- Jake Fromm/Daily
BY TROY WOOLFOLK
Special to the Daily
Published November 19, 2010
My dad played in the NFL for about eight years. To make it to that level in football, you have to have an edge over the millions of other players across the country with whom you're competing for the chance to go pro. Fortunately for my dad, he had enough edge to sell to the highest bidder. He was fast, strong and tall, but most important, he was fearless. My father played running back, and on the field he played like a man among boys. It was as if he went into an animal-like zone where he was a predator and his prey was waiting for him in the end zone. Nothing would stop him from eating.
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This zone that he would tap into whenever he stepped on the field is actually a trait that is carried down the family line. We’re African American mixed with Native American. The tribe from which my family descends worshipped a powerful creature that rules the night and strikes fear in its potential victims with every howl. This animal is a wolf. The people of my tribe would emulate the wolf lifestyle, copying the way it hunts and travels in packs. Among males in the tribe there was a gene shared only by a few random tribe members.
This gene allowed the individual to actually take on the aggressive nature of a wolf, its focus, senses and its animalistic ways. This was not permanent, and it was not something that you could simply turn on when you wanted to. It is only triggered in order to help the body in times of need. For example, the body needs food, so if a host carrying this gene hadn’t eaten in a while and was hungry, he would go in the zone in search for food. This gene can lie dormant in a kid’s body until he has reached his adolescent years and sometimes even later.
Since my dad played sports, he was adamant that I played a sport. He figured speed is essential for every sport, so I started running track at a very young age. With some good coaching from my dad mixed with some of his genes, I became one of the top sprinters in the nation. By the time I hit high school, I started playing football and seemed naturally good at it. I began to get scholarship letters from schools. I made my dad proud, but there was just one thing that my dad hated that held me back from reaching my full potential as an athlete.
The problem was that I was too silly. I have been the class clown my whole life. My parents received numerous phone calls about me making jokes causing other students to laugh, creating a huge disruption in class. It was an ongoing problem on the football field as well. Before the play would start, I would dance or do something silly like that and not even know the play started, which would cause me to give up a touchdown. I was just never focused or ready to play. Luckily, my ability still offered me a chance to go to college regardless of my flaws.
When I got to Michigan and started practicing with the rest of the players on the team, I realized that I seriously needed to make some changes. My silliness started to get me into even more trouble on the field, ranging from punishments to missed assignments.
It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year during spring ball that I started to change. I remember it like it was yesterday. When I got home from practice one night, I received a call from my coach, who told me I got the starting job at my position. I was ecstatic. That whole night I couldn’t sleep, I just kept imagining gameday and what it would be like coming onto the field and playing in front of the big crowd.
The next day in practice I was extremely nervous because I could just feel the coaches’ eyes grilling me to see whether they made the right decision in giving me the starting job. I could feel my hands violently shaking as if I was in the middle of Alaska butt-naked with nothing but one sock on. When I finally made it to the field after purposely taking my precious time in the locker room, my violent shaking amplified, making it nearly impossible for me to put on my gloves.
The whistle blew to start the play, and all of a sudden, a sense of calmness came over me. I was no longer nervous or worried about living up to the expectations of my coaches. The only thing I was focused on was the football and my assignments. When the receiver came off the ball, he tried to give me a juke move to get me to open my hips the wrong way. When he did it, it was as if time suddenly slowed down so I could watch his every move in slow motion. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought he was tired or something so I asked him. He became angry, thinking I was trying to insult him after locking him down on the play. I was kind of glad though, because I knew that on the next play he would give it his all to get revenge for what he perceived as trash talking. But the next play was the repeat of the previous one: he came off the ball and tried to juke me and once again it appeared to be in slow motion.
That night I stayed up for hours pondering what was going on and what happened to me. Then I finally realized — I, too, was blessed with the gene of my family’s ancient tribe. Due to the fact that football is a competitive sport, my body felt as if it was being threatened by the opponent, which triggered the wolf gene to come out. The next day and for the rest of spring ball, my gene became stronger and stronger within me. It startled my teammates because it was as if I was an entirely different person on the field from who I was off the field. My friends were used to the regular, silly, making-people-laugh Troy. They didn’t know what happened to me once I stepped on the field, because there I was, strictly business with no room for smiles — mean, aggressive and feisty.
When I was in the zone, I took on qualities that no longer paralleled the qualities of the Troy character people previously knew. I personally think this other character is a little crazy. For example, where do you think my paws tattoos came from? I don’t like pain, so that was not my idea. He clearly made that decision. I needed to clear up the confusion so I decided to give the person you see on the field a name, and the name I chose was T-Woolf. T-Woolf is only about two years old now.
My senior year during fall camp T-Woolf became as perfect as a player as anyone could be. He was in the best shape of his life — the fastest and strongest he had ever been. It seemed as if every day during camp he would make a great play. Scouts were coming to look at him and everything.
One day about a week and a half into camp, T-Woolf was practicing like every other day. It wasn't a two-a-day, so we were in full pads and hitting. Toward the end of practice, we were simulating a two-minute drill to get us accustomed to pressure situations. The offense hiked the ball and the tight end, Kevin Koger, caught it after running an out pattern. T-Woolf saw this and was coming down to deliver a blow Kevin would most definitely remember. Right before the point of explosion, another offensive player hit T-Woolf from the side with just enough force to knock him off balance, causing him to fall to his side. Before T-Woolf was hit, he planted his right foot into the ground to help explode off after expecting to hit the ball carrier. As T-Woolf’s body tumbled over to the side, his foot was still planted into the ground. His foot couldn’t move with the body, and it couldn’t take the pressure. This caused his ankle to violently come out of socket, tearing the tendons inside. If that wasn’t bad enough, he found out later he also broke his leg.
T-Woolf was in tremendous pain, but it didn’t stop there. It was vital to get the ankle back in socket, because the longer it is out, the more danger it can do to the leg. The trainers prepped T-Woolf for the painful procedure they were about to perform right there on the field to put the ankle back in place. The trainer said, “On the count to three, I am going to pull. 1 … 2 … 3.” He then violently pulled T-Woolf’s foot. T-Woolf was in extreme agony but you couldn’t tell by looking at his face. You could only tell by looking at the insanely tight grip he had on two people who were holding his hands for support. From their grimacing faces, you would think T-Woolf’s friends were in more pain than T-Woolf.
It took the trainer two more attempts, and on the third, T-Woolf could no longer hide the pain. He let out a yell. Then he started to laugh between screams of pain. The trainer pulled and pulled, and all of a sudden a "pop" was heard, and his ankle was back in place.
He doesn’t know at this point that he also has a broken bone, so T-Woolf’s first words were, “Thanks, OK now let me finish practice.” But since the paramedics were on their way, he had to go to the hospital.
The paramedics came and put him on the stretcher and carted him off to the hospital. T-Woolf has not been seen since, but his return will be better than ever. All the receivers across the nation dread the day T-Woolf steps back onto the field.