- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- All it took for Michigan tailback Brandon Minor to know that the 2009 season would be different was a stiff arm.
In the first week of spring practice, Minor stuck his telephone pole attached to his right shoulder into the chest of one of his Wolverines teammates, and every molecule in his body relaxed.
"It felt gooood," Minor said, elongating the syllable.
The senior tailback, like many of his Michigan teammates, played a chunk of this past fall looking as if he had one hand tied behind his back.
For the rest of the Wolverines, who finished last season with a 3-9 record, that is a figure of speech. For Minor, all that was missing was the rope. An injury to his right wrist left Minor unable to use the hand to hold the ball or stiff-arm defenders. Minor still led the Wolverines in rushing with 533 yards and nine touchdowns. But the what-ifs still play in his mind. Minor kept trying to use that bad wrist.
"It felt like I could have [done] more on a couple of plays because I couldn't carry the ball in my right hand last year," Minor said. "I had the ball in my left hand the whole time. I could catch a little bit and then quickly put it in my left hand. I rolled up on it a couple of times in different games. I had to sit out a couple of plays. It was bent past where it could go."
The wrist injury may explain Minor's three fumbles last season. Or it may not.
Minor has fumbled six times in 257 all-purpose rushes (235 carries, eight receptions, 14 kick returns). But now that he's healthy, Minor expects no trouble carrying the ball. At 6-foot-1, 214 pounds, he has the size to tote the mail for four quarters. Minor not only knows how to deliver a blow, he also enjoys it. He loves to play on the front line of the kickoff-return team.
"I watch film of other people on the front line," Minor said. "Everybody runs back and then turns around and blocks somebody. They'll front them up and try to get ahold of them. Nine times out of 10, I'll see the [return] team losing blocks. I never see them winning blocks over the kickoff team.
"I just took another approach to it: taking shots at people," Minor said. " I like to hit. I'm not passing it up. I laid a couple of guys out. I put one out of the game."
In the fourth quarter of the Illinois game last season, Minor knocked out Illini defensive back Nate Bussey, who eventually got up and woozied himself off the field. The problem is, Minor got more work on the kickoff-return team against the Illini than he wanted. Illinois beat Michigan 45-20.
I might not be everybody's favorite person. I want to be everybody's favorite player. If a coach looks at me, I want him to say, 'I want that guy on my team.'
”-- Michigan tailback Brandon Minor
Late in spring practice, Minor said he could see the Wolverines' defense had improved.
"I just see everybody getting to the ball," Minor said. "When we were playing and I would get tackled, everybody is there. I get rid of a tackler, I got hit and hit, three more times. Then I'm balled up."
Minor sees the play of the defense in the spring as tangible evidence of improvement. There is intangible evidence, too, an air of lightness around the team that didn't exist a year ago. Minor said a lot of the unhappiness left with the busload of players who transferred.
"There are fewer mopers now," he said.
Minor is at the other end of the happiness spectrum. He said he broke into dance on the practice field throughout spring ball, even when he wasn't carrying the ball and trying to juke a safety.
"I might not be everybody's favorite person. I want to be everybody's favorite player," Minor said. "If a coach looks at me, I want him to say, 'I want that guy on my team.' One of the GAs asked me, 'Man, what did you take?'
"I'm taking life. You got to enjoy it."
Minor wants to grab his senior season by the throat. As long as his wrists cooperate, the Wolverines will be all the better for it.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com. His book, "The Maisel Report: College Football's Most Overrated & Underrated Players, Coaches, Teams, and Traditions," is on sale now. For more information, go to TheMaiselReport.com.
1dKevin Stone, ESPN.com