Commentary

Players believe in pregame routines

From shoe polish to prayer to 'QB tossing,' Wolverines find winning formula

Updated: December 21, 2011, 12:17 PM ET
By Chantel Jennings | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- After each of Michigan's coin tosses this year, senior center David Molk would march to the sideline and find freshman center Jack Miller for his pregame ritual: headbutting.

"I like Jack," Molk said earlier this season. "He doesn't like it. He always says it's OK if he knows it's coming. ... I'll just kind of run up to him and grab him, and slam my head into him."

Molk has done it for the past few seasons and found that it has successfully calmed his nerves before every game. It's odd, and potentially dangerous, but on the field it made Molk ready to play.

"For some people it's really important that they always do the same specific thing before every game," senior linebacker J.B. Fitzgerald said. "It's football, and a lot of superstition is wrapped up into the game."

[+] EnlargeFitzgerald Toussaint
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioIf you look closely, you can see the black shoe polish Fitzgerald Toussaint uses under his eyes, a tradition he picked up from J.B. Fitzgerald.
Junior quarterback Denard Robinson has a pregame superstition. Sophomore offensive tackle Taylor Lewan throws Robinson into the air before every game. Robinson said he has never been afraid the 6-foot-8, 302-pound Lewan would drop him, but he is afraid that the two will forget to do it.

The only two times Lewan didn't throw Robinson into the air this season were before the Michigan State and Iowa games -- the Wolverines' only two losses.

"Trust me," Robinson said. "We won't forget to do it against Virginia Tech."

Robinson also has another pregame ritual, which he shares with coach Brady Hoke: not eating on game days. Hoke said he didn't eat on game days as a player either, though Robinson did admit to eating breakfast the morning of the Notre Dame game, which was played at 8 p.m.

Fitzgerald picked up his pregame superstition long before he was a college football player. His started in the second grade when he noticed the older players wearing eye black. He asked his dad to get him some for his games, and his dad handed him a can of shoe polish. Since then, Fitzgerald has worn shoe polish instead of eye black.

"It's got a little tiny pitch to it," Fitzgerald joked. "It gives you the edge you need."

Over his Michigan career, Fitzgerald has even convinced other players to convert to shoe polish including senior tight end Kevin Koger, sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and junior running back Vincent Smith.

But it's all about finding out what works best for each individual. The special teams' tradition happens the night before the game, when they fold their napkins a unique way at dinner. Other players have to wear certain clothes, such as redshirt junior Jordan Kovacs and his Dr. Martens. And others, such as freshman cornerback Blake Countess, make sure to take some time alone and pray before every game.

"You do what you do, and that's what makes you feel comfortable in the game and ready to go out and play," Fitzgerald said.

But not all traditions can last forever -- even if they do prepare the player for a game -- and Molk is figuring that out. As he looks forward to his NFL career, he knows that as a rookie, the veterans might not take kindly to his headbutting.

"What am I going to do? Am I going to get some trainer to smack me?" Molk said. "You know ... I don't know. I'll figure it out."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or on Twitter at @chanteljennings.

Chantel Jennings | email

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