Updated: Apr 6, 2021
For Season 3 Episode 4 of Slingin it with QB Velocity we got a chance to speak to former Michigan Quarterback Devin Gardner.
He had a distinguished career at Michigan playing both Wide Receiver and Quarterback. For his time in the NFL, he spent time with the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. He also played 2 seasons in the X League in Japan
In the interview we talked about the recruiting process for him, why he chose Michigan, the tradition at Michigan, his thinking when coaching quarterbacks, and his time overseas in Japan.
When was the first moment you feel in love with football?
Probably say when I was. 4-5 maybe, maybe even three, I don't know or broke. My older brothers are significantly altered me, so when I was when I was really little like that, they were in high school and playing peewee football and everything already so they come home with their to pads and then and then I'll put their helmet on.
Obviously, you know it's probably way too big, you know. I had a pretty big head at that age. I think it was the same size this. But yeah, I just remember that I have like pictures of it and then I remember they were they were close to the same age so they would go in the front yard and do hitting drills and stuff and I just thought that was most it was so loud, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever and I just couldn't wait to, you know get my chance. Ironically enough they both play defense though so but. It was around those ages that I kind of started for my love for football.
Anyone when you were growing up that you looked up too?
It's funny as you guys. When I was when I was coming up always wear #7 because I love Michael Vick. Right when I was nine years old is when he was really popular at Virginia Tech and he's running all over the place doing all this stuff and so.
But he's a shorter guy, right? And so, by the time I was 12 installer Michael Vick, right, and I do not have his wheels right so? I Kinda had to answer what I thought I was gonna be as a player. Yeah, it's just not nearly as fast and I was already told him at that point, but he was my favorite player for sure.
I love Barry Sanders as well. Got like old pictures of me in in my Barry Sanders Jersey for Halloween, but Michael Vick was my favorite quarterback growing up. even though at a point i knew that i could not do the things that he could do.
When did you realize, you could go to school playing football?
Oh, I know. because you know when you're a kid and this happens now and throw me now it's a little different with social media, everybody kind of getting social back when I was a kid it was just NFL, right? It really, it really wasn't even gold account.
It was like I'm gonna go play professional football so I never really thought about, you know, going to college and. And playing football, but. When I was 14 out of high School, I started getting recruited right like seriously recruited.
And at best when it kind of became reality and I had a magazine with Terrelle Pryor on the front of it he's like number one junior in the country or something like that and I'm like OK these are things that I can obtain right all those are things that I wanna do and from then i kind of thought it was real and I really could do it.
How did it feel like being ranked so high coming out of high school?
Cool man, I mean because you know, you know I thought you know I thought it was it was a goal of mine to be normal for back in the country and all these different things and you know. A lot of people when you say something like that at such a young age, you're probably you know they laugh at you right?
And it kinda like what. No way, right? You know many people are playing quarterback in the United States of America, right? And so, for it to be able to be relied on in. Obviously it's all opinion, right? So I was the best for tracking someone's opinion, but for someone to feel that way about me.
Well, actually. Someone along with a group of others that were bold or whatever they do, but I thought that was really really cool. because that's like kind of your first dream that you realize, and it was it was a lofty goal, and I was able to obtain it.
So, I think I think that was that was a really big highlight, you know, growing up, just get a chance to you know, see that and be. Be that guy around the country, but the one thing that people don't probably realize that back then social media wasn't that that big, right? Wasn't it you saying like that? And so, at my school, small school in start high school, nobody really knew I was that good at football, right?
Because before I got in there, we had a quarterback they had a quarterback name? Aaron Shavers, who? And everybody in school saw it so lucky for me. I was graduating high school early so Raffi and I play in the all-American game. I went to college because it would probably been pretty hectic and in school and stuff like that. So, I kind of. I'm kind of thankful for that. But some a party wants to know what it would be like if in this era, like I'm knowing quarterback and then and how people would receive that.
What advice would you give a young athlete going through that right now?
It's a great tool, right? Social media and being able to push your highlights and workout videos and things like that. You know some people, like man, I'm not posting all my workout stuff, that's fake, that's all.
But a lot of that stuff works, right? because? Especially in this cold in time where coaches don't get a chance to see you, right? They wanna hear you throw the ball they wanna see right? With video? Not edited? Not all that other stuff. Cold you see your weakness is right. You want to highlight the things you do well and let them try to pick out your weekend. But don't put bad stuff out there, but probably my biggest advice. And, uh, yeah. I mean, just go get it.
What are some of your philosophies when working with quarterbacks?
It's so much man. It's because as you guys, I'm sure no quarterbacking is the hardest thing you'll do in your life right now and I kind of compare it to like a lot of a lot of grown men that have never been a quarterback, inspire or even trained to be the quarterback. These young kids will experience more adversity than those mean a lot of times just because.
It's so hard to grind of, you know, continuing to try to be perfect and try to be perfect, and then you can't, right? And then and then you get that one. That one sniper perfection and you love it, but you can't really replicate it as much as you like to write even Tom Brady. So, it's interview that he did for Super Bowl with Tony Romo talking about how he's dreaming about the perfect throw. And people have no idea how often it does not happen, right?
It just doesn't happen, and so the thing for me, most high school coaches and Little League coaches they when they see a guy that can throw a spiral or throw a nice fastball, they, they slobber all over right. They just get so excited and so there's no correction. Running through the middle and then having to adjust the balls and all these different things and so I, I know that me coming up I didn't get corrected a whole bunch.
Coaches just aren't gonna do it, and so I try to teach the young quarterback so at all age you have a 6-year-old who I'm teaching him the same thing. Right now, you must find a way to critique and fix yourself, right? Because a lot of coaches first would have too much to do right there, coaching everything. And then you got a quarterback coach. Just never played quarterback, right?
So? East Coast, your quarterback, but he just has you know. So, it's tough. But I think they're doing a good job doing a good job of learning to correct and learning to teach others how to throw. Which if you can teach you, that means you know it more than anything on the work in the world.
So, I have the six-year-old teach new kids that come in and look 12-year-old. He's looking like what? And I'm like, yes, it's six years ago taught you how to throw right now, right? And so, I think it's really cool to dynamic that I have in the group. But yeah, I think I think just to making sure you coach yourself and kind of try to critique yourself. Is the biggest thing.
Just because you can get so many reps at doing it wrong, right when you're not around? Somebody like myself are like you guys that are being strategic and watching everything you do. that you will build way worse habits because you're just not with me enough right you with your football team a lot more.
It's just like parenting but they are at school and after school programs and all these other places, way more than they're actually at home. If you think about it, and so if you don't have that strong base of like, hey, these are the things you shouldn't do these things, you should do right.
They'll be easily influenced by others to do the wrong thing, right? And so that's kind of like I think about quarterbacking where I'm the parent. And you're not with me as much, but you are going outside, and you need to be able to make good decisions and do all the right things when you're not around.
What was it like being a part of Michigan?
I'm cool man. Like I said, growing up I like early. I didn't really think of, you know, going to college or anything like that. But as I got a little proven right and I'm getting Notre Dame and Florida and all these big schools and Michigan really stuck out just because of the tradition. Like you said.
I mean, I don't think there is a tradition anything like it, right? I went over to Japan to play football. Actually, a little bit and when I went to the it's really, it's really crazy. I went to the. Like the sports stuff like their version of Sports Authority or whatever.
And so, I go in there and nobody knows I'm there, right? I'm just there. Or like you know, visiting seeing if I would actually want to do it and. I walked past and it's like the character of me, right? And it's a Michigan helmet buying and so I won't pass it. I'm like wait what? I know way not on the other side of the world, right? Literally?
On the other side of the world, like they know Devin Gardner is, and it's not because I'm just so amazing, right? And it's not because of me right now because my eye was birthed into this world is because I played University of Michigan. So, things like that are things you just don't get other places tough. It's tough to get those places and them.
They call it the Michigan difference in the Michigan difference is real it's a real thing it's hard to explain but you go to Michigan and you graduate, and you do things right things will just work out for you.
What was it like to put on that number 98 for Michigan being the first one in a couple of years?
I mean, it's cool right now. Another thing that a lot of people don't even know how. How bigger is probably the biggest honor that you can get right? Our first Heisman Trophy winner. His family asked me to wear the number right.
He's obviously passed on time harming, but Mark Harmon, his son, who is Gibbs on NCIS lot of people don't know that and I know him from a freaky Friday on my favorite movies. But get a chance to meet their family and have that connection right. Not still text Mark today like at any time that you take me back faster than a lot of my friends. You know what I mean so that it's really cool too.
And in the kind of guy that I'm Harmon was as far as. Fighting a war and being so tough they need they tell a story about how he played at Ohio State at Ohio State endorse you and he got a standing ovation right? He averaged 50 yards on punts and then just all this crazy stuff and it's like wow like this family thinks of me as that type of knowledge person, but that's typing after type of athlete. they want me to wear their father's number and I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
What is the rivalry against Ohio State like on the inside?
Is so play some video that goes around the journey with Big 10. They did something where they were in a tunnel. Once an account of viral where like Ohio State's coming up to tunnel right from the warmup or whatever they're going into the locker room. And then we're just happen to be coming out and it is a. It's. It's almost a fight like it is.
It's insane if you haven't seen it, you should go watch it. I'm obviously not involved in all the ocean that because I'm gonna back somewhere. Just get my mind right lot harder job that I have to do then the linebackers in the corners that are, you know talking, talking trash. But it's the I mean they called the game for reason, right? It's the greatest rivalry in sports no matter what the records are.
You throw them out and you know a lot of people say that with a lot of different rivalries, but like it's real like it, it's one of the more fun rivalries you can because we got otherwise, like Minnesota Michigan State, but it's a lot different, right? You play the last game in November, right?
You had just had Thanksgiving, and then you go play this game and everybody knows what it means. And it means so much to both programs. I mean, it's nothing, nothing like it in sports. I don't think unless Michael Jordan plays like Kobe Bryant in the finals, but that can happen so.
Was the tradition with Michigan the key factor in picking them?
Or yeah, I think I think that was huge that the tradition, but I had a talk with my head coach. You're very Carter and we kind of talked about. I, Florida was a very viable option. Notre Dame has a lot of the same type of tradition.
And the one thing that they kind of sold it for me, he's like, hey where do you want to live when you're when you're done playing football and I want to live here right? I always wanted to give back like that's my heart is giving back to where I've come from and that's Detroit and so it's like where do you want to live when you, when you're when you're done rather your 12-year Pro, or you never play snap in Michigan where do you want to live?
Where do you want your name to ring and like here, right? And so that was kind of like the deciding factor. Like I'm going to Michigan no matter who the coaches, even though I love to drive, I'm going to go to Michigan and people ask me a lot of times like what I do it differently and no, I'll do the same thing over again.
Coach Carter for having a sane mind, because I probably been. Florida hot as heck. unlike most people I enjoy the winter like I need a break from being hot i don't like being hot all the time.
What was your favorite memory you had at Michigan?
Had my first start in the big house where almost lost the game and then got the game winner. First started out, it was amazing. I just come off a game against Minnesota, but it was away and so you know I'm coming in after having this good game my first time ever starting at quarterback. And then we're playing those Western who's playing really good as they always are every single year and we always in a dogfight with and I'm playing well throughout the game.
And then I just make one mistake, right? I throw interception late in the game. They try to sort the Clock away. They may they have a bad point they planted to Jeremy Gallon, but they like Align drive straight to him, which saves us some time. He runs a little bit. I think he gets close to 50. Not quite there. And I've never committed completed a Hail Mary in my life, and I never thought I would.
And then I drop back. I start to get ready to run and I see Roy Roundtree streaking down the middle of the field, and I Chuck it up. And it's almost not even really helps married because it was within the progression of the play. But it looked like a hail Mary because the guy passing her fears, but they're not going to throw passing appearance on.
Basically, last with the game. Brown tree tips it and then he falls down and catches it. We go down, Spike the ball, kick a field goal and then over time I get a game winner. Get on the edge and get in the end zone. And yeah, they are. Defense goes out and gets to stop.
So, and then it's so crazy because they carried me off the field and all this craziness, but they forgot I was the reason that we almost lost the game anyway. That there kinda, but that's football, man. It's all forgotten if you do. If you, do it, you're supposed to do.
Everybody forgets that you're the reason we're in this predicament already. They're just so happy with the feeling of a victory and you know, coming together and things like that and that it's no other feeling that could replicate that. I just can't believe. Take care my off view on their shoulders when I almost lost the game but it's all good.
What was your draft process like?
It was it was it was. It was different because a lot of people didn't know. So, my entire senior year I had a I had like torn ligaments in my elbow. My throwing elbow, right? So, I had to wear this basic basically like a cast every single day. In practice it turned my skin into like scales, which was yeah, I felt like a Dang alligator.
And so, it will be in with a lot of injuries, like some days it will feel fine, and some days will tell, right? And it in some days it would be like I can't throw it all right now I have to take all this ibuprofen and all this stuff all year. Just things that you didn't want to do. And so, after the year right I had to sit down and think like.
Man, what am I gonna do because I can't plan it felt like this I can't. I can't as there's no way I can function with my arm feeling the way that it does. But I am pretty good athlete right now I can still I can still do something and so I don't throw 4. The entire time, right after my last game, I didn't throw a single pass. And I just worked at like learning to play receiver.
Anything I've done it before, but it was just me being a very good athlete. And so, I go through it and I ironically loving meantime Brady had the same agent and I just told my yeah, I'll try the receiver thing just because of the whole arm thing. And you can't go into the NFL with a bum wheel. As a quarterback in your wheel, obviously you're on, so I do receiver thing and so I haven't thrown in so long, right?
So, I'm with the Patriots and then they have to bring a guy in which you know, as you know it's a numbers game. So, I ended up on the wayside. But the next day they still pick me up, and so I meet with Coach Tomlin. And he talks about. I want me to be slashed, right? He wants to be the thrower, the runner placing receiver, do all different things.
And so, I'm a little nervous about it at the time, because I haven't thrown a football right. But it's like riding a bike cap. You know, you could always just curate, throw and. In the Steelers like OTA's and all these different things I'm throwing, and I feel fine right? It feels like my arm is healed because I've given it so much rest, right? You know, when you're in college, you don't get a chance to rest.
There is no rest, right? There's no offseason, you know, as much as people think that you just get to be a regular person. You don't. You always work and lifting and throwing and doing these things and so. Rest was so good for me, so I was performing really well at quarterback and receiver and that was that was amazing for me.
But then obviously I got hurt and that kind of derailed a lot of that. But the draft process is a lot different for me. Just because I was kind of torn of like. I know I can play for like that. The next level. That's not. That's no question, but I can make every throw I can move. I can do all these things. But I'm gonna be a lesser version of myself and that's not gonna be good.
What was your mentality of switching your position to Wide Receiver?
So. And the way it came about was. Where Roger he got hurt, right? So, I had already played two years of my freshman redshirt, freshman redshirt off more and so more fresher freshmen and freshman year. Whatever, I'm on my third year, but I'm richer so. And where round he gets hurt, you were going to play in the first game, right?
And so were around. You get hurt. I'm sick of being on the bench, right? I was known quarterback in the country. I haven't played a single snap. This is insane. Oh my, not playing Denard is playing out of his mind every single week.
And so, I go in the office is on hey. I can help with clear Zebra. I'm not saying I'm gonna be the best guy whatever but you no worries down and I can pick up the slack while he's down because now we know at least you have a viable option. Like yeah, I'm like, but if anything happens to Denard, right?
Unfold rabbit quarterback, there's no questions asked. I'm not here to try to play receiver. I'm just trying to help the team by getting on the field and that's all happened. And then you know first week of spring ball like I was. I was going to get a lot of them. The backups, right?
Because the starters you know, look at you like you said quarterback like I'm not. I'm not wasting my time with you know what I mean and so I just destroy all the backups like just not even close. Not getting stop from catching the ball. It means is Prince fairly easy and so after that after the first week and a half the next week after that I gave you start getting reps against the ones and things like that.
Not really started learning how to. You know, get open, you know, going against better competition and things like that. And then I begin dominating them as well. And then that's how it happened, and I end up being our leading receiver in yards and catches. And you know, touchdowns. And until I went back to quarterback.
Jeremy Gallon really, really like taught me every single thing. And thing is for Roy is like you're actively giving catches out of your own hand to me by teaching me an insane for Germany gallon because we both played both ways X, right? And so now you're not only just taking balls out of hand, but he's taking actual reps off the field. Because we both can play X at the same time.
What motivated you to go play overseas in Japan?
I was talking my agent. He just called me. I was set to go play in Canada. I was gonna go play in Canada and you know get back to you know game shape right learn, get my legs up on me just because it's not. It's not as talented as delete right? And so, I can you know I can be 85% is still performed well and kind of work myself back in shape and.
But in any comedies like. Yeah, these guys from Japan, just you know, is calling me whatever my black man like. Oh, that's interesting, right? You know, at the least it's interesting and so told me about you know what they had gone and whatever. And you know he's like the cool thing is they're gonna fly you out tomorrow if you want just to go check it out.
I'm like what is the worst. I'm just gonna go get a free trip to Japan writing. I did stints, you know there's a lot of the world and so I go in this long flight and I get there, and I love it right? I'm like this is and then I see the thing at the at the at the Sports Authority thing and I'm just like wait, what?
This is something I could do, right? I would. I've met because I've never been out of the country. You know, I've never been on, you know, insert things like that except for like football trips of which is, you know, basically work, and so I'm like. I guess I could try this out for a year. I be.
I think this would be fun. I do it for a year and then you know, in Japan is kind of prove it place. You know where they give you. You know they pay you. early but you don't get the real money until you prove that you are worth you know whatever you're asking for and so the second year I was able to you know get whatever I want it pretty much and perform well again and so I think that was really cool experience for me.
What is their culture like around football?
Love you man. Especially, you know when I when I came there right now, they have like a real name like a name like every other Americans there. But like lower level that you know didn't really come TV a bunch you know and talented players, but you know just not names that people know. And so, when I went there the buzz was amazing and you know.
Get all these Japanese kids wearing 98 shirts and in different things like it. It's one of the best experiences. While I mean you got all these kids who don't even speak English, communicating with you through you know you know touch and you know different things like that and it's just like wow on the other side of the world, right? And that's the Michigan difference man.
Like if I don't play at University of Michigan, that kind of reception problem. because there are other Americans there and you didn't see the little Japanese kids running around with their numbers on you know what I mean so yeah, I just thought that was that was really cool refreshing and not I mean nobody I know will get that experience right that's experienced that you know I'm going to be able to cherish forever and yeah, it's cool.
Was there like a language barrier? How did you communicate with your teammates?
Like so it was definitely his barrier, right? So, they put me in Japanese class like trying to learn some Japanese to learn like numbers and things like that school. You know, run plays and stuff. But lucky for me on the team was a kid. His name is Yagi, he lived in New York for a long time, right? So, he was Japanese full Japanese hooked up, but he speaks.
Very clear English, right? Like real English is so he was he was a say he saved everything right because now I can just be myself and he can relate everything that I'm trying to say in different things like that whoever that help teach the receivers and he was able to learn it was it was really cool experience. Thankful you know to him because without him I don't know.
It's been pretty tough to, you know, communicate not only with the players, but with the coaches right with you want because, uh, so a lot of the coaches had, you know, they spoke some English, but it wasn't. It wasn't really, you know, as good as you wanted to be when you, when you when you're being coached by.
What do you want people to be looking at your legacy?
Well, I mean 40 years from now. You know, walking around pretty good. Hopefully I'm jogging or I saw a whole guy jogging next track and hopefully I'm jogging right, but I don't think I can draw it right now, so hopefully we get 40 or so I can jog. But I mean, I won't be able to.
You know, you know, see me for what I say I helped, right? I helped others, right? That's all I want to do, and that's all I got a chance to do is help others. No matter what and. Yeah, hopefully a bunch of the young quarterbacks I work with now or professionals right, and they can, all, you know, tell their horror stories about how was so mean and all these different things.
Then I'll probably not denial agree, but look at you now, right? You know. So, I think that that's it, man. I don't. I'm not a materialistic guy. I don't. I don't need a whole bunch of things right. I'm. I'm a servant. Alright, I'm here to serve others and I think I've been a pretty good job of that so far.