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'Complete player' Blake Corum an explosive addition to Michigan's backfield

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

While Blake Corum’s speed might be the first thing that attracts notice on the football field, there’s a completeness to his game that his high school coach says separates him.

Corum is the four-star running back out of St. Frances Academy in Baltimore and the Gatorade Player of the Year in Maryland, who enrolled early at Michigan this year full of promise. Spring football was canceled as the campus suspended all activities and like players across the country, he’s back home working out.

Corum joins a running back room that includes Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins, Christian Turner and senior Chris Evans. The 5-foot-8, 193-pound freshman rushed for 1,438 yards and 22 touchdowns on 172 carries last season for highly rated St. Frances, which finished 11-1. He also caught 13 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns.

During spring testing at Michigan earlier this year, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said Corum ran the 40-yard dash in a “high 4.4 range.”

Running back Blake Corum recorded 25 touchdowns last season at Maryland's St. Frances Academy.

“Blake Corum is as fast as advertised,” Gattis told reporters recently. “He brings a toughness mentality. He's got great skills. He’s a physical runner. People look at him as an undersized guy because of his height, but the heart, strength and the speed that he brings, he packs a punch so we're really excited about him from that standpoint.”

Biff Poggi, who spent a season on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff as associate head coach and special adviser, coaches St. Frances and believes Corum will be able to contribute quickly. Poggi admittedly doesn’t know the Michigan backs well except for Evans, who was in Ann Arbor when he was on staff, but he knows how good Corum is — and can be.

“I know they’re good players,” Poggi said in a telephone interview with The Detroit News. “I’ll say, as far as high school goes, (Corum) was every bit as good as those guys, if not better. He is a complete back. He may be short, but he’s not small. He’s a jacked kid; very, very strong. He loves to be as physical as any player you’ve ever seen.

“He’s excellent in protection, which is very rare for a high school back. If you throw his junior film on, you look at him and you see this kid really has an understanding of protection and then be physically strong enough to make those blocks. He takes a lot of pride in it. He has excellent hands. He’s an excellent receiver out of the backfield.”

And, yes, he’s fast.

“He has legitimate speed,” Poggi said. “He has very good top-end speed. He’s incredibly explosive. He’s very easy to block for. If you’re an offensive lineman, you don’t have to finish a lot of blocks with him because he’s going to turn shadow blocks into big gains.”

What also set Corum apart in Poggi’s opinion was his ability to take hits and dish them.

“He hasn’t had any injury problems, and we used him a lot over two years,” Poggi said. “He’s very durable and I was always concerned about his durability. We script how many touches everybody gets, and he was constantly asking for more touches.

“Finally, his senior year, I said, this kid, he hasn’t missed a practice, he doesn’t miss a workout, he doesn’t miss anything. Give him the ball, let him have it as much as he needs it and wants it. He wants it all the time. He’s a complete football player. He has a very high football IQ. He’ll do very well learning the scheme and learning it quickly. And I don’t care how good you are, if you don’t learn the offense, can’t play you.”

Poggi frequently referred to Corum as the “complete player” and likened him to former Michigan back Mike Hart, the program’s all-time leading rusher from 2004-07. Hart was 5-9 and 202 pounds on his senior season roster.

In St. Frances' lone loss last season, a 34-18 defeat to top-rated Mater Dei in California, Corum had 252 total yards and impressed Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson.

“Blake Corum is by far the best back we’ve played against this season and, actually, in recent memory,” Rollinson said in the Gatorade Player of the Year release. “His toughness, vision and breakaway speed are what makes for highlight films.”

Corum has posted several videos recently showing him working out during the COVID-19 quarantine. There are videos of him catching bricks as they’re dropped or tossed to him by his trainer. Others show him going through running back drills and jumping rope.

“He’s a dedicated guy,” Harbaugh said of Corum on the “In the Trenches” podcast after signing day last December. “You watch a lot of high school players and their work ethic, I can’t think of anybody with a higher level of work ethic than Blake Corum. He’s a guy whether it’s football practice, training, he’s very diligent.

“I could tell you lots of stories of things he's done, 5 a.m. workouts. Every time I’ve watched him — and not just a workout guy either. He’s a workout guy to be a football player, because he likes football and likes playing in the games. He’s a warrior on the field and in the weight room and just about everything he does. He is a highly, highly motivated youngster.”

Poggi knows all about Corum’s workout habits.

“He will drive you a little crazy,” Poggi said, laughing. “If you’re gonna start workouts at like 6 a.m., that kid is there, I’m not exaggerating, he’s there at 10 to 5. You feel terrible about it when you get there at 5:30, because he’s stretching in the parking lot waiting to get into the building. He’s the kind of guy, he’s up every morning at 4:30 working out. He’s a lunatic.”

Corum was a captain and a National Honor Society student. Poggi describes him as unfailingly polite and respectful.

“Look, there are a lot of good players, there’s a lot of guys with talent and a lot of talent," Poggi said. "What separates those guys from guys that become good players, it’s work ethic, it’s emotional IQ, it’s athletic IQ. It’s all those intangibles, not having to worry about them falling behind in school, not having to worry about getting a call about him because he did something stupid.”

There sometimes are players Poggi describes as “energy vampires” that he said suck the energy from a team. Corum is the one who always got the players together and made certain to contain the energy sappers.

“He’s great in the locker room, meaning he’s a great teammate because he speaks when it matters, but he has incredible empathy for the people around him on the team,” Poggi said. “That is something that is fairly rare in a very competitive game like college football where you’re naturally so focused on yourself. But he is very interested in how other guys are doing in school, how they’re doing working out, why they’re not accomplishing what they should be accomplishing, how that all fits into the puzzle of our team.”

Corum did not get the benefit of spring practice and it remains unclear whether there will be a college football season. Regardless, Poggi is confident Corum's upside is extremely high.

“Trust me, he’ll be better in a year than he is now,” Poggi said. “He’s like a good steak, he gets better with time.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis