NEW ORLEANS — While Virginia Tech deals with the loss of two kickers, the No. 13 Michigan football team is dealing with an entirely different situation involving a big boot of their own.

Shortly after touching down in New Orleans, Michigan coach Brady Hoke revealed that redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Nathan Brink wouldn’t play in the Sugar Bowl and that fifth-year senior defensive lineman Will Heininger’s status was uncertain after a foot injury.

Heininger, dealing with a foot sprain he incurred in practice last Thursday, walked into press area with a walking boot on his right leg yesterday. Hoke called the boot a “precautionary measure,” but Heininger’s status remains in question for Tuesday’s game against No. 17 Virginia Tech.

“It will be an overall decision,” Heininger said. “I think I’ll have input on it, but I think medical is always first and then from there the coaches will ask you how you feel.”

Heininger started all 12 games this season and registered 23 tackles, including four for loss. After tearing his ACL and missing the majority of last season, Heininger appeared to be on the upswing in his final season. In the season finale against Ohio State, he tallied a career-high four tackles.

While there is no rule on how often a player has to practice in order to be ready to face Virginia Tech, the more time he misses, the less likely he is to play. Hoke ruled Heininger out of practice for “at least a couple days” when the team arrived on Wednesday.

Heininger has already accepted a job offer, raising his personal stakes for the Sugar Bowl. One way or another, Jan. 3 will be his last football game, and Heininger would prefer it to be spent on the field rather than the sidelines.

“If there’s any way I can play, I’m going to play,” Heininger said.

If there is no way, Hoke will lean on the rest of the experienced defensive line he’s relied on all year. Senior defensive linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen have led the defense both in leadership and on the stat sheet, combining for 95 tackles, and 17.5 tackles for loss.

Though he spoke highly of the backup defensive linemen, Hoke made it clear the two will have to fill most of the void should Heininger have to sit out.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be an Iron Man,” Hoke said.

Should it come to that, Van Bergen and Martin are ready. Hoke told them to do extra running over the holiday break. In the first two practices in New Orleans, Hoke remarked that the two had kept their conditioning over break, but also provided something extra with their effort.

“I think they have something they want to show everybody,” Heininger said. “I’m excited for them. I’m really excited for them.”

That something may not be completely worked out yet. Junior defensive end Craig Roh said coaches were giving the two “Iron Men” more leeway in experimenting with things in practice.

But even if Martin and Van Bergen play the entire game, someone still has to physically occupy Heininger’s voided spot. The Wolverines have plenty of candidates.

Junior defensive tackle Will Campbell has seen some time at defensive line. Redshirt sophomore Quinton Washington, a converted offensive lineman, has been received praise since bowl practice started. Heininger was helping redshirt freshman Richard Ash in the film room today.

According to Heininger, whoever fills that final spot alongside Martin, Van Bergen and Roh will be ready for the Hokies.

“They are good to the point where if they had to start we’d be happy with them starting,” Heininger said. “The improvement has been outstanding.”

Maybe, then, Heininger’s walking boot isn’t so bad. That is, if one boot proves less worse than no kicker.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.