In the week before the 2001 season began, Tim Bracken went from being named Michigan’s starting running back to using a walker to get to the bathroom in his dorm.
After redshirting his freshman season in 2000 and watching fellow freshman Chris Perry take control of the backup duties behind Anthony Thomas, Bracken beat out Perry and B.J. Askew for the starting role to begin last season. That is, until he experienced a career-threatening injury to his leg.
“It was really hard,” Bracken reminisced. “Just sitting out one year is hard enough, but having to sit out that second year, it was … really stressful.”
It was so stressful that Perry, his neighbor last year, still “thanks God” that his nagging injuries were nothing like Bracken’s.
Bracken neglected to talk to anyone about his heartbreak for about a month and a half because “every time I did, it made me feel bad,” Bracken said. “I just stayed to myself.”
The redshirt sophomore had to watch his teammates contributing on the field while he spent his time getting treatment in the training room. He felt guilty that he wasn’t doing anything to “better the team.”
It was especially tough to watch his fellow running backs struggle to produce, finishing eighth in the Big Ten in rushing offense.
“It was hard watching (last year’s backs) take a lot of criticism from everybody, saying that the running game was struggling (and having) doubts about the Michigan backs,” Bracken said. “It made me really upset, but after a while, I learned to deal with it, and the only way I was going to get better was to stay strong.”
With the help of Perry and other teammates and trainers, Bracken regained the motivation that earned him the starting role last August. He stopped keeping to himself and moping about his situation and refocused his efforts on becoming stronger in the weight room. He wanted to prove to the doubters that Michigan could and would have a good running game in 2002.
“Everything that happened was something to motivate me,” Bracken said.
This past Saturday at Michigan Stadium, Bracken, now in his third year at Michigan, finally got that elusive first carry. He earned it. The White Castle, La. native ran 12 times for 50 yards, showing a quickness that separates him from Michigan’s other backs.
“He looked great,” quarterback Spencer Brinton said. “To be able to come back from such a tough situation, to break your femur, I mean how many people are able to come back from that and stay positive.”
The 5-foot-10, 207-pounder juked and pushed his way down field as the fourth quarter clock rolled down, but thanks to a Western Michigan stop at the goalline as time expired, he couldn’t earn his first touchdown.
“I was hoping he’d get in and score,” Perry said. “I thought he did on that last play.”
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said that Bracken’s showing “was the best that he has played. He has a different style than Chris (Perry) or David (Underwood) and if he keeps coming, it will be a big load off of Chris’ shoulders.”
That style Carr referred to reminds many of former Michigan star Tim Biakabatuka, known for his shiftyness and ability to cut on a dime. There is no doubt that Carr has big plans for incorporating Bracken’s skills into the offense.
“I think he’s a guy that has what I call great in-line quickness,” Carr said. “He can make the shallow cuts, and the real sharp cut that a lot of people can’t make. He’s good in the open field, and he has good hands. He’s a guy that plays with a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he comes.”
Bracken is coming along just fine. He’s admittedly stronger than before the injury, and said before fall practice started that it “felt really well” when he cut and planted his leg. There are no more doubts – in his mind, at least.
Perry, who has rushed for 238 yards in his first two games, is looking forward to having Bracken to relieve him. But Perry won’t concede that the possible 1-2 punch will be a “Thunder and Lightning” scenario.
“I wouldn’t like to think I’m just a pounding back, hopefully I can make people miss as well,” Perry said. “But he’s a great back, and he’s really quick off the ball. He’s had some bad luck in his years here, so it was really nice to see him get his quickness back.”