Every time Mike Hart limped off the field with an ankle injury, I told my friends not to worry. If needed, Lloyd Carr knew I could suit up at any time.

I’ve assured anyone who would listen that Michigan fans shouldn’t fret over the ongoing Terrelle Pryor fiasco. I’m better equipped for Rich Rodriguez’s spread option attack, anyway.

But last week, the unwarranted cockiness came back to get me. My editor proposed a once-in-a-lifetime story idea: Prove it.

Rodriguez called an open tryout, and my assignment was to go out for the team. My first reaction was straight-up giddiness. The Michigan football team? You want me to try out for the Michigan football team?

But as the days leading up to the tryout slowly unfolded, I realized that all 5 feet 11 inches and 160 pounds of me would line up against guys that probably wouldn’t fit through the doorway of my house. I imagined broken bones, body casts and the sinister laughter of some of my Daily coworkers.

The reality finally sunk in as the doctor pricked me with a tetanus shot (I’ll swear to my dying day, I would’ve made the team had it not been for the stiff soreness in my arm after that shot) during my mandatory physical Wednesday afternoon. I was going to suit up with the Wolverines.

Laugh all you want about my attempt to become an outside linebacker – everyone I’ve told has so far – but for two hours yesterday, I was a Michigan Wolverine.

And I promise you, they didn’t take it easy on us. Just ask the kids puking in the strategically placed Oosterbaan Fieldhouse trash cans.

On my way to the tryout, a cautious optimism came over me. The solemn-faced students walking by my side weren’t freaks of nature, but regular Joes like me. It wasn’t until I made it to Schembechler Hall – where guys who received special invitations from the coaching staff flexed biceps bigger than my head – that I questioned why I ever let anyone talk me into this.

They drilled us, ran us and yelled at us (Mike Barwis’s raspy cannon of a voice will haunt me for weeks), until it felt like my legs were going to shrivel up and fall off.

And then they made us run gassers, full-out sprints across the field and back.

A lot of them.

We broke off into position-only drills, and I was fortunate enough to be coached up by Jay Hopson, the linebackers coach with a southern drawl so thick he had to explain the first drill four times before we finally understood.

During the drills, I face-planted trying to cut a corner. My elbow hit fake grass, and I came up with a huge rug burn down the side of my arm.

I know what you’re thinking, but guess what? Rug burns hurt, and I was pretty tough about it.

Even with my less-than-stellar footwork and shortness of breath, I obviously made an impression on Hopson during the tryout.

“We’re just looking for athleticism,” Hopson said. “We wanted to see how they moved their feet, their hips, and you can just put in the paper that you did fantastic.”

I wouldn’t have a shred of journalistic integrity if I omitted the fact that Hopson burst into a deep belly laugh after that sarcasm-laced response.

Even Rodriguez took note of me. After practice, he took the time to evaluate my performance, saying, “We always need big guys, but you don’t quite fit that build.”

Give me three more inches, 50 more pounds and about a second off my 40-yard dash time, and I’m sure he would’ve handed me a scholarship right there.

Rodriguez and his staff’s open tryout and their willingness to joke about my subpar performance are a refreshing change from the old Fort Schembechler, Pentagon-tight mindset characteristic of the old coaching regime.

When Rodriguez called all 65 tired and sore participants into a midfield huddle after the tryout, he reminded us that the most important thing, regardless of whether or not we made the team, was to work hard for a Michigan degree.

You can tell Rodriguez cares deeply about the enormous fanbase that surrounds this program, just from the way he treated us as equals, like members of the Michigan football team.

His first open tryout went off without a hitch, and Rodriguez promised to hold another during the first week of classes next fall for those who aren’t called back.

So, just in case my name isn’t on the list being posted at noon today, I’ll be back in the fall.

Rodriguez won’t know what hit him.

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