The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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172 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW Norfleet began to doubt his dream would be become a reality. He committed to Cincinnati and was happy with his decision. On Jan. 29, just days before National Signing Day, Norfleet and the Crusaders lost a basketball game, 51‑43, to East English Village. After the game, a dejected Norfleet met his grandfa‑ ther outside the locker room. "We have a lot to talk about when we get home," Kenny said. "I didn't know what he was talking about, and they wouldn't tell me," Norfleet said. "I got home, and I found out that I had the of‑ fer, and that was it. I was like, 'I'm going to Michigan.' It was a crazy day. "My grandma was so happy. I was going to be closer to home, and it's a great school." Making The Team Because Norfleet still had ground to make up, he was enrolled in Michigan's summer bridge program, which offers "intensive academic preparation, highly individualized academic advising and the personal atten‑ tion of faculty in an intensive, yet nurturing environment during the summer." Looking back, Norfleet admits that he did not have the right attitude toward academics. "I was still in my high school mindset at that time, like: 'I don't need this. I'm here to play football,'" Norfleet said. "I almost failed my bridge class. After bridge, when the semester was almost done, I was behind and struggling, and they told me they were going to take football away from me. They told me, 'You won't be in summer camp until you finish these classes.' That's when it really hit me. This is real. It's not about just football anymore." Faced with the possibility of losing foot‑ ball, Norfleet had an epiphany: his identity as a human being had to extend past the label "football player." He began spending all of his free time at the Academic Center, head‑ ing there directly after practice and remain‑ ing until the place closed down for the night. "Michigan has been by my side ever since I got here," he said. "I spend a lot of time in the Academic Center. They spend a lot of time putting in work with me. I'm usually there from when I get out of practice until they close. I respect that about Michigan — it's not just about football. There is a lot more in life that we need — because after football we need something, and that is what they're giving us." He quickly caught up and passed the bridge program, and then won the job as Michigan's kickoff returner in the season‑ opening game of his rookie season versus Alabama in Dallas. "I was more focused than anything," he said of his first return, which he brought back Top 10 Highest Career Kick Return Averages Kickoff return touchdowns are one of the rarest statistical accomplish- ments in Michigan football history, with just 13 occurrences on record, including just two in the last 20 years (Steve Breaston in 2005 and Darryl Stonum in 2009). But kick returners can make a big impact on the game without reaching the end zone. These are the 10 players with the best career kickoff return averages, with at least 20 attempts to their name: 1. Desmond Howard, 1989-91, 26.9 yards per return (45 attempts) — Howard is the lone player in Michigan football history with two kick return touchdowns to his name, taking one back for a career-long 95-yard score against Michigan State in 1990 and scoring on a 93-yard return on the second-half kickoff of the 1991 season opener at Boston College. In 1990, he averaged nearly 30 yards per return on 17 attempts. 2. Anthony Carter, 1979-82, 26.3 yards per return (63 attempts) — Surprisingly, Carter, one of the most electric players in Michigan football history, never registered a kickoff return touchdown, despite four seasons as the Wolverines' primary kick return specialist. He was a solid kick re- turner, though, averaging more than 21.0 yards per runback every season, with a high of 28.5 yards per return as a sophomore. His career long return was a 67-yarder against Notre Dame in 1980. 3. Tony Boles, 1987-89, 25.6 yards per return (25 attempts) — Boles was Michigan's primary kick returner for two seasons, making the biggest splash in 1989 when he averaged 28.2 yards on 10 kickoff returns. He scored on his career-long return, taking one 85 yards to the house in a 42-27 win over Purdue in 1989. 4. Darryl Stonum, 2008-10, 24.8 yards per return (62 attempts) — Stonum was on track to topple Steve Breaston's record for career kickoff return yardage before a yearlong suspension for a DUI turned into an expulsion after he failed to show up to a meeting with his parole officer. Before that, though, Stonum was an explosive kick returner, including a career-long 94-yard touchdown return in a wild 38-34 win over Notre Dame in 2009. 5. Gil Chapman, 1972-74, 24.7 yards per return (26 attempts) — Chapman averaged an impressive 34.5 yards on eight returns in 1972, bolstered by a career-long 73-yard return for a touchdown in a 31-7 win over Illinois. The second-longest return of his career also came in that game, when he took one back for a 52-yard gain. 6. Steve Breaston, 2003-06, 24.6 yards per return (81 attempts) — Breaston's career mark of 24.6 yards per return is made doubly impressive by the fact that he returned more kickoffs than any other player in program history (81 in his career). Breaston tallied at least one 50-yard return in each of his last three seasons, including a career-long 95-yard return in a 23-20 loss to Minnesota, the only kickoff return touchdown of his career. 7. Dave Raimey, 1960-62, 24.1 yards per return (23 attempts) — Raimey is the lone player in Michigan program history to average more than 30 yards per return in a season in which he registered 10 or more attempts, averaging 30.8 yards on 10 returns in 1961. That season, he took one back for a score on a career-long 90-yard return in a 50-20 loss to Ohio State. 8. Dennis Norfleet, 2012-present, 23.5 yards per return (75 at- tempts) — Like Breaston, Norfleet has managed an impressive career average while returning many more kicks than the majority of the players on this list. Although his career-long return (a 44-yarder against Indiana in 2013) is shorter than anyone else's on this list, Norfleet has tallied at least one 30-yard return in 13 of 26 career games. 9. Derrick Alexander, 1990-93, 23.4 yards per return (27 attempts) — Alexander never broke the big one, but he was a consistent threat for a good return, especially in 1990 when he averaged 27.8 yards on 13 returns. He tallied a career-long 48-yard return in a 16-13 win at Ohio State in 1990. 10. Anthony Thomas, 1997-2000, 23.2 yards per return (31 attempts) — Thomas did not return kickoffs as a senior in 2000, but he was a con- sistent kick returner during his first three seasons with the Wolverines. He tallied three runbacks of more than 40 yards, including a career-long 57- yard return in a 31-16 loss at Ohio State in 1998. — Andy Reid 170-173.Dennis Norfleet.indd 172 6/19/14 2:17 PM

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