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Blake Corum cemented his legacy on his own terms

Determined to dictate his destiny, the greatest Michigan running back of all-time ended his career the way he promised, and left an unassailable legacy on and off the field.

2024 CFP National Championship - Michigan v Washington Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

When running back Blake Corum appeared on The Rich Eisen Show last January, Michigan fans around the world held their breath. Would the All-Universe running back return to Ann Arbor for one more season? Or would he deem it time to move on to the next level?

Public breakups are never easy, but, while far from mutual, Michigan fans understood and expected Corum to leave. After all, the star running back had given his heart, soul, and one knee to the Wolverines.

“I’m a Michigan man through and through,” Corum vamped as he built the tension. “I love playing for the University of Michigan. I love going to the Big House and leaving it all on the field. I love the community, I love interacting with everyone. It was a tough decision, it was a business decision, but I feel like I have unfinished business.

“I didn’t like the way I went out in the Big House, I don’t like people remembering me being hurt, so I will be coming back for it all next year.”

Despite an accomplished three seasons which included an undefeated record against Ohio State, two Big Ten championships, unanimous All-American selection, and a seventh-place Heisman Trophy finish, Corum was not satisfied with his legacy. And legacy was something Corum had thought about before he even set foot on campus.

When speaking to the media at the Under Armour All-American game in 2019, Corum talked about his goals and why he chose Michigan.

“I definitely want to try to leave my legacy and be the best running back to ever come to Michigan. Those are my goals.”

Corum was already firmly in the discussion among the greatest running backs to wear the winged helmet, but he didn’t come to Michigan to be firmly in the discussion — he came to the best. The bold running back had built a solid argument, but one of the biggest detriments to Corum’s career was an inability to close a season on his own terms.

In 2020, Corum appeared to be carving out a niche role as a part of Michigan’s offense despite splitting reps with Hassan Haskins, Chris Evans and Zach Charbonnet. However, injuries started to pile up for Corum and the season ended prematurely.

As a 1B to Haskins in 2021, Corum exploded onto the scene with 48 carries for 407 yards and seven touchdowns over the first three games. The sophomore brought an electric, home run element the Michigan backfield had not seen in two-plus decades (apologies to Sam McGuffie truthers). This rare ability was the reason Corum had 15+ touches in the first eight games even though he was theoretically a “backup.”

But a week after the most disappointing performance of his young career against Michigan State, Corum came up hobbling against Indiana and would miss the subsequent two games against Penn State and Maryland. He returned and made his presence felt against Ohio State. In Michigan’s first win over the Buckeyes in a decade, Corum totaled 87 rushing yards — with a long of 55 — on six carries. But even with this level of production, it was clear Corum was still hobbled by his ankle injury.

Against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, Corum turned in a performance similar to his against Ohio State — five carries for 76 yards (long of 67) and one touchdown — and while he looked closer to his former self, Michigan’s coaching staff was keeping the explosive back on an unofficial pitch count in terms of touches.

When Michigan faced Georgia in the College Football Playoff (CFP), Corum’s role was reduced even further, and the frustration was evident when he picked up a late unnecessary roughness penalty. Battered and bruised, injured and frustrated, Corum entered the 2022 season on a mission.

NCAA Football: Orange Bowl-Georgia at Michigan Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

After adding 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason to increase durability, Corum was prepared to single-handedly carry the Wolverines to the promised land.

The first three games of the 2022 season were blowouts with limited carries, but Corum still averaged 7.2 yards per carry and scored seven touchdowns. Over the next eight games, Corum would solidify himself as the best running back in the country with 1,222 rush yards (152.75 per game) and 11 touchdowns. But in the eighth game of that stretch, everything changed.

In the heat of Heisman Trophy discussion, Corum was shredding Illinois. The junior had 103 rushing yards (143 total yards), one touchdown, and was on his way to more before halftime. But one hesitation cut and one Illinois player rolling into Corum’s knee later, and his season was effectively over. Corum tried to run one more time in the second half, and two times the following week at Ohio State, but the pain and severity of the injury were insurmountable.

Without their best player, the Wolverines were still able to reach the CFP, but fell in the semifinals in an upset loss to TCU. Few expected him to return, but after Corum stated his intentions to “come back for it all” with resolute conviction, everyone believed him.

The 2023 season was not the season fans envisioned for Corum initially. Through nine games, Corum had only eclipsed 20 carries once. The previous season, Corum averaged 26 carries per game through the Big Ten schedule and had 17 alone in the first half in his final game against Illinois. But this was exactly the reasoning for the reduced workload; Michigan wanted to keep its star healthy and frankly, the team didn’t need him for the first nine weeks — they needed him for the final six.

Over the final six games, Corum averaged 22 carries and just shy of 109 total yards per game, and scored 12 touchdowns. Corum scored the final Michigan touchdown in five of the six games and closed the show in the four biggest games (Penn State, Ohio State, Alabama, Washington).

With Corum leading the charge, Michigan defeated three top-five defenses, Alabama and head coach Nick Saban with a month to prepare in the Rose Bowl, and capped off a perfect 15-0 season — the fourth of the modern era and the first in Big Ten history.

Corum finally closed out a season — a national championship season — on his own terms and officially closed the book on the greatest career for a Michigan running back in program history.

But unbeknown to all, Corum had already cemented his true legacy at Michigan. In what became an annual tradition for the aspiring philanthropist, Corum — days after suffering a knee injury against Illinois in 2022 — limped around the Ypsilanti area and handed out turkeys to families in need for Thanksgiving. His Heisman Trophy season had just vanished before his eyes. His chance to lead Michigan to a national championship was gone in a second. Hell, his ability to walk normally was taken from him. But that didn’t stop him from helping others.

When defining the greatest Michigan running back’s legacy, it starts with discussing the 21-year-old kid limping around Ypsilanti, and ends with finished business.