BY COURTNEY RATKOWIAK
Daily Sports Editor
Published September 24, 2008
Three weeks ago, Greg Mathews was at his low point.
He injured his ankle in the Michigan football team’s opener against Utah and was considered “day-to-day” for that Saturday’s game against Miami (Ohio). Instead of being able to practice normally, he was limited to ab workouts and riding the exercise bike. Between that and the start of classes, the junior wide receiver was stressed and frustrated.
But after practice, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez came up to Mathews holding a plate full of brownies — the same kind that Rodriguez’s 10-year-old son Rhett had made for a team dinner over the summer.
“Greg had mentioned he liked them, so Rhett said, ‘Can I make Greg some brownies?’ ” Rodriguez said. “And I said, ‘He probably could use a little lift right now.’ Greg could be faking him out, but he seemed like he liked it.”
After being limited by injury for the season's first three games, the junior originally expected to be the team's top wide receiver may finally get a lift Saturday against Wisconsin.
Coming into the season, Mathews knew his role. The early departures of Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington meant Mathews would be one of the veterans on an offense run by an inexperienced quarterback. He found his ideal leadership style — by quietly setting a positive example but still being able to “joke around and keep everyone loose” — and came into the season as the number one wideout.
Mathews started quietly against Utah on Aug. 30 with three pass receptions for 54 yards. But in the third quarter, with the Utes leading 25-10, he hurt his ankle while trying to catch a pass from quarterback Steven Threet and had to be helped off the field.
He watched from the sidelines as the Wolverines earned their first win of the season against the RedHawks the next week. After the game, Mathews said he would “definitely” be back for Notre Dame.
And he was. The next week, with Michigan down 21-0 in the first quarter, Mathews grabbed a 16-yard reception on a critical third-and-10 to set up a first down and Michigan’s first touchdown.
He finished with four receptions for 46 yards. But after the game, Mathews again limped off the field. In the postgame press conference, all Rodriguez said was that Mathews was “cramping up.”
"Greg got through the game, and probably more plays than we should have played him,” Rodriguez said two days after the Notre Dame game. “Probably hurt him there in the end."
Mathews said the importance of playing in a rivalry game was a major reason why he pushed himself to come back a little too early.
But according to redshirt junior running back Kevin Grady, Mathews' competitive streak means he probably would have pushed himself to come back and play in any game.
"You can't even speak in words about Greg," Grady said. "His attitude, the way he practices, the way he goes out and competes every day is, bar none, one of the best."
Last week’s bye gave Mathews time to get treatment on the joints in his ankle and reduce the risk of aggravating the injury. Both Mathews and Rodriguez were certain the junior would be ready to play in the Wolverines’ Big Ten opener Saturday.
“I think he’s getting a little better every day,” Rodriguez said. “He was still a little hobbled in the last game, but he fought through it, which was neat to see. I think he’s even healthier now. He’s a big play guy for us. We need him to be 100 percent.”