PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Within seconds of sitting down at the podium for his Wednesday morning press conference, Mike Morris erased any lingering doubt about his health. 

“I’m feeling great,” Morris said, smiling wide. “I’m ready to play football again. These guys have been fighting for their lives every week without me. It’s time for me to play.” 

The senior edge rusher seemed to relish the moment, with the No. 2 seed Michigan football team set to play in its second consecutive College Football Playoff against No. 3 TCU on Saturday afternoon. Morris still struck the same determined tone as his teammates, maintaining last year’s appearance was “a vacation,” while this year winning is the utmost priority. 

Morris’s appreciation stems from the past six weeks, which he spent battling a high ankle sprain. The injury sidelined him for all but one drive against Ohio State and all of the Big Ten Championship game against Purdue. 

“I was looking at everybody lacing up their cleats, putting up their armor and I was like, ‘I will give anything to go out there and fight with them,’ ” Morris said. “But I couldn’t.” 

When Morris first injured his ankle late in the Wolverines’ Nov. 12 victory against Nebraska, he feared the worst. 

“I thought my ankle was broken,” Morris remembered. “I looked at it, and it was straight. I moved my toes a little bit and I was like, ‘OK, I’m fine.’ ”

But while he avoided a serious long-term injury, “fine” doesn’t accurately describe his condition. 

Morris spent what he calls “long days” in the training room with associate athletic trainer Steve Smith, often meeting Smith for treatment at 6 a.m. After missing Michigan’s game against Illinois on Nov. 19, Morris shifted his focus toward Ohio State — even as his ankle failed to cooperate. 

“I was hurting,” Morris said, still smiling, when asked about the amount of pain he endured. “But I didn’t care. I just wanted to play.

“I thought, ‘I’m not missing this game to save my life. I don’t care what my body’s going through. I’m not missing this game. Because I can’t let my team go out there and fight our biggest rivals in the biggest rivalry in football history and try not to play.’ ”

And so he tried, suiting up and drawing the start on the edge. He played a few snaps on the game’s opening drive, picking up a tackle. But he wasn’t right, and Michigan defensive line coach Mike Elston could tell. Elston pulled Morris aside. While Morris begged to keep playing, Elston sat him down and delivered the cold truth: 

You do not need to be playing

“I tried everything,” Morris said, speaking slowly. “… I’m sick, sick to my stomach.” 

To avoid that feeling again — to make sure he’d be fully healthy in time for the Fiesta Bowl — Morris and the training staff devised a month-long plan. He spent the first week trying to jog; the second continuing that while also trying to run. And in the third week, when he began feeling like his usual self again, he returned to practice. 

“Now this week has just been pushing,” Morris said. “Push, push, push. I’ve been doing that and I feel great.” 

Michigan’s defense thrived in Morris’s absence, something that Morris mentioned multiple times throughout his press conference, noting how thankful he is that they stepped up. 

That being said, Morris’s impact is undeniable. He’s the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year, the Wolverines’ most disruptive edge rusher. He leads the team with 11 tackles for a loss and his 7.5 sacks are more than double the team’s next-highest total. 

“We really missed Mike,” senior defensive tackle Mazi Smith said. “Mike is a playmaker before anything. He comes up big when you need him most. That’s important, having a player on the edge like that. You could come up big on the inside and in the run game, but it’ll never have the same impact. You have a big impact. But never the same that a premier edge guy has.” 

That’s what Michigan has in Morris. And against a stout and cohesive TCU offensive line, the Wolverines will need him more than ever. 

After spending the two biggest games of the year on the sideline, watching along in pain, he’s ready to deliver. 

“I have a big chance to make up for it,” Morris said of his missed time. “It means everything. (My teammates) held me down, and now I get to repay the favor. They’re getting 200% of me.”