Fans have known about Ambry Thomas’s offseason plight. They saw his triumphant return, featuring an interception in the season-opener against Middle Tennessee State. They even briefly heard from Thomas himself about what it meant to see the field once again after recovering from illness.
But on Monday afternoon, Thomas revealed even more about the depths he found himself in over this summer, the massive hurdles he was forced to overcome on the road to recovery from colitis — a chronic inflammatory disorder in the colon — and the real threat it posed to his junior season.
“If you know me, you know I’m a fighter,” Thomas said. “If nothing’s not seriously bad, I’m not gonna let health stop me from doing what I love.”
It all started in mid-June, when Thomas felt something was off. He explained how he felt to his doctor and then went to the emergency room. It was there he learned of the colitis diagnosis, and slowly, the ramifications came trickling through his head.
His focus in that moment squared entirely on potentially jeopardizing his junior season.
“(The doctors) told me what was going on in my stomach,” Thomas said. “They told me my chances for playing this season were slim to none. All the doctors said that. I was the only one on my own side, like, ‘I’m playing this season no matter what.’ ”
Thomas knew this year was always set to be a pivotal one in his progression. With the departure of David Long to the NFL Draft, Thomas was next in line to assume the starting cornerback position opposite senior Lavert Hill.
That’s why, sitting in a hospital bed in June, Thomas began to feel despair. He spent three weeks laying in bed, unable to do anything else. He lost 35 pounds. This was not how the most important summer of his life was supposed to go.
“The first three weeks I was literally just depressed, laying in bed,” Thomas said. “Then that last week, when I started seeing improvement, my mom started making me get up, get active. There are some staircases right by the hospital outside, so I hit them. I walked them, I couldn’t run them.
“I was very weak; my legs were cramping. I couldn’t get halfway up the steps. Like, it was bad.”
Steadily, he began to regain his strength and gain back the weight; the self-confidence followed suit. While the doctors remained steadfast in their recommendation of a redshirt, Thomas had his eyes on the start of the year.
At times he wasn’t in the building with the team, he was working out with his dad at Planet Fitness. Coaches and teammates remained dubious about his playing status, but Thomas was determined.
Sure enough, when Michigan kicked off against Middle Tennessee State on Aug. 30, there he was, lining up with the starting defense. His interception tied a bow on a night that, just weeks prior, seemed incomprehensible.
“Everybody’s just thrilled for Ambry. I thought that was just a wonderful thing,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on the following Monday. “He spent a lot of time in the hospital this summer, but to go out and get the interception, get the fumble recovery, make the tackles and the TFL, all the things he did in the game was really inspiring for the ball club.”
His presence has steadied a secondary that otherwise would’ve been in flux. Heading into a season-shaping clash against Wisconsin, concerns among that group are few and far between.
More importantly for Ambry Thomas, though, he’s back to doing what he loves at the level he expects. Gone are the days of hospital beds and slow walks. Full-speed practices and positional meetings are where he thrives.
Asked how he feels now, Thomas looks up and flashes a smile.
“I’m feeling great.”