ANN ARBOR — The physical change in Chris Wormley since his time at Whitmer High School is distinct.
But in addition to the muscle mass he’s put on and the stylistic changes he’s made after his first year at the University of Michigan, Wormley gained something else: perspective.
Less than two weeks into preseason practices last August, Wormley tore his ACL, and the injury effectively wiped out his first full season at Michigan. He knew he could take on a sink-or-swim mentality. Pick up the stakes and consider the 2012 season a wash or focus on rehabilitating and preparing for the 2013 season.
Wormley chose the latter.
“I learned always to stay positive,” said Wormley, a defensive end. “There’s definitely some ups and downs through the rehabilitation process, but looking back at it, it’s definitely made me a better person.”
READ MORE: Michigan Wolverines Season Preview
With that in mind, Wormley chose to make an investment in his future in Ann Arbor.
“After surgery, I worked out every day instead of practicing,” said Wormley, a 6-foot-4, 289-pound redshirt freshman. “I’d be with the strength coaches, putting in work and doing everything I could to get my knee healthy, but working on other parts of my body as well, such as the upper body and my other leg. Everything I could do. Putting on pounds, eating right, talking with a nutritionist every day and seeing what I could do to prepare my body for the season.”
Wormley is one of four players on Michigan’s roster recovering from ACL tears sustained within the last 13 months; he’s also one of two current Wolverines beginning the season after undergoing surgery to repair an ACL tear. Two of his teammates are in the process of rehabilitating after that surgery, linebacker Jake Ryan and quarterback Russell Bellomy.
Less than a month after Wormley tore his ACL during preseason practices, cornerback Blake Countess suffered the same injury in the 2012 opener against Alabama.
“Me and Chris, he was a month ahead of me, but we went through everything around the same time,” said Countess, who added that he won’t wear a brace when playing this season. “Between me and him, the communication was always, hang in there, don’t rush it, keep pushing, keep pushing, don’t rush anything.
“With Jake [Ryan], it’s a little different. It’s seeing how he’s doing and checking up on him and everything. It’s not day-to-day, like how me and Chris were, but with Jake, I hear he’s doing great.”
Countess said one part of his recovery was the most challenging: walking.
“Letting go of the crutches, that was the biggest part of it for me,” Countess said. “But after that, it just speeds up. You don’t realize it. Now, I don’t even know I was ever hurt.”
Wormley became constructive in preparing to return to football. He resisted cravings for soda — something he says he hasn’t had in two years — and when there were days he may not have felt like going through physical training, he considered his alternative: not improving.
“There was a mental side to it, especially after the surgery,” Wormley said. “It’s not going to get better just letting it hurt and looking at it. You have to get up every day, go to the trainer, get ice, do all the things you have to do to become where I am today and how I’m competing for a starting spot.
“It’s a mindset you have to overcome to get to where you want to be, to make sacrifices.”
When discussing Wormley after the first week of preseason practices, Michigan coach Brady Hoke used the word “potential.”
“He’s made a jump from the mental side of the injury,” Hoke said. “Chris has that potential, and that’s a dangerous word, to be an awfully good football player. We like where he’s at and how he’s progressed.”
Potential could be a double-edged sword, but armed with perspective, Wormley doesn’t look at it as a drawback.
Now that Wormley is healthy, he has perspective. “Everyone has potential and has talent, but it’s all in the brain,” Wormley said. “You have to become a smart football player. Not just a big, fast, physical player off the edge or at quarterback or running back or whatever position you play. Just becoming a smart person.”