BY ANDY REID
Magazine Staff Writer
Published February 2, 2010
But that wasn’t completely true — Bass was just too good to keep off the field. On the cusp of the evolution of quarterbacks like Pat White and Terrelle Pryor, Carr, not necessarily known for his offensive innovations, developed a formation for Bass to get the ball in his hands.
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“With him, we wanted to develop what is really what they now call the Wildcat,” Carr said. “We had some success with that, and our plans were to expand that package going into the next year.”
His freshman season, Bass ran for almost 100 yards and threw one pass — a 13-yard completion, which Carr called “one of the biggest passes of the season,” in an overtime win over Iowa — from the quarterback position. Bass was also an immediate impact as a receiver. He became a fan favorite for plays like his one-handed catch against Nebraska in the 2005 Alamo Bowl.
“Everyone in the program knew his potential was just off the charts,” Carr said.
“My vibe going into sophomore year was extremely positive,” Bass says. “I worked harder than I ever had before, and everything was coming together for me … playing receiver, I was finally getting the hang of it and showing the coaches what I could do, as well as playing quarterback. Sophomore year, it looked really, really good.”
But, unfortunately, that game against Nebraska would be the last one Bass ever played.
The Injury: Think back to any quarterback that saw significant playing time under Lloyd Carr. Chad Henne, John Navarre, Brian Griese, Tom Brady — there was a pretty prototypical mold for the position while Carr reigned in Schembechler Hall.
Antonio Bass — a 6-foot-2, 200-pound quarterback with a penchant for using his 4.4 40-yard-dash time to its fullest capabilities — was a completely different type of athlete, the type that Michigan football wasn’t used to. But heading into Spring Practice after a successful freshman campaign, Bass, who was fully prepared to be a wide receiver when he first came to Ann Arbor, was listed as No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart behind Henne.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, and Bass was running a bootleg to the right, part of his extended Wildcat package. His feet got tangled with one of the running backs. He stumbled, and planted his right foot — something football players do almost every play.
When asked about the play, Bass sighs, taking a few moments to think. “It’s hard to explain,” he says, “because it all happened so fast.”
His foot stuck in the turf at an odd angle and he fell. At first, he didn’t realize anything was wrong.
“Then I tried to stand up and pain just shot through my whole body,” Bass said. “I looked down and my thigh was going that way and my calf was pointing that way,” with extended fingers, his hands point in opposite directions over his leg. “That’s when I kind of freaked a little bit. I went into shock and was, like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ ”
Every ligament in his leg tore upon impact. His knee completely dismembered, his hamstring pulled, the pain shot through his whole body as the coaches and trainers tried to calm him down.
“I can remember our trainer, Paul Schmitt — I worked with him for 20 years — I could tell by the look on his face that it was pretty bad,” Carr said.
The trainers worked to stabilize the leg and keep Bass from going into shock — there wasn’t much they could do for such a serious injury there on the field.
“It was probably only 10, 20 minutes until the ambulance got there, but it felt like an eternity to me,” Bass says.
His leg was immediately cast in a hard shell from the hip to the foot and he was bedridden for almost two months — and that’s before he could start the grueling rehabilitation process with Michigan athletic trainer and clinical specialist Vahan Agbabian.
As much damage as there was to his ligaments, Bass still had hope of rehabbing and an eventual return to football. But when they got him to the hospital and performed the first of many surgeries he would have to endure, the doctors discovered significant damage to the nerve that runs from the knee to the foot.
When he finally got the enormous cast off, his foot hung from his ankle, limp, useless. The doctors told him he would likely never get feeling back in it. With rehab and practice, he could learn to walk on it — maybe not much else.
“You know, you take the tiniest things your body can do for granted,” Bass says, moving his left ankle up and down, up and down. “You see that? You can never imagine not being able to do that until you can’t anymore.”
The Impact: Bass and the Michigan training staff basically had to work from scratch. He started by simply sitting up and lifting his thigh up and down, and even that was excruciating.
And while his thigh and knee were gaining strength, there was nothing to do about his drop foot, other than to hope and pray the surgeries would eventually help.