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Hemingway steals show in new jersey

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Junior Hemingway arrived at Michigan in 2007, his number from Conway High School in South Carolina -- No. 5 -- was taken. Then-Wolverines wide receivers coach Erik Campbell asked Hemingway what he wanted.

Hemingway responded, "What numbers do you have?"

Unimpressed by the digits Campbell listed, he asked if there was anything else. Campbell said, "Well, there is No. 21."

Hemingway got excited. At Michigan, No. 21 was forever associated with Desmond Howard -- one of three Heisman Trophy winners in school history. The incoming receiver took it.

As of this past Saturday, the jersery has even more meaning. Michigan honored Howard in a pregame ceremony, naming him the school's first "football legend." And a patch with Howard's name was embroidered onto the No. 21 jersey.

Hemingway thought something was up when longtime Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk told him to see him after warm-ups to change his jersey. As Howard was being honored on the field, Hemingway was learning he'd be playing with Howard's name on his shoulder for the rest of his career.

"Oh man, it was an honor," Hemingway said Monday. "An honor to wear it. I talked to him before the game in the locker room and he said, 'Keep your emotions down during the game. Stay composed and let everything come to you.'"

Hemingway did just that.
He lived up to the hype surrounding his jersey and played well in his own right, with three catches for a career-high 165 yards and a touchdown in Michigan's come-from-behind 35-31 win over Notre Dame. On two of the three catches, Hemingway's in-route adjustment turned the play from an incompletion or interception into a game-changer.

"You have to beat the DB to the highest point first," Hemingway said. "If you wait until you come down too low, then he'll have a chance to pop on it before you do. Basically you have to get your body in front of him or, I'm kind of big so I can put more body on him."

On his 43-yard touchdown catch, he cut in front of a Notre Dame defender, leaped up and grabbed the ball at its highest point, then turned and reached for the end zone. On another reception, he cut in front of both Notre Dame safeties to make a 45-yard catch.

The way he was able to adjust in the air showed a bit of why he was coveted out of Conway, S.C., in the first place. At 6-foot-1, 222 pounds and a high school basketball player with a precocious rebounding ability, Hemingway always flashed potential.

But sickness and injuries kept popping up. There was mononucleosis in 2008, an ankle injury in 2009 and a hamstring issue last season. This year, though, the fifth-year senior has been healthy, working in an offense that favors wide receivers with a quarterback who knows how to use Hemingway's size advantage on jump balls. It has started to come together.

"That was what he did best," said Chuck Jordan, Hemingway's high school football coach at Conway. "In the air, you have to have two things. You have to have great balance, but you also have to have a body that will take some contact. He was a triple-jumper for us in high school and those things are good, too, as far as creating that balance and adjusting in the air.

"He's got that body control, got the great balance and he also has the body that allows him to go up there and not get knocked around."

In many ways, those are similar qualities to the legendary No. 21, Howard. While Hemingway is a different-looking player than the former Heisman winner -- Howard was faster and Hemingway is taller and has longer arms -- they both possess game-changing ability.

Perhaps the most important thing for Hemingway, besides the fact that he's finally healthy, is that he doesn't feel pressure to live up to Howard -- patch or no patch.

"I just go out there and play my game," Hemingway said. "It's a great honor to wear the number. But I have to just go out and play my game. I can't think about having to live up to what Desmond did, because I'm a different player."

He is a receiver, though. And with the addition of the football legend patch to the No. 21, Brady Hoke said he likely sees the jersey going from wide receiver to wide receiver. The first-year Michigan coach didn't even know whether the team's other No. 21, freshman defensive back Raymon Taylor, had the Howard patch on his jersey.

And another thing is certain. The next guy to wear No. 21 won't be able to do what Hemingway did and just ask for it.

"I think there'll be a process to it," Hoke said. "There will be a thought process."

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.