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Published: Thursday, 9/4/2003

Perseverance pays off for UM's Underwood

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
UM running back David Underwood. UM running back David Underwood.
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David Underwood decided to play football at Michigan without ever visiting the campus.

But after playing sparingly in his first two seasons, he considered transferring to a school closer to his home in Madisonville, Texas.

Underwood carefully weighed all his options, but in the end he decided it might be best to stick around Ann Arbor for his junior year.

Now he's glad he did.

“I look at last year and I was disappointed, but in all reality I think it helped me grow up,” he said. “In life, sometimes you're dealt a bad hand of cards, and you just have to overcome adversity.

“The rough times have helped me become a better person, as well as a better player.”

Underwood, a 6-foot, 228-pound running back, played in just 10 games his first two seasons, rushing 67 times for 213 yards and two touchdowns.

But this year he beat out Pierre Rembert and Jerome Jackson for the No. 2 tailback spot. Underwood backs up Chris Perry, who leads the nation in rushing after collecting 232 yards in the Wolverines' season-opening, 45-7 win over Central Michigan on Saturday.

Underwood carried the ball 11 times for a career-high 64 yards and one touchdown against the Chippewas. He also caught one pass for 10 yards.

“It felt good just to get out there and show what I can do,” he said. “It felt like I was in high school again. I hope to keep getting out there on a consistent basis and just go from there.”

Coach Lloyd Carr was impressed with Underwood's performance in the opener.

“David Underwood acquitted himself well,” Carr said. “David knows going into this season that he's going to play an important role on this football team, and I think you're going to see him get better and better.

“I thought he ran with power. I thought he hit the holes well. And he's a fast guy and a good pass protector. That kind of balance is pretty good.”

Next up for Underwood is a date Saturday with his home-state Houston Cougars. He said he felt pressure to play college football in Texas coming out of high school.

“Texas A&M is 20 minutes from my house, and Texas is two hours away,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure to stay there, especially at Texas A&M.”

NOT IMPRESSED: Iowa's defense forced Miami quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw a career-high four interceptions.

The Hawkeyes sacked the Findlay High School graduate four times and hurried him countless others in a 21-3 victory. And the RedHawks' offense failed to crack the end zone for the first time in a decade.

Ironically, Roethlisberger's performance - he failed to throw a touchdown pass for just the third time in 25 games - came in his first outing after a Web site was launched to promote him as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

“After a performance like today, who knows, a school might've wasted a lot of money trying to promote him,” said Iowa running back Fred Russell. “That's why you can't start talking Heisman stuff until later in the season.”

HE'S SMOKIN': Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker made a triumphant return to the field in a 26-21 win over Western Michigan.

Smoker, booted off the team with five games left last season because of a substance-abuse problem, completed 21 of 34 passes for 324 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against the Broncos.

He became the Spartans' career leader in passing yards (5,861) and the career total offense leader (5,756). His 43 career touchdown passes tie him for second place with Dave Yarema (1982-86) and Ed Smith (1976-78).

Smoker said he enjoys running first-year coach John L. Smith's spread offense.

“Every quarterback likes to throw the ball,” Smoker said. “It's a lot of fun. It's a great offense.”

HE'S GROUNDED: Indiana coach Gerry DiNardo went to Italy on vacation in the off-season, but dreaded the trip for weeks because he dislikes planes.

“I wanted to take a boat or something, but I couldn't get away from the office that long, so I ended up flying,” he said.

DiNardo said he literally closes his eyes and grits his teeth when the Hoosiers make road trips that require them to fly. When it comes to recruiting he has a graduate assistant chauffeur him around in a car.

“I'm always bragging about those 13,000 miles I drove around the state of Indiana,” DiNardo said. “Well, I didn't drive a single one of 'em. I sat for 13,000 miles.”

QUICK HEALER: Illinois fullback Carey Davis was expected to miss some games after having his knee scoped the Monday before the opener.

He not only played against Missouri six days later, he caught a career-high 10 passes for 66 yards, which ranks him second-nationally in catches per game.



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