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May 23, 2007
Kinder, Hart lead All-Reliable Team
• MORE: Rivals.com All-Reliable Team | All-Reliable Photo Gallery
Reliability is never a liability.
A dazzling big-play threat is always coveted in college football, but dependability is a great asset, too.
Coaches love game breakers, but they also value consistent producers – offensive linemen who don't allow sacks, accurate kickers, quarterbacks and running backs who don't commit turnovers and receivers who don't drop passes.
That's a major reason All-Big East receiver Derek Kinder, who caught 57 passes and scored six touchdowns in 2006, is immensely popular in Pittsburgh.
Normally, Kinder's hands are as sure as the Democrats taking Massachusetts, so when a pass slipped through his fingers against Syracuse last season it wasn't just a drop - it was a symptom.
"You have to realize Derek is a kid who the year before (2005) made one-handed catches against Syracuse and Connecticut," Pittsburgh receivers coach Aubrey Hill said. "If the ball is close, he's going to catch it. He came into that game (against Syracuse last season) absolutely on fire, but he got dinged up in the first quarter and had to leave the game.
"We put him back in, and when he missed a pass that hit him right in the hands I said to myself, 'That's not Derek.' We knew there was something wrong."
Something was. Kinder was immediately beckoned to the sideline for evaluation and was diagnosed with a concussion.
"It seemed like everything was going in slow motion and my instincts weren't 100 percent," Kinder recalled. "I could tell something was wrong (after the first quarter hit), but I thought I could fight through it. But after I dropped that pass I knew I had to come out."
That was the only drop Kinder was charged with last season, although he admits to bobbling a couple during the 2005 season - though the degree of difficulty might have raised doubts of whether those were actually considered dropped.
"I consider any ball that touches both of your hands a drop, no matter how difficult the catch is," Kinder said.
Sure hands aren't just appreciated, but are demanded by intense coaches.
John Heisman, who coached Georgia Tech from 1904-1919, made his feelings about turnovers crystal clear when addressing one of his teams.
"A football is an elongated sphere in which the outer leather casing is drawn up tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing," Heisman once said. "Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."
No doubt, Heisman would have adored Michigan's Mike Hart. He probably would endorse the Wolverines running back for the fancy trophy which bears Heisman's name.
Hart has rushed for 3,679 yards and needs fewer than 800 this season to set Michigan's career rushing record. Yet, one of his greatest assets is his ability to hold on to the ball.
He's carried 750 times in his collegiate career and fumbled just three times, an average of 250 successful carries between fumbles. He enters the 2007 season with 768 consecutive touches (including pass receptions) without losing a fumble.
The only lost fumble of his collegiate career occurred against Iowa on Sept. 25, 2004. He's gone 33 games without being charged with a fumble since.
"I just protect the ball," said Hart, who might throw some defenders off because he is left-handed and carries the ball in that hand. "It's something I pride myself in. It's like holding my baby. I'm protecting my baby and I don't want to lose it."
Just for the record, Hart doesn't have a baby. However, carrying the football like one helps Michigan improve its record.
Twelve teams in the final Top 25 of 2006 committed 20 or fewer turnovers. Five those – Ohio State of the Big Ten, Southern California of the Pac-10, Wake Forest of the ACC, Boise State of the WAC and BYU of the Mountain West – were conference champions.
Michigan has ranked among the nation's top 25 in fewest turnovers in four of the last five seasons, and has posted nine victories or more four times in that span.
Southern California has ranked among the nation's top 20 in fewest turnovers in four of the last five years and has a 59-6 record in that span.
Obviously, avoiding turnovers isn't the only factor in winning. After all, 2-10 Colorado ranked eighth nationally in fewest turnovers a year ago. Also, Oklahoma was the Big 12 champion despite ranking 113th nationally with 33 turnovers.
But there's no question dependable players carrying, catching and passing the football can enhance a team's chances of victory.
That's why Hart is so determined not to fumble.
"Even before high school … when I was playing Pop Warner … I hated to fumble," he said. "When you do fumble you feel horrible, you feel like you let your team down. I hate feeling that way. If you hate feeling that way, do something to stop it.
"Say I fumbled in the Rose Bowl or the national championship game. What could be worse than that? I don't want to be in that position."
Hart's history indicates he won't lose the ball in a big game.
Michigan fans are depending on it.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.