<
>

Woolfolk, Floyd bonded while sidelined

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Troy Woolfolk didn't want to sound crass and he certainly didn't want J.T. Floyd to join him in his misery, but on Nov. 2, 2010, he got a partner in recovery.

Woolfolk had already been sidelined for the 2010 season due to a dislocated ankle, and almost three months later, in the midst of a practice to prepare for Illinois, Floyd had injured his ankle and joined him and it led to this.

A season ago, half of what could be Michigan's starting secondary in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3 watched last season's Gator Bowl from the sidelines.

Now, they are both back -- healthy and closer having gone through the process.

"I just told him that I've been through it, that it's going to suck," Woolfolk said. "I'm not going to lie. You're going to be on the sideline and the first time you're going to feel the anguish of wanting to get back on the field is the first away game because you don't feel like a part of the team.

"There's this sense of disconnection when they leave and go to that away game and you are still at home."

Floyd felt it sooner.

When he injured his ankle, his mother came up from Greenville, S.C., and stayed for two weeks. Family and friends called him daily to check in on him -- to the point it became somewhat irritating -- but he knew it was out of love.

His parents bought him a recliner, one he sat in on Nov. 6, 2010 -- the day after surgery -- watching the Wolverines play Illinois in Michigan Stadium and was close to tears.

Floyd watched the rest of Michigan's regular season games in 2010 from that recliner, fighting his emotions each Saturday and often texting Woolfolk because the players who were likely to comprise half of the Wolverines' starting defensive backfield last season couldn't drive the 20 minutes they lived from each other to watch games together.

"What made it easier for me was that I was with Troy," Floyd said of rehabilitating last season. "I remember when I got hurt, one of the first people on the team I talked to was Troy. He called me and said 'Hey man, all right, we're in this together.'

"We built that bond, right then and there."

For almost three months, Floyd crutched up and down State Street heading to class through the cold and snow. The worst part was heading toward Michigan's football facilities from campus, which has a sharp downhill slope.

"It was brutal," Floyd said.

Floyd and Woolfolk had a lot in common. They were two pieces that could have helped what turned into a porous Michigan defense particularly adept at giving up the big play. As teammates at the Gator Bowl, they went through daily treatment together and pushed each other to return because they knew -- even though as they first started rehabilitation they didn't know it -- they would have to prove themselves all over again.

Rich Rodriguez was fired. Brady Hoke replaced him and the two veterans of Michigan's secondary had to show a new coaching staff what they could do, even though when Hoke was hired they couldn't do much of anything.

Woolfolk practiced in the spring but missed the spring game. Floyd couldn't do anything during spring practice.

And considering how their seasons ended, they were both question marks -- somewhat known question marks -- entering this season. How would they play on their rehabilitated ankles?

Floyd played well and became Michigan's top cornerback, registering 45 tackles, a team-high eight pass breakups and two interceptions. Woolfolk struggled through injuries for a second straight season and the emergence of freshman Blake Countess alongside Floyd pushed Woolfolk to safety, where he splits time with Thomas Gordon.

But unlike a season ago, they won't be on the sidelines this January.

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.