It isn’t that Moe Ways needs the reminder. He doesn’t have to check the identification sticker from his hospital bracelet to remember the date he suffered his foot injury last spring: March 24.
It was a Thursday, near the end of the third week of the Michigan football team’s spring camp. Ways was having a strong month at wide receiver until that day brought a “freak injury,” in his words. He went up for a pass in the left corner of the end zone, hauled in the touchdown, came down and felt his foot crack. He broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot.
“And the rest is history,” he recalls. “I remember it vividly, like it happened yesterday. Things like that, life-changing things like that, you don’t forget. You hold onto it, and you let that motivate you throughout the rest of your process.”
Not just mentally, either. Ways pulls out his phone and removes it from the case to reveal the ID badge from his hospital visit.
“It’s just a reminder,” Ways said. “If I’m having a low day or a bad practice, I look at this, and I’m thankful for the opportunity.”
Ways, now a redshirt sophomore, needed surgery to repair the bone and missed the entire summer. But after a lengthy rehabilitation process, he managed to regain full strength in time for Michigan to open fall camp Aug. 8.
But that might oversimplify how difficult the process was for Ways. He said it was his first major injury, so he didn’t know how to process it at first. Though he knew he was fortunate not to have to miss any game action, he struggled to watch his teammates work out at full-speed all summer.
“Seeing my teammates getting better, being able to run routes and do things I couldn’t do,” Ways said. “I was getting better in a different way, but I couldn’t do everything they were doing.”
For Ways, the injury came at an inopportune time as well. He was having the best camp of his career this spring. About halfway through, on March 15, passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch said he had dropped the fewest passes of all the wide receivers. Ways was pleased with his offseason progress and said he understood the offense much more than when he came in as a freshman.
Then, March 24 came, stunting his progress while fellow rising wide receivers such as Drake Harris and Grant Perry carried the load in the Spring Game. After a summer of recovery, Ways learned to treat the setback as a positive.
“It’s motivation,” he said. “You look back and count your blessings. You don’t take the game for granted.”
Now, the role he fought for in the spring is still open. Michigan is seeking a third wide receiver, behind proven fifth-year seniors Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh, and no one has taken hold of the job. Ways is a big target (6-foot-3) on the outside and has added weight to reach 217 pounds. Only Simeon Smith and Harris are taller among Michigan’s wide receivers.
Ways’ challenge now is to turn ability into production. He earned a taste of a greater responsibility in the spring, and he’s hoping this fall is his chance. As of Monday, when head coach Jim Harbaugh last spoke to reporters, Ways had not missed a practice. Harbaugh said it didn’t appear that the injury was slowing Ways down.
In two years, Ways has appeared in 11 games and caught just three passes for 40 yards — all last year. Jumping into a bigger role this year will require more consistent numbers. Ways thinks his best days are ahead of him, and he has the hospital badge to remind him.