Junior Hemingway returns better than ever with 2-touchdown game in Michigan football team's season opener
Mononucleosis had done this to Junior Hemingway, had taken him away from his teammates and away from football. It’d been the latest setback for the sophomore wide receiver from Conway, S.C. following ankle surgery and a bum shoulder.
So he sat. And he watched as Michigan tumbled to 3-9.
“I watched evvverry play,” Hemingway said. “I was supportive of my team no matter what.”
Still, he wondered if he’d ever be out there. The mono came after Michigan’s fourth game, against Wisconsin, and it knocked him out for the remainder of the 2008 season. It gave him a medical redshirt, but that didn’t matter at the time.
Days like Saturday, like the season opening 31-7 Michigan win over Western Michigan, weren’t a tangible reality.
“At a certain point, I was starting to think to myself ‘I don’t know,’” Hemingway said. “I didn’t know what to do at certain points in time but they talked to me. Coach told me to fight, my parents told me to fight, so I started to fight.
“Now I’m feeling as good as I’ve ever been.”
Hemingway scored on Michigan’s first offensive drive, a 28-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Tate Forcier that gave Michigan a 7-0 lead and a new brand of hope for 2009 after the forgettable 2008 season.
On the play, Hemingway saw Forcier waving his arms, signaling a break in the play. He was supposed to cut short. Instead he ran long, beating the Western Michigan defensive back and catching an easy touchdown pass.
“Junior’s always had this potential,” wide receivers coach Tony Dews said. “He was just so banged up last year that it was hard when he got sick. He has all the potential in the world.”
In that moment, Hemingway appeared to be back. And it continued throughout the rest of the day.
At 6-foot-1, 220-pounds, Hemingway is in the best shape of his career. So when he saw single coverage on a third-and-seven play in the second quarter, his eyes grew wide. He may have even talked a little bit.
“Play call, man, play call,” Hemingway said. “Defender played man, and I was like, ‘I’m about to go deep on him.’ I went deep on him, and Tate put another one on the money.”
Forcier found Hemingway 44 yards later for his second touchdown catch, the first time a Michigan receiver has caught two touchdowns in a game since Adrian Arrington in the 2008 Capital One Bowl.
In all, Hemingway finished with five catches for 103 yards and the two scores. It’s more yards than he had total in his first two seasons and one fewer catch.
And he went from an afterthought on his couch in Ann Arbor to one of the most influential players in what was a pivotal game.
“It feels real good,” Hemingway said. “People try to bring us down, and we still kept fighting and came together. We are more together now than we’ve ever been and for us to go out there on the field, we have a lot to prove and we have to redeem ourselves.
“Just go out there and fight, fight, fight and never give up.”
Hemingway didn’t. Look at the results.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for Annarbor.com. He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org