hrough the blur of heavy sedation, Antonio Bass opened his
eyes to find the entire Michigan football coaching staff peer-
ing down at him. Bass was lying in a bed at the University of
Michigan Hospital, his right leg throbbing with what felt like a
very distant pain. 91 Bass had been a natural athlete his entire
life and up until this point, the worst injury he had ever sustained was a slight
ankle roll in a high school football game. But now in April 2006, his first Spring
Practice session with the Michigan football team, Bass, a quarterback/receiver
and one of the most promising sophomores on the team, was facing what would
soon become a career-ending - and life-altering - injury. 91
He was startled at the procession of maize-
and-blue-clad coaches, filtering through his
room all hours of the day. They had sat there
long after his initial knee surgery. Bass says
it must have been hours - though, after going
under the knife, he admits he had no idea how
long it had actually lasted.
To this day, Bass maintains that Michigan
was the right choice for him, especially after
witnessing just how much the football staff had
cared for him and worried over him during his
years-long rehabilitation process, just as any
family member would have.
After he woke, his wits slowly coming back to
him, Bass began to joke with the coaches, same
as always. But the coaches didn't feel much like
bantering. They knew something he didn't.
Before Bass had woken from anesthesia, his
doctor had said that, in his 30-plus years in the
medical field, he had never seen a worse, more
freak-accident injury. It was baffling, the doc-
tor said, especially since it happened during a
normal, non-contact football practice.
"The doctor said it was like I had fallen off a
three-story building and landed straight on my
leg," Bass remembers.
Although a return to the football field, where
Bass was expected to contribute that fall, was
the ultimate goal, his immediate concern was
simply to walk again.
Five years later, the possibility of ever play-
ing football competitively again, let alone rec-
reationally, has been completely ruled out.
The risk of re-injury to the tender knee is just
too great. The doctors say Bass could jog if he
wanted, but only short distances before his leg
gets stiff. And he could probably play a game of
pickup basketball, that is, if he could take it easy
- though he hasn't tried, because he knows his
fierce competitive nature would force him to
test the restrictions of his newly. limited ath-
"He was probably going to go places," his
mother, Tami, said in a phone interview.
"He might have even been able to get to the
(National Football) League. But you can't let
things like that get you down. You've got to be
able to let it go."
The Potential National SigningDay, 2005
- the year before Scouts, Inc. first ranked its
top 150 and the buzz around college football
recruiting became an Internet obsession -
was quickly approaching, and Lloyd Carr sat
at home, looking through his strong incoming
There was one player, though, who was still
holding out. Widely considered one of the best
recruits in the 2005 class, Bass, the Jackson,
Mich. native, was playing his cards very close
to his chest. Carr says he could normally get
a pretty good feel one way or another about a
potential recruit, but with Bass, he had no idea.
Bass' final list included some of college foot-
ball's biggestnames: Michigan, Louisiana State,
Florida, Virginia Tech and Michigan State.
Late that night, Carr's phone rang.
"Coach, I just wanted to tell you," Bass said in
a slow, deliberate voice. "I've made my decision.
I'm going to Michigan State."
Bass today says he could feel Carr's normally
warm, welcoming personality, the one Carr
reserved for all his players, stiffening up. His
voice became cold, formal.
"Well, Antonio, I wish you luck up there,"
Silence. Bass held in a chuckle as long as he
could before blurting out, "Nah, coach, I'm just
playing. I'm ready tobe a Wolverine." t
There was a brief moment of panic, as Carr
set down the receiver to collect himself. Bass
thought the coach had hung up the phone and
thought he had made a huge mistake.
"It was about a good minute before he said
anything," Bass says, laughing.
"Don't ever do something like that again,"
Carr said. "I will get even with you for that.
When you get here, I will get even with you for
Any anger - playful or not - that Carr held
for Bass coming into his freshman season was
immediately erased as soon as the ultra-talent-
ed player arrived on campus. Although most
schools had recruited him to play quarterback,
Bass' athletic, run-first style didn't fit in with
Carr's system, which featured strong passing
quarterbacks who were often not the quickest
out of the pocket.
The coaches told him, honestly, thathe would
be moved to receiver. But that wasn't complete-
ly true - Bass was just too good to keep off the
field. On the cusp of the evolution of quarter-
backs like Pat White and Terrelle Pryor, Carr,
not necessarily known for his offensive innova-
tions, developed a formation for Bass to get the
ball in his hands.
"With him, we wanted to develop what is
really what they now call the Wildcat," Carr
said. "We had some success with that, and our
plans were to expand that package going into
the next year."
His freshman season, Bass ran for almost 100
yards and threw one pass - a 13-yard comple-
tion, which Carr called "one of the biggest pass-
es of the season," in an overtime win over Iowa
- from the quarterback position. Bass was also
an immediate impact asa receiver. He became a
fan favorite for plays like his one-handed catch
against Nebraska in the 2005 Alamo Bowl.
"Everyone in the program knew his potential
was just off the charts," Carr said.
"My vibe going into sophomore year was
extremely positive," Bass says. "I worked hard-
er than I ever had before, and everything was
coming together for me ... playing receiver, I
was finally getting the hang of it and showing
the coaches what I could do, as well as playing
quarterback. Sophomore year, it looked really,
But, unfortunately, that game against
Nebraska would be the last one Bass ever
The Injury: Think back to any quarter-
back that saw significant playing time under
Lloyd Carr. Chad Henne, John Navarre, Brian
Griese, Tom Brady - there was a pretty pro-
totypical mold for the position while Carr
reigned in Schembechler Hall.
Antonio Bass - a 6-foot-2, 200-pound
"The doctorsaidit ws liheIhad
story building and landed sireigh
quarterback with a penchant for using his 4.4
40-yard-dash time to its fullest capabilities -
was a completely different type of athlete, the
type that Michigan football wasn't used to. But
heading into Spring Practice after a successful
freshman campaign, Bass, who was fully pre-
pared to bea wide receiver when he first came
to Ann Arbor, was listed as No. 2 quarterback
on the depth chart behind Henne.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, and Bass was
running a bootleg to the right, part of his
extended Wildcat package. His feet got tan-
gled with one of the running backs. He stum-
bled, and planted his right foot - something
football players do almost every play.
When asked about the play, Bass sighs,
taking a few moments to think. "It's hard to
explain," he says, "because it all happened so
His foot stuck in the turf at an odd angle and
he fell. At first, he didn't realize anything was
"Then I tried to stand up and pain just shot
through my whole body," Bass said. "I looked
down and my thigh was going that way and
my calf was pointing that way," with extended
fingers, his hands point in opposite directions
over his leg. "That's when I kind of freaked a
little bit. I went into shock and was, like, 'What
the hell is going on?"'
Every ligament in his leg tore upon impact.
His knee completely dismembered, his ham-
string pulled, the
pain shot through
i/len offaG thTee- his whole body as
, the coaches and
t on m. 'leg. trainers tried to
calm him down.
"I can remem-
ber our trainer, Paul Schmitt - I
worked with him for 20 years - I could tell
by the look on his face that it was pretty bad,"
The trainers worked to stabilize the leg
and keep Bass from going into shock - there
wasn't much they could do for such a serious
injury there on the field.
"It was probably only 10, 20 minutes until
the ambulance got there, but it felt like an eter-
nity to me," Bass says.
His leg was immediately cast in ahard shell
from the hip to the foot and he was bedridden
for almost two months - and that's before he
could start the grueling rehabilitation process
with Michigan athletic trainer and clinical
specialist Vahan Agbabian.
As much damage as there was to his liga-
ments, Bass still had hope of rehabbing and an
eventual return to football. But when they got
him to the hospital and performed the first of
many surgeries he would have to endure, the
doctors discovered significant damage to the
nerve that runs from the knee to the foot.
When he finally got the enormous cast off,
his foot hung from his ankle, limp, useless.
The doctors told him he would likely never get
feeling back in it. With rehab and practice, he
could learn to walk on it - maybe not much
"You know, you take the tiniest things your
body can do for granted," Bass says, moving
his left ankle up and down, up and down. "You
see that? You can never imagine not being able
to do that until you can't anymore."
The Impact: Bass and the Michigan train-
ing staff basically had to work from scratch.
He started by simply sitting up and lifting his
thigh up and down, and even that was excru-
And while his thigh and knee were gaining
strength, there was nothing to do about his
drop foot, other than to hope and pray the sur-
geries would eventually help.
"What I marvel at is the positive attitude
he had through the whole thing," Carr says. "I
can't say there weren't times when he got a lit-
tle down, but if you know him at all, you know
he's such a positive guy."
All the waiting and wishing finally paid
off. More than two years after the injury and
months after his last surgery, Bass felt a twitch
in his foot.
He may never play football again - he may
not even be able to run without feeling that
stiffness in his leg - but none of that mattered
when he saw his foot move.
"I honestly never thought I was going to get
it back," Bass said. "I was just so happy to be
able to move that foot."
It was well after the 2007 season, after Carr
had retired, which, to Bass, was a wake-up
call to him that football was really done for-
ever. Rich Rodriguez came in, replaced all the
coaches Bass had gotten to know so well, and
began a new regime.
Bass still rooms with Michigan running
back Carlos Brown, and he still hangs out with
guys on the team, but he stopped showing up
to practice and being around the program as
But that doesn't mean he doesn't still care.
Although the rehab process was excruciat-
ing, Bass says, hands down, the hardest part of
the injury is watching Michigan games, most
of which he views alone in his room because
it's too much to stand on the sidelines and
observe, rather than compete. ,
"The rehab stuff, that's all physical. I can
handle that," Bass said. "But watching the
games and missing the sport, that's mental. It's
all up here. That's a lot harder to deal with."
That mental agony was never worse than
Nov. 18, 2006, the first Michigan-Ohio State
game since his injury - the classic No.1 vs. No.
2 matchup the day after legendary coach Bo
Schembechler passed away. It was one of the
most dramatic Michigan games ever, and for
Bass, it was almost torture.
He said he had to go back home to Jackson
See ANTONIO BASS, Page 8B