Roy Roundtree looks back at the kid who showed up at Michigan in 2008, shakes his head, wonders where the time went, and takes pride knowing that not only did he get an undergraduate degree, but he's on his way to a master's, as well.
Roundtree has overcome plenty — a learning disability identified when he was younger, a freshman year in college when he admittedly had too much freedom and fun, and constant public scrutiny after his stellar 2010 receiving numbers dropped significantly the following year and early this season.
Roundtree will tell you, though, that more important than football numbers — he set Michigan's game record with 246 yards receiving against Illinois in 2010, is seventh in career yards with 2,277 and seventh in career receptions with 151 — is the undergraduate degree he earned.
"I was shocked myself," said Roundtree, 23. "Just me being here in general. I really enjoy this traditional program. I've learned a lot. I've been pushed to the limit, every workout, practice.
"It was special wearing that winged helmet and having the 'M' ring and having that degree. It's something I'm proud of and my family is proud of."
The fifth-year senior, who is 12 credits from a master's in social work, will enjoy one more game wearing that winged helmet when Michigan plays South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Tampa, Fla.
Roundtree's first season at Michigan was tough — and not just because of the adjustment to college classes. He arrived with high school teammates tight end Brandon Moore and running back Mike Shaw.
Shaw, his roommate, played as a freshman; Roundtree didn't.
"I was frustrated," Roundtree said. "I had been playing since I was 5 and all of a sudden I get to college and I have to redshirt and watch the games. I had too much free time, and that's something that carried over. Sometimes I had too much fun, slacking to get up for class. I'd have a snow day and say, 'I'm not going to class.'"
While making the adjustment to college was a challenge, Roundtree also learned he wasn't completely ready for the faster-paced college game.
"You're on scout team, so you're running all the different plays," Roundtree said. "You're going against the ones, and you see how fast the game really is and you're like, 'Man, I'm only a freshman going against these older guys, who are stronger, faster. It's something that really got me ready to come back the next year and go in the offseason like, 'OK, I've really got to make adjustments, I can't do what I did freshman year, because sophomore year would be a downfall, because you might not be eligible.'
"I didn't want that. It turned around sophomore year because I wanted to make sure I finished strong and make sure I got on the right track."
As a sophomore, Roundtree began making better choices.
He also had a breakthrough season, with 72 receptions for 935 yards and seven touchdowns.
But the last two seasons combined, Roundtree has 908 yards, 355 last season and 553 this year.
He became more productive late this season when Devin Gardner replaced injured starting quarterback Denard Robinson and ran more of a true pro-style offense. Against Northwestern, Roundtree had season highs with five receptions and 139 yards. He had five catches for 83 yards against Iowa, and three for 92 yards in the finale at Ohio State, including a 75-yard touchdown reception.
Making plays big
But the funny thing about Roundtree, his demeanor off the field when his production has stepped up versus his demeanor when he's not getting big numbers, is the same.
"That's just me," Roundtree said. "I've never been a 'Me' guy. I just love playing the game. I just love all my teammates because without them, nothing is possible. People say what they want to say about me or not getting the ball or this and that, but it's the game plan.
"This is what you practice for all week and you put in the game plan. You don't have to have a catch to make a big play, you can have a big play blocking down the field for the quarterback or the running back. It's just the little things. (Receivers) coach (Jeff) Heck(linksi) always says it's what you do without the ball.
"All of our mind-set is what you do without the ball. Every week I just looked at that. Once the ball is coming your way you've got to do something with it. Every chance I had to catch the ball, I had to catch it and make a play with it."
Roundtree never has been one to demand the ball, and he certainly never has pouted when he didn't get it. He always has grasped the big picture, game plans and defenses, and never taken it personally.
"I'm a player, (offensive coordinator Al Borges is) the coach," Roundtree said. "I've never said anything bad about anything because we're winning — it's a team game.
"I'm not the quarterback, so I don't get the ball every play like the quarterback or the center do. I just go out there and play my game and don't complain, and when it's time to show up, you show up.
"One thing I do have is confidence. I know what I can do. Make a big play, that's what I try to do every time. I've got several of them on my resume."
Coach Brady Hoke has done nothing but praise Roundtree.
"Every day he comes in here to get better, no matter what it is," Hoke said. "Work ethic, practice-wise, he's as good as anybody."
Roundtree hopes to prove that in the Outback Bowl and NFL scouting bowls and pro days. He said he has consulted former Michigan and current NFL receiver Steve Breaston — Roundtree's idol growing up — about the next level.
"It has been a great journey," said Roundtree, who hopes to complete his master's degree next year. "I never thought I'd be that far up in career yards or catches, never thought I'd break a record at the Big House, but it shows that hard work pays off."
With free time looming and his sole purpose to train for an NFL future, Roundtree said he won't make the same missteps he made as a freshman.
"I'm mature now," Roundtree said, laughing. "I know where to go. My mind is set.
"That was the young Roy. Now I'm the mature Roy."