Troy Woolfolk looked like a beaten man — a long scar ran across his nose, his right hand was wrapped in a cast and both ankles have been injured in the last 13 months.
“I’ve got to start carrying around a rabbit’s foot because this isn’t working out too good,” Woolfolk said.
His sprained right ankle is the least of his worries after last week. On Thursday, he landed awkwardly on his right hand, breaking a bone.
Just “bad luck,” he said.
Doctors told him he’d be in the cast for four weeks, but the brash Woolfolk said he usually takes two weeks off what the doctors tell him.
Then he pointed to where he thought the break occurred — a bone, midway between the ring and pinky fingers.
“I’m not really sure,” he said. “I’m not a doctor. I just break the bones.”
At least Woolfolk can poke fun at his situation. He certainly isn’t letting it ruin his fifth-year senior season, after he missed all of last season with a broken left ankle.
Before Saturday’s game against Notre Dame, Woolfolk went up to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and said, “Coach, you can count on me. I’ll go.”
“I just felt like I didn’t want to let my team down,” Woolfolk said. “I felt like I did that last year, and I feel like I have an important role on this team.
To add insult to injury, Woolfolk’s helmet was kicked off during the game and the same player’s cleat caught his face — leaving Woolfolk with a busted lip and nose.
And the cast wasn’t helping matters. It only got in the way when he was tackling.
“I guess I just have to get over the mental block and trust my hand that I can tackle,” Woolfolk said. “Just like my ankle. Whenever you have a problem, you’re scared to use it.
“And I feel like I was, I don’t want to say soft, but not as physical as I usually was out there, because (the cast) kind of took away my tackling ability a little bit. But I just have to get them down any way possible.”
So far this week Woolfolk participated fully in practice on Tuesday and the coaches were excited to see how well Woolfolk has responded by playing, and playing well, through his injuries.
“After watching the film, Troy Woolfolk played unbelievable for a guy with one hand,” Mattison said. “I mean, he made one tackle with one hand that might have broke. I was proud of him. He’s a Michigan man.”
He may be a Michigan man, but he’s a beaten man too.
“It’s a rough day out there, but that’s what you expect,” Woolfolk said. “You’ve got to go out there and give it 100 percent. Your body may pay the toll, but it’s all for Michigan.”
DRINKING CAMPBELL’S SOUP: Some time after the Notre Dame game, Michigan coach Brady Hoke found junior defensive tackle Will Campbell and asked a question that may have seemed a bit naïve.
“Is that the most you’ve ever played?” asked Hoke.
“Yes,” Campbell responded.
“Well, I guess I should’ve known that,” Hoke said Wednesday.
Campbell played a large role on the defensive line perhaps for the first time in his career Saturday, after an offseason in which the Michigan coaching staff gushed about how much potential the 6-foot-5, 322-pound tackle had. On Saturday, he pushed the pocket several times and made one key fumble recovery.
“I thought that when he went in, he gave us a spark,” Mattison said. “I thought he played with a lot of passion. And like I’ve said all along, that’s a big body that can move.
“I do believe he’ll probably get more playing time. We’re rotating anyhow, but I do think that he’s earned by what he showed right there. The biggest thing these guys have to do is earn it by how they practice. The game is the reward for how you practice.”
DISGUISING DISASTERS: The same play — a base coverage disguised as a blitz — yielded an interception early in the game against Notre Dame and Mattison wanted to try it again later, with the game on the line.
He knew the Fighting Irish would expect a blitz the closer they drove in Michigan territory, so Mattison decided to do what he thought Notre Dame wouldn’t expect. Plus, he had just blitzed the play before, so he wanted to show blitz and then pull out and maybe get another interception.
“We didn’t execute it as well as we did the first time and they hit it,” Mattison said Tuesday, recalling Notre Dame’s go-ahead touchdown pass with 30 seconds left in the game. “I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not always 100 percent. And if it was all over again, I wouldn’t have done that.”
Disguising his blitzes is only something Mattison will do if he thinks his defenders understand the basic defense first. Then he’ll show them how to line up one way and play another.
Mattison’s blitzes have saved Michigan in both of its games so far this season, forcing turnovers when the Wolverines needed them most. But he has also dialed up pressures that have left huge holes up the middle in the running game. So, even for the savviest of defensive minds, football is always a game of chess.
“I’ll be dead honest with you, there are some times calls that a guy makes that you say afterwards, ‘God, I wish I wouldn’t have made that call,’ ” Mattison said.
On Saturday, at least, a stunning finish saved Mattison from a few sleepless nights.
FRESH RUNNING BACKS: Hoke still doesn’t have a lead running back, and he hasn’t ruled out either of his two freshman running backs who have yet to see the field ahead of a crowded bunch of veterans.
Hoke said he might consider playing freshmen Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls at some point this season, burning a redshirt season.
“It always depends on how fast they learn, maturity wise and all of those things,” Hoke said. “Depending on where we get, they may play.
“Rawls is a strong runner and he’s got good vision, good balance. He’s got pretty good burst. Justice is a guy who’s got great quickness, catches the ball well. He’s doing a lot of stuff on our look-team, sometimes lining up at wideout.”
THE RETURN OF CAM AND FITZ: Michigan may be getting two starters back from injury this week.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Cam Gordon, who has missed the first two games of the season due to a back injury, looks ready to make his first start of the season Saturday.
And redshirt sophomore running back Fitz Toussaint, who ran for 80 yards as the starter against Western Michigan, practiced Tuesday and should be ready to play as well.