Andre Weathers was floored during the Michigan Wolverines’ 1995 spring game.
Then a lesser-known Wolverines running back, Chris Floyd exploded for a sonic boom-like scamper that was beyond words.
“His first carry he went 70 yards,” said Weathers, an All-Big Ten Wolverines corner in 1998 and member of their 1997 national title team. “He bust through the middle and ran 70 yards. I was like, ‘Wow, here’s a guy that’s 240 pounds outrunning everybody.’”
It was Floyd’s first touch of the contest, and he went on to have an exemplary day and respectable fall behind team rushing leader Tim Biakabutuka’s 1,818-yard season.
Michigan’s annual spring get together is “more than just an exhibition,” says Weathers. Far from a glorified practice, the spring’s Maize vs. Blue classic is a showcase.
“You see flashes of these young guys, and you’re like, ‘Wow, that was a guy who performed,’” said Weathers, who enjoys getting a glimpse of the up-and-coming players of tomorrow.
“Nobody knew about a Chris Floyd—nobody knew about Chris Howard. (The spring game) gives you great hope for the future.”
But there’s a little more to it all.
Some college football followers feel that spring games are trumped-up practices and not needed.
The game is essential to player development, both athletically and mentally.
Weathers views the spring as an “exciting and scary” opportunity to self-evaluate, “faze out big crowds,” overcome fear and build confidence.
“I was a redshirt freshman—my first game was my sophomore year after my (shoulder) surgery,” he said. “It was my first time playing at The Big House other than running out on the field (on Saturdays).
"Coming off the injury—that was technically the first time I ever had hit somebody after shoulder surgery. One of my key moments, it was the first time I had to tackle someone live. Mentally, it’s kind of crazy. After that first bit of contact, it was a breakout thing and everything was OK. It relaxed me and I didn’t have the jitters.”
Michigan junior cornerback Blake Countess played a limited number of snaps Saturday. He was “healthy” and under no-contact protection, according to head coach Brady Hoke (via MGoBlog).
Countess’ condition wasn’t directly discussed with Weathers. However, Weathers benefited from hitting the field and seeing full contact sooner than later.
Assessing mentality was the challenge—and it’s the biggest one players face during post-injury and—recovery periods.
“Technically, your body is healed,” Weathers said. “Mentally, you have to get that programmed that ‘I am OK’—having three ACLs myself, in practice, you don’t exert yourself like you do in the game. In the spring game, you put yourself in those situations that you have to stretch the injury that you have to its limits. The spring game is a great time to do it. You find out what the mental part of the injury is. If you find yourself playing up to the level you were before, you’re good to go. It takes you about six months to physically get over the injury, but it can take up to a year to get over it mentally.”
Weathers on Development
Newcomers Dymonte Thomas and Ross Douglas played well enough Saturday to be recognized as legitimate contributors to the Wolverines store of defensive backs this fall. Seeing freshmen have early success is vital.
“It’s always great when you have young guys that are actually building—the corners are young, but they have a year of team involvement under their belt,” Weathers said. “You have veterans coming back and injecting energy. There’s a lot of upside—the secondary has years under their belt and they have talented young guys."
Linebacker Jake Ryan will be missed to no end this fall. He is on his way to national stardom thanks to his monstrous fall of 2012, but he sits sidelined due to an ACL injury in spring practice.
However, Michigan has depth—as the spring game proved—that can help even out the Ryan tilt.
“From a player’s stand point, I look at it as an opportunity,” Weathers said. “You’re going to have some guys step up. You’re going to find out that there are more players that nobody knows about. Everyone talks about (Jake) Ryan, but I think you’re going to see big things from (Cam) Gordon.”
The 6’3”, 233-pound junior is considered the leader for the "Sam" position.
Pros Outweigh Cons
Sure, spring games add to the risk of injury, but players would miss out on more good than bad by not participating. Practices are one thing. The atmosphere delivered through spring game participation teaches lessons.
It’s also a time to check the tank.
“It’s real key in the whole grand scheme of things,” Weathers said. “You get to see where you’re at; it’s a big booster. Coaches see kids in pressure situations. I don’t think it’s a glorified practice, maybe to an outsider looking in it is.
"As a player, you’re looking for opportunities to get better and to see how you react to the various situations that present themselves on the field—that’s a huge evaluation tool. The only time you’ll be critiqued is when you watch the film the next day. That’s as close to a game situation that you can at this point.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand during a 30-minute phone interview Sun., April 14, 2013 with Andre Weathers
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football lead writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBigger81.