In August of 2001, Tim Bracken was listed as the Wolverines' No. 1 running back at the start of camp. By the time Michigan suited up for its first game, Bracken needed a walker just to get around his dorm room.
After redshirting his freshman year behind Anthony Thomas, Bracken leapfrogged 2000 back-up Chris Perry and fullback B.J. Askew to become coach Lloyd Carr's top rushing threat. But just days after the announcement was made, Bracken suffered a career-threatening injury, breaking his leg badly in practice.
"It was really hard," Bracken said. "Just sitting out one year is hard enough, but having to sit out that second year, it was … really stressful."
For months after the injury Bracken wouldn't speak to anyone about it, not because of the pain in his leg, but because of the pain in his heart.
He watched quietly while Askew took a running game that was Michigan's worst in years. He knew that he couldn't help on the field, but the guilt gnawed at him in the night.
"It was hard watching the guys take a lot of criticism from everybody, saying that the running game was struggling," Bracken said. "It made me really upset, but after a while, I learned to deal with it, and the only way I was going to get better was to stay strong."
With the help of Perry, his neighbor in the West Quad dormitory, Bracken devoted himself to a comeback, making the weight room a second home.
This past August, the depth chart showed Bracken behind Perry and sophomore David Underwood. But with a healthy leg and a healthy outlook, Bracken could work his way back to the top of the list.
Saturday against Western Michigan, the 5-foot-10 207-pound Bracken touched the game ball for the very first time, rushing 12 times for 50 yards.
"Tim Bracken played and I thought that was the best that he has played," Carr said. "We had some scrimmages in the fall, but he still needs some work. He has a different style than Chris (Perry) or David and if he keeps coming, it will be a big load off of Chris' shoulders."
As Bracken was pushing the ball down near the goal line in the waning moments against Western Michigan, it was clear that Michigan had a different kind of ballcarrier in the backfield.
Bracken is noticeably smaller than Askew, Underwood, and Perry, but it's his shiftiness, like former Michigan star Tim Biakabatuka, that impressed Carr.
"I think he's a guy that has what I call great in-line quickness," Carr said. "He can make the shallow cuts, the real sharp cut that a lot of people can't make. He's good in the open field, and he has good hands. He's a guy that plays with a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm and so I'm looking forward to seeing how he comes."
Bracken makes emotional return to backfield
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