ANN ARBOR — Fitzgerald Toussaint believes that in the wake of an injury that prematurely ended his 2012 season, he gained perspective.
After the first day of preseason practices for the Michigan football team, Toussaint didn’t lack for confidence. When asked who would start at running back in Michigan’s season opener against Central Michigan, Toussaint answered without hesitation.
“I'm going to be the starting running back Aug. 31,” he said Monday at Glick Field House.
Suffice to say, Toussaint is ready for some redemption.
Toussaint suffered a gruesome injury in Michigan’s final home game of 2012, when he broke his left leg after being tackled during the first half of a win against Iowa in November. The injury required surgery and ended a subpar season for Toussaint, a year after he rushed for 1,041 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011.
The redshirt senior from Youngstown sat out the first game of 2012 as a result of a July, 2012, drunk-driving charge, which he later pled down to operating a vehicle while visibly impaired, and the rest of the way was rocky. Toussaint ran for only 514 yards and five touchdowns before he sustained the injury.
Yet the path provided a lesson.
University of Michigan player Fitzgerald Toussaint, 28, races past University of Massachusetts player Kevin Byrne, 93, during the third quarter at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Sept. 15, 2012.
Blade/Andy Morrison Enlarge
“It was just learning how to respond through adversity,” Toussaint said. “Taking guidance and advice from other people, steering me in the right direction.”
While he walked with a bit of a limp Monday and admitted he’s wearing a small brace on his left ankle for protection, he didn’t let on to any sort of weakness.
“It’s about hard work and dedication, something I’ve been fighting for and something I’ve been working for,” Toussaint said. “It’s about working day by day, getting better for this day.”
Likewise, he gauged his motivation level as “very high,” and not just because he’ll have competition at running back this season, as freshman Derrick Green is expected to contend for the starting job that Toussaint projects himself in. Toussaint looks internally, as well.
“I’m kind of like a role model for my daughter,” Toussaint said. “Waking up every day thinking about her allows me to go to work and do what I have to do. Plus the guys around me are a good group of guys that I learn from. That’s my motivation.”
Blake Countess, a redshirt sophomore cornerback who is returning from an ACL tear he sustained at the start of the 2012 season, did injury rehabilitation with Toussaint during the offseason and saw Toussaint’s focus and work ethic.
“Him being a senior, he took the lead, and that made me follow his footsteps,” Countess said. “When you have a season-ending injury like that, perspective is always, ‘Man, I was this close to maybe never playing again.’ With that, you don’t take things for granted. You cherish what you can and what little football you have to play, and you try to make the most out of it.”
Countess believes Toussaint’s next step is about perspective. Toussaint considers another factor, one that brought about his first-day-of-camp declaration.
“It’s more about confidence, knowing what I can do and what I’m capable of doing,” Toussaint said.
NOTE: Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Dennis Norfleet will switch to slot receiver at the start of fall practices. Norfleet played on special teams in 2012 and switched from running back to cornerback for the Outback Bowl in January. He is listed as a running back on the 2013 roster. “He’s got a lot to learn still, from a formation standpoint and routes, but I think it’s going to be a good position switch for him and us,” Hoke said of Norfleet, a sophomore who totaled 827 yards as a kick returner in 2012.