It hasn't been a fun past few months for Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier. After leading a thrilling comeback victory over Notre Dame last year at Michigan Stadium, the freshman looked as if he would rule Ann Arbor for years to come. Rich Rodriguez had the quarterback he needed, an athlete who could throw and run, and was tough enough to take whatever the opposition threw at him.
Of course, it didn't quite work out that way as the Wolverines progressed through the rest of their 2009 schedule. Forcier and his slight frame broke down under the brunt of Big Ten competition. He struggled with a shoulder injury that may have been more debilitating than publicized. Michigan only won three of its remaining 10 games after that win over the Fighting Irish, and Forcier no longer looked like the legend in the making that so many had prematurely built him up to be.
In the offseason, something happened. We may never know exactly what, though there's been plenty of speculation. Perhaps Forcier acted entitled after his early success and no longer felt he had to compete for the starting quarterback job. Maybe he didn't work as hard to strengthen his shoulder as coaches would've liked.
What we do know is that Forcier didn't endear himself to his teammates, skipping voluntary workouts while so many others came to work hard and get better. Troy Woolfolk confirmed that during Big Ten media days, praising Denard Robinson's work ethic in comparison to Forcier's.
And then there was the whole wings controversy. You've seen Rodriguez in those Big Ten Network commercials, speaking to a presumed recruit, touting the Wolverines by saying "our helmets got wings." Well, he apparently told Forcier that his helmet no longer did. Though the coaching staff initially played coy publicly, Rodriguez eventually acknowledged that Michigan football players had to earn their wings. Forcier obviously hadn't. Even when he got those wings back, he had clearly lost something among the Michigan coaching staff.
These disciplinary measures have carried out to the regular season. Forcier was listed third on the quarterback depth chart for last Saturday's game versus Connecticut. Devin Gardner, who hadn't taken a snap at the college level, would see action before him. That's exactly what happened in the third quarter, when Robinson took a hard hit on his hip and had to come out. Going to Forcier seemed like the natural move. UConn was still within striking distance. Would that have been the time to turn the game over to a true freshman?
Yet it was Gardner warming up on the sidelines, while Rodriguez tried to keep him loose with some chatter. And there was Gardner going into the game for two plays until Robinson was deemed fit to continue. With that, any chance that Gardner might take a redshirt year officially became a moot point. And that "coach's decision" essentially told Forcier his services would no longer be needed.
What a difference a year makes. How do you go from starting every game last season to this? Instead of dazzling the home crowd with accurate throws and thrilling runs, Forcier stood on the sideline with helmet off. Rather than once again be the hero, he was an observer. Forcier watched Robinson become Michigan's new quarterback sensation. Eventually, he couldn't even stand close to the field, and pretend that he was happy for his teammate.
Forcier fled to the bench, far back from the sideline, behind the crowd of his teammates. Head lowered, he hid underneath his skull cap. Except all the fans (and ESPN TV cameras) knew where Forcier was because of the maize number five on the back of his jersey.
Where there was once a smile, there was now a sulk. It was the distinct appearance of someone who didn't want to be there. To everyone who could see Forcier's demeanor - either in person or on television - the suddenly embattled sophomore looked like he was ready to transfer.
Forcier said as much after the game, telling AnnArbor.com's Mike Rothstein, "All you need to know is I'm out." What else could that possibly mean, other than what every Michigan fan already suspected? Surely, Forcier didn't mean that he was simply out of the stadium for the day after the game had finished. Someone as familiar with the spotlight as Forcier has become likely knew what he was saying.
Soon thereafter, Forcier's father attempted to put out the fire that his son had started. Talking to the AP's Larry Lage, Michael Forcier said it was "150 percent fact" that Tate was staying at Michigan. He chalked up the statement to frustration.
Maybe we should also count reckless emotion among the factors. Forcier, after all, is still just a kid. How many of us encountered some adversity early in our college careers, wondered if we were in the right place, and perhaps considered that everything might be better in a different situation, perhaps one closer to home?
We've seen this with previous quarterbacks at Michigan. Scott Dreisbach lost his job to Brian Griese. More famously, Tom Brady felt unfairly treated, as Lloyd Carr desperately tried to keep Drew Henson happy enough that he wouldn't go play baseball. But Brady's father and the Michigan coaches convinced Brady to stay, that he'd be a better quarterback and man for going through this. And they were right. Now, Brady is the NFL's golden boy, flashing Super Bowl jewelry with an international supermodel on his arm.
Obviously, such a fate isn't guaranteed for Forcier if he stays. Simply in terms of physical attributes, Brady looked more like a NFL quarterback than Forcier. (And of course, Brady played in a far more pro-friendly offense.) However, there is something to be said for handling difficulties and making them work for you. Rodriguez has shown that every position is always under competition. No one should ever feel like they don't have a chance. Especially in a sport like football, where a player is one hit away from leaving the field.
But maybe that mindset no longer applies to college football. Players want to play. They're not beholden to the classic programs anymore, not willing to wait their turn. They'll go to so-called lesser programs if it means seeing the field sooner. Or they'll search for the ideal situation for them, even if it means sitting out a year, as Ryan Mallett did when he left Michigan for Arkansas. And if Forcier wants to prove to NFL scouts and executives that he can succeed despite his size, he has to play. He can't do that from a sideline.
Forcier wouldn't be the first college quarterback who's had to split time. And several of those players have succeeded under such circumstances. Eventually, they won the respect of teammates, coaches and fans for not giving up. Those are the types of stories that often make college football so rewarding to follow.
Anyone's entitled to change his or her mind, especially someone as young as a college sophomore. But if Forcier has already made the decision to leave Michigan, then it's probably best that he go. It does no one any good if he continues to sulk on the bench. If Forcier believes that the coaches have decided that Robinson and Gardner are the future, and that he may as well stop trying to compete, then he's taking away an opportunity - not to mention a scholarship - from someone who wants to be there.