Junior Hemingway could hardly contain his laughter describing how well Fitz Toussaint could dance.
“Fitz is a clown, man,” Hemingway said. “It’s like we’ll just be playing a song, and we’ll be like, ‘Fitz, Fitz.’ —”
Hemingway paused, letting out another laugh.
“Wherever he is, he’ll just bust out dancing.”
The Michigan locker room is constructed in a rectangular shape so that every player can see everyone else. When Toussaint starts dancing, all eyes are on him.
After practice, an upperclassman turns on music and then the calls start.
“Everybody will be like, ‘Hey dance, Fitz. What’s up, Fitz?’ ” Hemingway said.
Sometimes Michigan’s lead running back draws looks of amazement, other times they laugh. Hip-hop fans recognize Toussaint krumping or pop-and-locking.
“Fitz knows a lot of stuff,” Hemingway said. “But one day, we were practicing for Mock Rock, and I saw him doing some stuff standing up on his toes. I was like, ‘Man, Fitz, what you doing?’ I guess it was just something he picked up.”
“He’s amazing,” added left tackle Taylor Lewan. “Have you seen the Mock Rock thing last year?”
Toussaint was dressed head-to-toe like Steve Urkel, complete with a plaid shirt, taped glasses, high socks, suspenders and hiked-up pants. The football team had a few other players dancing, including Hemingway, for their skit in last year’s annual fundraiser. But Toussaint’s smooth moves stole the show.
Around his teammates, he’s comfortable in his own skin.
When he’s put in front of the media, he’s shy. His voice is quiet. His answers are short.
But ever since he took hold of the No. 1 running back job with a 170-yard, two-touchdown performance two weeks ago against Purdue, he’s been playing like he’s been dancing — shifting into open creases around defenders.
“Basically I’m a little bit more comfortable,” Toussaint said. “Just adjusting to the competition, just actually settling down, reading things. Taking a fast game and making it slow.”
The past two weeks, he’s been getting more reps with the first team in practice. Against Iowa, he stepped into the field knowing he was going to get the ball. Michigan coach Brady Hoke had declared Toussaint his No. 1 back, and that meant something.
Toussaint looked faster, his cuts crisper, his moves smoother.
The bye week came at the perfect time. Before the Purdue game, Toussaint had reaggravated a right shoulder injury he suffered in the season opener. With the week off, he was able to rest and get treatment on his shoulder.
“Got my body right,” Toussaint said.
He had missed five games his redshirt freshman season due to a shoulder injury. This time, the pain in his AC joint didn’t physically affect how he ran with the ball. But he had to get his mind right — he said it was slowing him down mentally.
Between the ears, he’d been preparing to be Michigan’s next lead back long before he got the nod. One day, about a year and a half ago, he decided to start watching clips of all-time great Michigan running backs — it’s a hobby he still does in his free time.
“(I watch) their running ability,” Toussaint said. “Just how they built all aspects of their game, maybe vision, speed, explosiveness.”
Plus, as the Wolverines have moved back to more of a power running game, the plays he’s watching are similar to his own. Toussaint attributed his improved vision in recent weeks — a compliment Hoke bestowed upon him — to film study and watching how other backs run the ball.
His favorite NFL running back is Adrian Peterson, who is known for his punishing running style. As far as Michigan goes, Toussaint loves Anthony Thomas for his toughness, which was a common trait for Wolverine backs.
“They (all) show major signs of toughness,” Toussaint said.
Mentally, he’s working on it. Physically, it’s been there all along.
“He’s a tough kid — tough blocker, tough runner,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges. “I like kids like that. Because they represent the toughness of your team. If the guy with the ball is tough, it’ll send a message.
“He’s always been like that. We’ve just given him more opportunities. … And we’re going to keep giving him (the ball).”
With 648 career rushing yards, Toussaint has a ways to go to catch Thomas’s 4,472 total.
All-time great? That’s going to take some work.
All-time great dancer? That’s all but guaranteed.