Gardner, Gallon: Backups to breakout stars

Following Michigan's 63-point output against Indiana a week and a half ago, quarterback Devin Gardner and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon took questions from the media, laughing and smiling about the show they’d just put on.

Gardner had thrown for 503 yards. Gallon had accounted for 369 of those receiving yards, a new Big Ten record.

When the two exited the room Gardner looked at Gallon.

“You dropped one,” Gardner said, referring to Gallon’s single miscue. "You could've had an NCAA record."

“Bad pass,” Gallon said with a laugh.

He knew it was a lie. Passes from Gardner to Gallon are rarely bad. In fact, Gardner claims he can throw to Gallon with his eyes closed if need be.

Gallon likes to think there isn’t a pass coming his way from Gardner he couldn’t catch. And after the work the two have put in over the past four years, it’s the least he will accept.

“You work together long enough, you know what the other guy’s going to do,” offensive coordinator Al Borges said. “Just building a trust where both of them understand he’s going to be here at this time, and I know when I release the ball I can count on that to happen -- that takes time. That doesn’t happen overnight with anybody.”

And it didn’t happen overnight for these two.

When Gardner came to Ann Arbor in early 2010, he was the backup to Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier. The Wolverines’ morale was at a low, having come off a second consecutive bowl-less season.

Gardner had enrolled early to get a head start and compete, but when he arrived, Glick Field House was empty most days, and he found himself competing against only himself.

So he would set up tractor tires, propping them up against one another for target practice. Then he’d put bags near his feet to make sure his footwork was progressing. Then he’d add nets in front of the tires to work on dropping balls in to the receivers (read: tires), perfecting his trajectory.

Saturday after Saturday that winter, when Gardner should’ve been a senior at Inkster High School, he was working on his game by throwing to tires. Occasionally he’d see Gallon, then a freshman who had redshirted the previous season, in the halls or weight room of Schembechler Hall, but Gardner never asked Gallon to be his target and Gallon never asked Gardner to be his gunslinger.

“I really didn’t have anybody to throw to,” Gardner said. “Nobody wants to go and throw with the backup.”

The next season -- what would be Rich Rodriguez’s last at Michigan -- Gallon and Gardner started becoming close, both on and off the field.

Gardner was a true freshman in 2010, behind Robinson and Forcier, while Gallon was behind Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms.

But in practice, Gardner and Gallon connected. The backup defense had no answers for the two. They’d work extra when they had time and even though Gallon was 5-foot-8, he seemed to be one of the more reliable targets Gardner had found.

“He’s a much better target than a tire,” Gardner said with a smile. “He’s much easier to throw to than a tire, but the tire kind of set me up to be able to throw to anybody.”

“We just used to stay after and work with each other,” Gallon added. “When we weren’t playing, we’d work with each other to do everything we could to get out on the field.”

But they did get on the field that season.

Gardner made reserve appearances against Connecticut and Notre Dame. Then, in a close win over Massachusetts, Gallon was put in at slot receiver, while Robinson took every QB snap, leaving Gardner on the side.

But against Bowling Green, the two started their foundation. Gardner threw his first touchdown pass, which was Gallon’s first touchdown catch -- an 11-yard bubble screen.

“We didn’t plan it that way,” Gardner said. “It just happened.”

That’d be the last game Gardner would play in 2010 as he sat out the rest of the season with a back injury.

Michigan went to the Gator Bowl that year -- the only bowl appearance under Rodriguez. When the Wolverines returned to Ann Arbor, embarrassed after a 52-14 loss to Mississippi State, there were even fewer players at Glick than the year before.

But Gallon and Gardner were there. Even when the coaches weren’t, even when the coaching staffs changed, even when the questions surrounding Michigan were louder than anything happening inside the building, Gardner and Gallon were there.

From the gray days of February to the hot mornings in the Michigan summer, the two could be found in Glick Field House.

“The Saturdays were long, hot days in Glick -- just us two or a couple guys working on what we needed to work on until one of us called quits,” Gallon said. “But we’d start talking, one of us would take a knee and we’d be sitting there talking for hours. Then we’d call it after that.”

The next season, both saw more playing time and their chemistry grew. Gardner appeared in nine games, finishing the season 11-of-26 with one touchdown and one interception. Gallon played in all 13 games, finishing with 453 yards and three touchdowns.

It was an impressive year for Gallon, but Gardner knew he had more in him.

But they wouldn’t be able to show that for some time as the Michigan coaching staff decided to move Gardner to wide receiver in 2012. Through the first eight games, Gardner hadn’t taken a single game snap at QB.

Gallon still led the Wolverine receivers with 318 yards on 18 catches, for an average of 40 yards per game.

But then Robinson got hurt. And so did Russell Bellomy.

And against Minnesota, Gardner returned and wasn’t fazed because he knew he had Gallon.

“I had a safety blanket that I knew for sure was going to be where he was going to be, and I could throw it to him at any time,” Gardner said. “He made it so much easier for me because it was ‘If all else fails, Gallon is going to be open.’ … I feel like I wouldn’t be at the point I’m at now without Gallon because I had that failsafe that I trusted absolutely no matter what.”

Through the final five games last season, Gallon caught 31 balls for 511 yards -- an average of 102 yards per game (increasing 62 yards per game from Robinson/Bellomy to Gardner).

This season, their successes on the field have been well documented. Gardner has promised Gallon that he’ll get him a 1,000-yard season for his final campaign and by the looks of it, Gardner is making good on his word. Gallon has promised to make Gardner look as good on the field as he is in Glick.

But without Glick, these two wouldn’t be where they are.

On the field, they’ve come to almost share a brain. And off the field, they’ve become brothers, though Gallon already has five and Gardner has two. But this will be their last season together, a fitting end to their start on long Saturdays by themselves.

But they’ve secured themselves in Michigan lore to an extent, and they appreciate that their names and numbers will always be tied to one another because they always knew that the success of one relied upon the success of the other. And the Wolverines have relied upon both.

Because for Michigan this season, Gardner wouldn’t be Gardner without Gallon. And Gallon wouldn’t be Gallon without Gardner.