Michigan QB Denard Robinson sheds light on growing up poor, death of brother in Big Ten speech
CHICAGO -- Denard Robinson was a scared little kid who didn't know what to do when he first stepped foot on Michigan's campus four years ago.
Those aren't my words, but those of his former center, David Molk.
Now, Robinson appears to be peeling back those layers as he prepares for his senior season with the Wolverines.
Robinson delivered a rousing speech Friday while representing the Big Ten's players during the league's annual kickoff luncheon. He was following in the footsteps of former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose address last year went viral.
Robinson's speech wasn't as polished as Cousins' -- but it was every bit as stirring.
The Deerfield Beach, Fla., native revealed he had a brother die when he was 10, and that he prays to him before every game.
"No matter how hot it is outside, I always feel a cool breeze," Robinson said. "I like to think it comes from him."
He proceeded to shed light on his background growing up poor in rural Florida, where he was so "self-conscious" about his upbringing, he held his recruiting visits at his grandparents' house.
Drugs infested the streets, and Robinson was ineligible to play football as a freshman. There were temptations.
"What you might not know is I wasn't even the best athlete in my neighborhood, but happened to be one of the ones who made it out," Robinson continued. "Why? Choices.
"The reason I tell you this is ... it wasn't easy where I came from. But what made it possible were my two parents, who had nothing and gave everything. And today, I want to say thank you. I love you.
"My favorite artist, Lil Wayne, has a saying, 'I didn't set out to be different. I set out out to be me, and people think it's different.' ... Where I came from, it was easy to do the wrong thing. Quit school, do drugs, live the street life. It's tough to do the right things.
"But it was my choice to be different, to be uncommon."
They were some of the first revelations about his childhood, a testament to how close-lipped he's been since stepping into the spotlight in 2010.
Since that breakout season, he's experienced both sides of fame. He felt the rush of meeting President Barack Obama and LeBron James -- and both said they knew who he was.
But he also had his Twitter account hacked by an alleged ex-girlfriend, an episode that played out nationally in the media. He went to basketball games, but couldn't do so without having his every move tracked by TV cameras.
In the end, Robinson said the key is to stay positive and use the platform for good.
"With this platform we have an opportunity -- the opportunity to make a difference," Robinson said, addressing his fellow players. "Those choices don't stop. Trust me, I'm not perfect -- just ask Coach Hoke.
"I was told I couldn't play college football, I was told I couldn't play college quarterback. I was told I was too short. ... I've been told many things, but my choice not to take the easy way out has led me to play for the University of Michigan and set college football records.
"Like I said, I used to be so self-conscious about where I came from, but today, I realize I'm blessed. ... It helped me become who I am today. It doesn't matter where you come from, anything's possible. That's the message I want to carry out. It's about choices."
Teammates have said Robinson was so inaudible when he first arrived on campus, they couldn't understand his playcalling in the huddle. Now, he's speaking for the Big Ten's players -- from the heart.
Hoke has raved about his star quarterback's progress, on and off the field. This was our first glimpse at Robinson, version 4.0.
He's off to a quick start, as per usual.