Michigan RB Blake Corum gives thanks during Ohio State Week

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Blake Corum grew up in a traffic light town in Virginia on a farm with cows, pigs and chickens.

He recalled not wearing shoes as he went outside to explore trees and create artworks, painting with a mixture of charcoal and water.

When Corum was very young, this was the only game he would think of.

“I was in the hospital a lot growing up with a heart condition,” Corum said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Doctors said I probably wouldn’t be able to exercise.”

Obviously they were wrong.

Corum has become a star running back for Michigan No. 3 (11-0, 8-0, No. 3 CFP).

He could prove to be the most important player in the game against No. 2 Ohio State (11-0, 8-0, No. 2 CFP) on the road Saturday with a Big Ten championship game berth and likely the college football playoff at stake.

His numbers stack well with players in his position who have won the Heisman Trophy this century.

Corum could have a shot at winning the award if he can put on a spectacular performance in a win against the Buckeyes, like former Michigan stars Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson did before he was named college football’s most outstanding player .

The 5’8, 210-pound, powerful running back has rushed for 1,457 yards and scored 19 touchdowns, putting him statistically in comparable company with Heisman Trophy-winning running backs Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram and Reggie Bush became.

Off the pitch, Corum seems even more special.

A day after he injured his left knee in a win through Illinois, he used money from name, image, and likeness deals to donate 300 turkeys, green beans, applesauce, milk, a winter hat, and hand sanitizer to families in Superior Township and Ypsilanti, Michigan.

“What’s impressive is that he’s not just working out here as a volunteer, he’s also writing the check,” said Bilal Saeed, who supports Corum with charitable initiatives and NIL business.

Corum, who also donated hundreds of turkeys last year, had to be convinced that there was greater benefit in sharing publicly what he is doing in the community than worrying that some people might think he was trying to to receive recognition for his charitable efforts.

“I’ve been blessed my whole life, so I just want to bless others and see them smile,” Corum said Sunday after noticeably limping while handing out frozen turkeys and more during his second annual fundraiser. “I live for that. I will do this until the day I die.”

Corum said he’s giving away half of what he’s doing with NIL deals, including giving up Wolverine Boots, gear and money from a deal with Michigan’s offensive linemen.

“He’s fantastic in every way,” said coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday. “Larger than life personality. Larger than life empathy.”

Corum was raised in Marshall, Virginia, about 50 miles west of Washington, DC by parents who spent four hours a day driving him to and from St. Vincent in Laurel, Maryland, early in his high school career.

An undersized running back looking for even more exposure at the big colleges, he spent his final two years at high school boarding school at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore.

“He’s a combination of Walter Payton and Barry Sanders,” said Frances “Biff” Poggi, Michigan associate head coach, Corum’s last high school coach and the next coach for the Charlotte 49ers of the United States Conference. “He runs with the same power as Payton and is as elusive as Sanders with a jump cut that’s as good as any I’ve seen.”

Corum’s parents own a landscape gardening business and after taking him to work as a young child, they saw early signs that he was a giver.

“Blake always wanted to put some of the money he earned into church offerings,” his father James Corum said in a phone interview Monday. “Everything he does on and off the field just makes me proud to have him as my son.”

Just as doctors have doubted his ability to overcome heart disease to play sport, Corum still hears from naysayers that he is too small to excel in football.

They have also been proven wrong.

“People used to say – and some still say to this day – that I was too small and too small,” Corum told the AP. “It’s just fuel to the fire.”

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Associated Press journalist Mike Householder of Ypsilanti, Michigan contributed.

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