AS ONE OF THE SENIOR LEADERS ON MICHIGAN'S 2010 ROSTER, CORNERBACK TROY Woolfolk sat at a table at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago for two hours last August answering reporters' questions at Big Ten Media Day. Unfortunately, once the Wolverines began playing games a month later, Woolfolk was still sitting—this time on a couch, at home, watching helplessly as the defense he intended to direct back to respectability deteriorated into one of the most hapless in the country. "I actually did yell [when his teammates made mistakes]," he says. "I wished they could hear me through the TV."
Two weeks to the day after his Media Day appearance, Woolfolk, who was considered Michigan's lone dependable cornerback, went to tackle tight end Kevin Koger in a preseason practice. Woolfolk planted his right foot and got stuck in the turf just as another receiver, Martavious Odoms, collided with him. Woolfolk screamed and fell as his ankle twisted. In a split second his season was over before it began, lost to a dislocation that would require surgery and a medical redshirt.
Troy's father, Butch, a former All-America running back for the Wolverines, and mother, Regina, flew up from Sugar Land, Texas, for the surgery and took turns caring for him in the weeks that followed. Meanwhile, Troy was no longer around his teammates all day, every day—and not at all on game days. Because his leg needed to be elevated at all times to avoid clotting, standing on the sideline was not an option. "I felt disconnected from the team," says Woolfolk. "I saw the defense struggling, and I was wishing I could be out there, because I felt like I could help." Michigan returned to a bowl game for the first time in three years, but its overmatched defense helped lead to coach Rich Rodriguez's departure.
Once Woolfolk was mobile enough during the latter part of the season, he returned to the football complex for meetings and film sessions. His biggest contribution was mentoring the slew of freshman defensive backs who had been pressed into action earlier than expected. It reminded his teammates how much they'd missed Woolfolk's leadership. "He's one of those guys we look up to, who's respected by the whole team and coaches," says senior defensive lineman Mike Martin. "He gives us a sense of security."
Now Woolfolk is again ready to provide that blanket. His participation was limited during spring practices, but by June coach Brady Hoke declared him "100 percent," and Woolfolk was beaming. "I can't even tell I was injured," he says. For Woolfolk, whose father played on two Big Ten champions (1978 and '80), 2011 will be his last chance to taste success. Watching the team flounder last season left him bitter at times. A prolific tweeter, Woolfolk occasionally let his frustrations seep out via social media. ("Kicker wanted," sent moments after a missed Seth Broekhuizen field goal attempt against Massachusetts, was one of the more regrettable vents.)
"That was back when I felt disconnected from the team," Woolfolk says. "I'm not going to do that anymore. This is a special year for me. I feel humbled. I [didn't appreciate] the chance I had to perform on a stage like the Big House." September 3 against Western Michigan can't come soon enough.