach Brady Hoke said.
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