U-M Insider: Funny guy Woolfolk gets serious on field

If not the last comic standing in the Michigan football locker room, senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk certainly has to be one of the finalists.

The perception over the years in Ann Arbor has been that players are basically programmed for interviews and really aren’t allowed, or supposed, to show much personality.

That’s not always the case anymore. Woolfolk, for instance, took his self-deprecating humor on the road to Chicago earlier this week for the Big Ten media day.

Instead of cliches, he brought one-liners.

Woolfolk has admitted to being completely lost earlier in his career when it came to his assignments in the secondary.

“I feel like I actually chased a coach out of here,” he said, referring to Vance Bedford, who left to join Florida’s staff after Woolfolk’s freshman year and is now the defensive coordinator at Louisville. “My lack of knowledge almost caused him to get an aneurysm.

“He was a phenomenal coach. I was just so far behind everybody else, it was ridiculous. I’d just be over here in La-La-Land. He used to say he would never cuss except when I get on the field. He always said, ‘Troy, you a different type of cat.’

“I’d like for him to see me now that I’ve got the defense down. He probably wouldn’t believe it.”

With so many young players in the Wolverines’ secondary, Woolfolk suddenly has become the veteran go-to guy.

The problem is, he no longer has linebacker Stevie Brown around to direct him to the right spot.

Brown had a knack for knowing not only his assignments, but everyone else’s, too.

“Even last year, sometimes I’d forget the play, I’d just scream to him, ‘Stevie,’ and he’d tell me what I had to do,” Woolfolk said. “I’m going to be sad this year I don’t have Stevie with me.”

It’s a little awkward right now, even scary, for Woolfolk to be on the other end of the questions during summer workouts with teammates.

The defensive backfield is basically made up of true freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores.

“Sometimes people don’t know what they’re doing,” Woolfolk said. “They come to me. That’s funny. I used to be that guy. I see how annoying it is. Every play, ‘Troy, Troy, what I got to do?’

“Sorry, Stevie. I didn’t mean to be that annoying to you.”

Woolfolk said he’s actually happy to help the youngsters.

“I remember where I came from, I don’t get annoyed,” he said.

So what would coach Bedford think of the Wolverines now relying on Woolfolk to direct traffic?

“We in trouble,” Woolfolk said.

Considering his father, Butch, was an All-American running back at Michigan in the early ’80s, and also played in the NFL, it’s a little surprising Troy would come to college so far behind in football knowledge.

Woolfolk, however, said his dad didn’t push football on him when he was a young kid.

“He’s a really humble guy,” Troy said. “I didn’t know how good he was. I didn’t know he was a professional football player until I started to get older. Once I came here, that’s when I was really eye-opened to how good he was. He doesn’t have any football tape. He didn’t really talk about it.”

Woolfolk said his high school coaches in Sugar Land, Tex., didn’t prepare him well enough for major college football.

He also didn’t take the game seriously enough, especially when it came to studying tape.

“I’d always go to sleep whenever we watched film or I’d be texting on my phone to my friends about how I was about to go to sleep watching film,” Woolfolk said.

Football wasn’t even his favorite sport. He wanted to be a track star.

Woolfolk was a 100-meter specialist during his first two years at Michigan, but didn’t participate last season in track. He plans to be back on the team in spring.

“I never thought I’d be playing football in college,” he said. “I actually tried to quit football coming into high school, but my dad convinced me to play for one more year. Then I started getting scholarship (offers).

“I was like I’m going to use this football scholarship to get me to college and I’m just going to ride the bench the whole time and run track and have fun.”

Brown, his former teammate, was a good influence. Woolfolk saw how Brown’s dedication, his attention to detail, was paying off.

So instead of just continuing to try to get by on his athletic ability, Woolfolk said he started putting more time into watching tape and studying the game.

Football became more fun to him.

“Sometimes you see a guy, he’s not doing bad, but he’s just getting by,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Then when you become a senior, you get a sense of urgency like no time before. Now there’s no more playing around. I sense that.

“I think, in the secondary, he’ll take charge of those guys this fall.”

With Michigan having lost six straight to Ohio State, Woolfolk desperately wants to go out with a victory over the Buckeyes.

“I don’t want to say I don’t like them,” he said. “OK, I would say that I don’t like them. I understand the great hatred.”

He’d also like to leave his mark at Michigan one other way.

“I’ve been here for three years, going on four, and I’m still known as Butch’s son,” Woolfolk said. “Hopefully, I can get rid of that reputation and make him known as Troy’s father.”

Aug. 6, 2010