Woolfolk healthy, even quicker after losing year to injury

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Troy Woolfolk tackles a Purdue wide receiver in 2009. Buy this photo

By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Editor
Published August 8, 2011

Fifth-year senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk isn’t just back. He’s faster than ever.

After a leg injury ended his Michigan football season before it even began in 2010, Woolfolk came to the first day of fall camp on Friday at 100 percent.

The injury was gruesome. When asked what he broke, Woolfolk responded, “everything.”

It was a dislocated right ankle, torn ligaments and a broken leg — “tibia, fibula one of them things.”

After witnessing a season in which the Wolverines finished 112th in pass defense, Woolfolk was eager to get back on the field: a little too eager.

He tried to do one-on-one drills late in spring practice. He got beat. Badly. His speed wasn’t back. So for the first time, Woolfolk paid attention to his form.

“I feel like I’ve paid more attention to the mechanics of running,” Woolfolk said. “Like in your start, you want to stay low and have more of a quicker choppy stride and then learn to extend it. I never really worried about that because I always had the speed to catch up to people.

“So I just tried to pay attention to the mechanics of things and once my speed came back I tied that in with the mechanics and I feel like my speed just got better. I’m faster than I ever was before.”

Sidelined the whole season and not able to go with the team on road trips, Woolfolk didn’t have many options for activities. It forced him to address the mental aspects of the game, and he feels like he’s a better player because of it.

“I didn’t really pay attention to the mental aspect of the game, I was just going up there, running and trying to benefit off my athletic ability,” Woolfolk said. “I don’t think that would have been able to take me to the next level ... I don’t want to say, 'glad I broke my ankle,' but to look at the bright things ... being able to understand why I have to play Cover 2, why I have to reroute the receiver outside.”

There are no lingering effects to the ankle. It’s got reinforced steel in it now. Woolfolk said he had to get over the mental aspect of trusting the ankle to make all the cuts he wanted it to. And continuing that process is something he’s excited about.

With three grueling weeks of camp ahead before the season opener, Woolfolk may be the only player who’s looking forward to the brutal two-a-days and full-contact practices that lie ahead. The feeling surprised even him.

“I’m just excited,” Woolfolk said. “This is strangely one of the first times I’m excited to go into camp, because you know what you got coming up in the next weeks.”

Woolfolk will play a critical role in turning around a secondary that was blamed for many of Michigan’s defensive woes last season. New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has a new scheme, and it’s one Woolfolk likes. The cornerback calls it the favorite defensive philosophy he’s been in because of the pressure it will put on opposing quarterbacks.

But Woolfolk isn’t doing it alone. Redshirt junior J.T. Floyd is projected to start at the other cornerback position and is coming back from a season-ending ankle injury of his own. He also came into camp at full strength, to the delight of Michigan coach Brady Hoke.

“We’re pretty doggone healthy,” Hoke said. “Troy is full speed. Floyd is full speed.”

And, at least for Woolfolk, that full speed is a little bit faster than last year.