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Following Troy: Star cornerback Troy Woolfolk's lonely path from injury to recovery

Jake Fromm/Daily
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Daily Sports Writer
Published November 18, 2010

August 17, 2010:

It’s a freak thing. Troy Woolfolk attempts a tackle, but his foot gets stuck as his body twists right. Troy’s right ankle turns the wrong way, and his body crumples to the ground.

A split second of lost balance turns into a season of lost games. The cornerback’s year is over before it even starts.

Rich Rodriguez has just three Big Ten wins in his Michigan tenure. The Wolverines are under investigation by the NCAA for conditioning violations. He’s about to begin arguably the most important season of his head coaching career — now without Troy, his senior cornerback and one of his team’s most vocal and experienced leaders.

“That was probably as disheartening a day I’ve had in a long time, from an injury standpoint,” Rodriguez says, looking back. “Not only was it a tough injury and everybody saw it, but because that was a position we could least afford it. He was the one rock-solid guy we knew we’d have there — the veteran, the leader and all that. Everybody was deflated. It was one of those deals, you say, ‘This can’t happen.’ ”

There’s a reason cornerbacks compare their position to being on an island. One-on-one with the opponent’s best receiver, the spotlight can’t shine any brighter.

For Troy, the loneliest position just got lonelier. He lies alone in a hospital bed. He feels friendships fade away. He hobbles around on crutches instead of running to touch the banner in the Big House.

But there’s one thing Troy — or “T-Woolf,” his invented alter-ego — can turn to, a way to alleviate some of the loneliness.


Even though T-Woolf will be absent, Troy will be on the sidelines coaching and cheering for Michigan till all the air has vacated my lungs.
17 Aug 11:50 pm via Echofon

Troy’s injury hits junior wide receiver Darryl Stonum nearly as hard as it does Rodriguez.

“I think I took it worse than (Troy) did,” Stonum says. “When I went back to the room, I was getting teary-eyed for him. He was smiling, saying, ‘You all go out there and do what you’re supposed to do.’ He kept his spirits up better than I did.”

As teammates grapple with the reality of the injury, Troy heads to the hospital. On the way, he texts his father, Butch.

“I think my season’s over,” he writes as the shock of the afternoon’s event wears off.

Butch calls his son to make sure he isn’t kidding. Troy’s a jokester, but this isn’t a laughing matter.

A few days later, after Butch and his wife Regina fly up to Ann Arbor from Sugar Land, Texas, Troy undergoes surgery for a dislocated ankle and broken fibula at the University of Michigan hospital.

Regina stays with Troy for a few days. Butch stays for a week longer. It’s a tag-team effort, they say.

Butch cooks for his son, cleans the apartment and walks “the damn dog.” The damn dog — as Butch calls it — is Julius, a mix between a lab and a beagle. After Butch leaves, he hires someone to come walk Julius twice a day.

Butch says: “It was pretty easy when I was there. … It’s after those two weeks that it got hard.”

“I was basically bed-ridden,” Troy says. “I couldn’t get up and do stuff because I had to keep my leg elevated.”

Troy watches the pounds slip off his six-foot frame. He drops 20 pounds in the first month, and his legs get skinny.

All he can do is lie around with his right leg up and watch his body deteriorate, a body that had been so fit and so ready for a strong senior season.

“That’s the worst part of it because this summer, I put the time in,” Troy says. “I stayed in the weight room. I stayed on the field trying to get my speed up. To have it all taken away from you is just a big slap in the face. It makes it seem like I wasted all that time. I have to go back and do it all over again.”

The physical struggle is an uphill battle. But according to Butch, the mental recovery could be the hardest part. That’s what he has to prepare his son for.

At times like this is when you see who are your real friends are!!!!!!!!!!!!
30 Aug 10:44 pm via Echofon

Butch is no stranger to on-field success at Michigan. He became the Wolverines’ all-time leading rusher in 1981 with 3,861 yards, a mark that has since been surpassed.

But he’s also no stranger to devastating injuries. Butch's seven-year NFL career ended in 1988 when he blew out his knee in the Detroit Lions’ third game of the season.