Four weeks ago, Mike Hart was atop the college football world.
His team had just won its fourth straight game after dropping its first two of the season, he had just passed Anthony Thomas to become Michigan’s all-time leading rusher and his name was on the short list of possible Heisman Trophy candidates.
But the week after becoming Michigan’s most decorated running back with his record-breaking performance against Eastern Michigan, Hart went down with a high ankle sprain. It appeared as if all the hard work the senior put in to turn the Wolverines’ fortunes around would be for nothing.
Despite losing his perch near the top of the Heisman projections, Hart returned last Saturday with nearly everything else in tact despite his two-and-a-half game hiatus.
He still has the consecutive 100-yard game streak intact (eight), his team continues to build on its winning streak (also eight) and he and his teammates are still on pace to meet with Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship.
And while he’s admittedly disappointed over losing the shot at some of his individual goals, he’s glad to be near 100 percent and ready to play his first full game in nearly a month.
“Yeah, injuries messed up a lot of things. It’s part of the game, but I’m just worried about this team winning this championship,” said Hart, who played at 75 percent last week but should be nearing 100 percent this weekend. “Those are all individual things – my team has won every game since I’ve been out, so that’s really all that matters. If we would have lost and I was injured, that would have bothered me more. As long as we’re winning, I’m fine.”
Even though his teammates have given him rousing endorsements throughout the year for the Heisman Trophy ( said cornerback Morgan Trent three weeks ago: “If it were up to me, I’d give him the trophy right now”), the confident senior has all but conceded his chances at the award.
“Obviously, if you miss two games, it’s going to be hard to win a Heisman. It’s hard to win any individual award, but it is what it is,” said Hart, who added he would cast his Heisman vote for senior offensive tackle Jake Long.
The Syracuse, N.Y., native suffered a similar injury two years ago and missed three games before coming back for Ohio State. This year, Hart came back after missing just two weeks and insists that even though he left the field in pain Saturday, he didn’t re-aggravate the injury during his 15-carry, 110-yard performance. With another week of treatment and light practice, Hart hopes to be even closer to the shifty back Michigan fans have come to expect during his three-and-a-half seasons in Ann Arbor.
“Sometimes I can’t make certain cuts that I can normally make,” Hart said. “Besides that, it’s fine. Obviously, as the game goes along, it gets more irritating. But this week it’ll be fine. I’m not really worried about it limiting me this week at all.”
Linebacker John Thompson and defensive end Brandon Graham both missed time or were noticeably slowed by the same injury earlier this season. Hart said it was easier for them to play through it, though, because their respective positions don’t call for as many cuts.
Regardless of whether he’s at 75 or 100 percent when the Wolverines travel to Madison this weekend, Hart’s presence on the field should have a similar effect as it did last weekend.
“It’s great having him out there,” quarterback Chad Henne said. “He makes so many cuts that other people can’t. If you try and compare him with other backs, it’s difficult because he has so much potential and definitely has a lot more experience knowing where the holes are going to be. It’s definitely an advantage for us.”