Troy Woolfolk is a man who’s been kicked in the face. But that barely squeaks into the top five in painful things that have happened to him over the past two years. The fifth-year senior’s football career has gone in circles. Recently, he’s traveled the carousel unusually often with one constant turning the wheel: injuries.
As a starting cornerback, he broke his ankle before the start of last season and missed the entire year. Healthy and back to competing for playing time, Woolfolk won back the cornerback job. But he sprained his ankle in the season opener, then fell awkwardly in practice before the Notre Dame game and broke a bone in his hand.
On Saturday, another malady allowed the fifth-year senior to show that he’s back to competing for playing time. Luckily for Woolfolk, it had nothing to do with his face. Or hand. Or ankle.
With redshirt junior safety Jordan Kovacs out with an a knee injury, Woolfolk made his season debut at safety. Freshman Blake Countess had replaced him at cornerback, so Woolfolk willingly moved to safety during the bye week, a position he played for six games his junior year.
The Purdue game was the first game Kovacs missed in his entire career. It was the healthiest Woolfolk had been all season.
“I’m so happy I had that (bye week),” Woolfolk said. “It was a time for me to start fresh. No ankle injuries, nothing. I feel great, like a regular person for once.”
Having previously played the position, Woolfolk didn’t need much adjustment time. He practiced at the position the previous two weeks and was ready for kickoff.
But he wasn’t ready for the fifth play of the game. Woolfolk couldn’t get off a block and then lost a race to the endzone on a 48-yard screen pass that turned into Purdue’s first touchdown. Even with the error, Michigan coach Brady Hoke thought Woolfolk played well enough.
“I’d like for him to be a tad more physical at times, but I thought he did a good job,” Hoke said after the game. “They tried to tempo us a little bit, so he did a good job of getting us in and out of what we needed to be looking like back there.”
Though Hoke said during his Tuesday conference call that Kovacs “was going to be fine,” Woolfolk is at safety permanently. According to the coaches, he was going to move there before the injury to Kovacs due to the emergence of Countess at cornerback. Woolfolk’s great make-up speed is an aspect the Wolverines had been missing at the position.
Woolfolk is fine with the change. He’s been back to square one before. He’s just mad he couldn’t showcase his speed.
“Right now, I just like the versatility and being able to cover more ground at safety than I do at corner,” Woolfolk said. “I feel like I can make a better impact on the team.
“They didn’t really test me deep, so I wish they would have done that so I could show it and ensure a spot.”
Kovacs, Woolfolk and redshirt sophomore Thomas Gordon will compete for the two safety spots. But Gordon has also played as Michigan’s nickel back in certain situations, which allows opportunities for all three to see the field at the same time.
“We kind of look at it like all three of them being in there,” said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. “It’s just when they play. … You’ve got to have more than four guys, so they’ll all get a lot of play.”
All this barring injuries, of course.