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August 24, 2013Redshirt sophomore cornerback Blake Countess remembers the day as though it were yesterday - running down to cover a punt in last year's opener against Alabama when his knee gave out following a slight shove. He's been working to rehab his torn ACL ever since and is back and stronger than ever, now in a position to help others who have gone through their own injuries.
It's in Countess' nature to do anything for the team. That now includes spending a bit of time at nickel back in addition to corner.
Special teams, though?
Not so much.
"Not at all. I haven't really asked and I'm not going to ask," he said with a laugh.
He'll be there if they need him though, he added. More than anything he's been there for his other injured teammates, assuring them they have what it takes to return just as quickly as he did.
Sophomore receiver Amara Darboh was the latest casualty, going down with a season ending foot injury in two-a-days.
"Amara is one of my best friends off the field," Countess said. "He helped me come back whether it be coming in doing extra work on the weekends, little things like that. I'm in his ear. I was probably of the first people he told. I'll continue to be in his ear and let him know he's not alone throughout this process.
"A lot of [rehab] has to do with his teammates keeping him involved, keeping him feeling like he's a part of it, coaches keeping him involved. He'll have a readiness and eagerness to come back, that hungry aspect of it. I know Amara and know he's going to attack his rehab, and he'll be fine."
Countess had redshirt freshman defensive lineman Chris Wormley (knee) and later fifth-year senior Fitz Toussaint to help push him through rehab. They did their part, too, to help redshirt junior outside linebacker Jake Ryan, who has recovered so well from his own spring knee injury that he hasn't needed much encouragement.
For Countess, the hard part was just walking again after letting go of the crutches. Toussaint, though, literally hit the ground running when he lost his.
"I was able to get going because I'm an independent person. I like to do things by myself," Toussaint said. "Once I got off them, I knew I'd do the things I needed to get back to where I needed to be. I knew I'd overcome any physical part. I wasn't worried about aches and pains, because I can play through that. I just had to have my mind mentally right to be able to do that."
He's faster now, running backs coach Fred Jackson reported, and in the best shape of his life. He dropped two percent of his body fat by putting in added cardio, intent on winning the starting running back job again.
"I expected it from Fitz," Countess said. "I worked with him day to day as well throughout his recovery process. He and I worked together, along with the other guys that were injured, and we all kind of kept each other level headed and in it. But I knew Fitz was a hard worker and that he would come back stronger."
All of them set the expectation for the other wounded Wolverines to follow their lead.
"We worked hard. I came out and did what I had to do," Toussaint said. "I put all the effort there. Taking care of my body every day got me to that point."