NEW ORLEANS — Fitzgerald Toussaint is more than just a running back for the Michigan football team.
In the streets of New Orleans last night, the redshirt sophomore showed off one of his many talents.
“Fitz is a great dancer,” said senior tight end Kevin Koger. “I don’t know if you all knew that or not, but he can really dance.”
Toussaint broke down some moves as a small crowd, mainly filled with Michigan football players and New Orleans Saints cheerleaders, gathered to watch.
“It was like a circle and somebody would jump in and dance, then somebody else would jump in and dance,” Koger said. “(Toussaint) did really well. He wasn’t really break dancing, just kinda like pop-lockin’, stuff like that.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise though; it wasn’t exactly Toussaint’s first time.
“I go to some clubs,” he said. “Not to dance, but by the end of the night I end up dancing anyway because it’s one of my passions.
“It actually gets me in shape, it helps my feet. Energy, it’s all about energy. It’s all about character work.”
Maybe it was the dancing that helped Toussaint emerge as Michigan’s primary running back this season. On the field, he’s been just what the Wolverines needed behind junior quarterback Denard Robinson.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges has always said he’d prefer to have a starting back as opposed to a back-by-committee.
It took a few games for Toussaint to nab the starting role — he didn’t officially take over the position until a 192-yard performance against Illinois separated him from the pack — but since he has, he hasn’t disappointed.
“Every phase of Fitz’s game got a little better every week,” Borges said Friday. “I think it’s just from playing more. He’s always tough, always fast, always explosive, but he wasn’t always running where he should run. But once he played more and got a feel for where his help was coming from with regard to our blocking schemes and such, he just blossomed and got better and better. And that’s what you got now.”
Though Toussaint has put up some impressive numbers this season — he’s the Wolverines’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Mike Hart in 2007, and he and Robinson were the first Michigan rushing tandem to both gain over 1,000 yards since 1975 — his role goes much further than simply running the football.
In fact, that’s not even his most important job.
“What Fitz has done, as much as anything, is he’s kept Denard healthy,” Borges said. “I really believe that to be true, because now Denard doesn’t have to carry the ball 24, 25 times every game.
“You’ve got a guy that is another big-play dimension, where Denard carried the load of that, I think, for a long time. He doesn’t have to do that anymore.”
The differences have been tangible. Last season, Robinson rushed 245 times heading into Michigan’s bowl game against Mississippi State. He finished the season with nearly 1800 yards on the ground.
Then-sophomore Vincent Smith saw the most action among running backs, with 136 carries for 601 yards.
Simply put, if Michigan was going to have success, Robinson was going to have to do it with his legs. And the heavy workload was clearly tough on Robinson, who often had to leave games due to injury.
This year, it’s been a different story, and it’s been a big reason the Wolverines have been successful.
Robinson has run 208 times for 1,163 yards, while Toussaint has helped balance the load with 174 carries and 1,011 yards.
And it’s not just the numbers that tell the story. Robinson can feel the difference, too.
“Fitz is probably one of the best backs I’ve played with,” Robinson said. “He took the load off me this season, and I appreciate it.”
Toussaint has also forced opposing defenses to change their game plans. No longer can coaches plan to simply focus on Robinson.
With the Sugar Bowl now just four days away, Virginia Tech is becoming more and more aware of what it will be dealing with when Michigan has the ball.
“I think if you’re focused on Denard, then Toussaint’s going to expose you,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “It’s a two-headed beast at tailback.
“To have those two guys that are touching the ball a lot, that are breakaway threats every time they have it in their hand, that really creates a problem for defenses.”