After a long and sometime frustrating road Blake Countess is officially back. Now fully recovered physically from the torn ACL he sustained in last season’s opener, the junior defensive is moving around just like he did before the injury. That’s a far cry from where he was post-surgery. At that point even walking seemed like a herculean task.
“That was the biggest one for me,” Countess admitted. “Coming off of crutches and then putting all of your weight [on your foot]. [Using] your own muscles. Yeah, that was terrible. After that I started jogging at the bowl game and it felt good. Then I got back and started doing some cutting. And then by spring ball I was really moving. So by spring ball I was like, ‘Alight, well, I’m cutting fine and I feel good. I’m not having any pain. Now I want to get on the field. I want to go against the receivers.’ But I had to kind of scale back at that point. I would do some one-on-ones here and there outside of practice. I wouldn’t actually make contact but just shadow the receiver. Things like that. So it was a slow process and my trainers were diligent with letting me know, ‘alright… you can do this, you can do that… this won’t hurt you if you do that, you can push it a little harder now.’ I think that really helped me having somebody in my ear telling me because I would have tried (to play in the spring). I would have tried to go right back in.”
It was a lesson in patience and even more so in maturity. Though always known for his preciousness, Countess still had to stave some of the type of impetuous thoughts and decisions born of youth. He manage to do so by focusing on the things that he could do even while sidelined.
“ I think you really kind of have to (mature) because it’s easy to feel bad for yourself, but you really have to think about the team [and] how I can push the guys at my position that are in there now,” he said. “I definitely think I matured.”
“I kind of had to keep myself feeling like I was a part (of things) to keep myself on top of my P’s and Q’s,” Countess later added. “I just kind of had to ask questions [and] keep myself involved. Just little stuff like that to keep me into the game, to keep me involved. So I didn’t feel like I was an outcast or separate from my team.”
So when the time came to reintegrate himself fully, it was almost as if Countess never left… with one exception. He is capable of cutting and hitting as well as he ever did, but the confidence that he won’t reinjure himself has been a little slower to mend.
“I think the mental part (of recovery is tougher),” Countess admitted. “Physically I feel fine. I feel great. I’m 100 percent. I think mentally I’m still working towards that point where I’m not thinking about it [or] after practice it’s not bothering me. I still have a little tendonitis here and there, so that still played on my mind a little bit. And mentally I don’t think I’ve fully recovered yet off the field as far as my injury goes. On the field, as far as being mentally prepared and stuff like that, I’m fine. It’s just as far as my injury goes, I don’t feel like I’ve mentally recovered just yet.”
According to Countess that’s nothing that a physical fall camp and an early season match-up with Central Michigan can’t cure. The same goes for any issues that the defense has experienced thus far.
Almost without exception the word out camp has been that this year’s defense is more talented than year’s. That said, it’s also younger… and at times that can present another set of issues.
“I think we have a faster defense,” stated Countess. “We need to work on being a smarter defense now. It’s coming together. I really think it is. We’ve got guys that are clicking back there in the secondary. We’re going to get the job done.”
Countess plans to do everything in his power to make sure of that.
“(My goal is) Doing as much as I can for the team,” he said. “(Also) really speaking up because I feel like last year I didn’t say as much as I could have toward the beginning of the season, and then I was out. I really wasn’t around the team as much. Not taking anything for granted is really my thing. Speaking up when I have to [and] making plays. Maybe I’ll be a little more aggressive with hits this year. I don’t know. I just don’t want to take anything for granted this year and that’s one of the big things. I think with that, a lot of things will start to happen for me.”
Sam Webb: You see the receivers in a different perspective. We all know Jeremy Gallon [is] a guy with All-Big Ten potential. But Brady keeps talking about these two young guys, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. He said they make plays all of the time. So what have you seen facing them? (When) you’re facing Amara Darboh what challenges does he present?
Blake Countess: “Amara is a big receiver. He’s physical. He can block you out and get to the ball and if he gets his hands on the ball he’s going to hold on to it. He's stronger. Jehu Chesson [has] a long stride. He’ll get on your toes quicker. And I’ve worked with him all summer. As soon as I could go, as soon as I was released we would go get extra work in. So those are two [of] three guys that helped me come back to form and get my confidence back just as far as doing one-on-one’s. But those are definitely some weapons on offense.”
Sam Webb: Now is not the time to be modest. Now is time to be honest. When you guys face up against the offense, who’s been winning the majority of those battles?
Blake Countess: "I don’t know. I think it goes back and forth. The defense at Michigan is always going to have a little higher expectation. So, we’ve been getting the best of them I think."
Sam Webb: So what about individually? Have you been getting the best of the receivers or have they been getting the best of you?
Blake Countess: "(Laughing) That’s a question you’ve got to ask the receivers. I’m not going to get embarrassed though. We go at it though and it’s all healthy competition. We have fun with it but we’re getting each other better at the same time.”