You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Fitz Toussaint's improved vision ignites season, draws comparisons to USC Heisman Trophy winner

By Kyle Meinke


Fitzgerald Toussaint picked up 1,011 rushing yards this season.

Melanie Maxwell |

At one time, the biggest knock on Michigan football tailback Fitz Toussaint was his vision.

It was so bad, in fact, that offensive coordinator Al Borges was worried about what kind of production he'd get out of the sophomore. The introduction of the West Coast offense, a sharp departure from the spread-option, exacerbated the problem in spring camp.

"I had those (concerns) — immeasurably," Borges said at a news conference Tuesday. "The running game was different, just like it was different in the passing game for Denard (Robinson), and he was just running into people, and he was doing just such stupid stuff. And I said, 'God-dog, Fitz.'

"But he don't do that much anymore."

Toussaint came to Michigan in 2009 with a lot of promise, but was beset by injury and vision issues in his first two seasons. He had eight carries for 87 yards last year, but 61 of them came on one carry.

A shoulder injury derailed the rest of the season.

This year, though, Toussaint emerged as the top guy out of fall camp, separated himself from backup Vincent Smith midway through the Big Ten schedule and broke out with a 174-carry, 1,011-yard season. He is the first Michigan tailback since Mike Hart in 2007 to rush for 1,000 yards, and he did it despite sharing the tailback load through seven games.

Toussaint scored five touchdowns and joined Robinson in becoming the Wolverines' two primary targets in the end zone.

Why the breakout?

His vision, actually.

"If there's one part of his game that has made a quantum leap since we got here in the spring, it's that," Borges said.

Why has it gotten better?

"That's playing," Borges continued. "That's knowing where your help is coming on all the blocking, showing the patience to let things develop, then re-accelerating to bust into the open field, running through there 80 percent to see if it's there, then accelerating back up to 100 percent."

Toussaint already had size, strength and a good burst. Add vision to the mix, and Borges said the tailback now reminds him of USC Heisman Trophy winner Charles White.

“You put the (USC) jersey on him, you would hardly be able to tell the difference,” Borges said. “That’s who he reminds me of — he probably doesn’t know who Charles White is.”

White won the Heisman trophy in 1979 and was a first-round NFL draft pick in 1980 — 10 years before Toussaint was born.

What makes Toussiant so similar?

“He’s a slasher-type,” Borges said. “He has demonstrated some really good stop-and-go ability in space. He’s beat some guys in the open field and he does a pretty good job of finishing runs because he’s a tough guy.

"He can carry the ball 20-plus times because he is a tough guy.”

Toussaint got at least 20 carries in four of the team's final five games, and rushed for at least 120 yards each time. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry during that stretch.

Borges said Toussaint, who is soft-spoken and has a hard time talking about himself, hasn't changed much off the field, but also sees a burgeoning confidence in him.

"He's got a little more swag," Borges said. "He's excited now that he feels he's making a significant contribution, and with that comes a certain amount of confidence. But, he doesn't take himself too seriously, either."

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 3:21 a.m.

I'm hoping: that the performance increase on the part of both Denard and Fitz is at least partly due to improved offensive line play. No QB or RB can excel without a good-to-exceptional offensive line. This doesn't diminish the greatness of players like Robinson and Toussaint, it's about enabling them. A great alternate running threat is just what Michigan needs to go to the next level. If the O-line can give Fitz (and Denard) the support needed and deserved: 2012 will see some real fireworks in Michigan football. Go Blue!


Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 5:49 a.m.

I think the biggest improvement out of any position we will see over the next few years is going to be the offensive line. They have been solid this year, and deserve a lot of credit, but they were undersized and thin on the depth chart. Id except to see them continue to get bigger and more physical up front as Hoke recruits his style of linemen, and while the current ones build up some bulk during the off season. And as we've all seen, Hoke has already begun getting some fantastic commits in the O-line department.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 7:19 p.m.

Good to see Fitz healthy and able to contribute this year. Great first full season, the growth, the development and he still has 1 game and 2 seasons. season UM should have 1 of the best running games in the nation, a 1000yd running QB, a 1000yd RB, a big short yard back in Rawls and a good all purpose ( running, catching, blocking and even passing ) back in Smith. GO BLUE!!!


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 9:28 p.m.

Nah ... any old schlub can hike the ball. No worries. :-)

Lorain Steelmen

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 9:05 p.m.

Tally, I think you are correct. Also, they should be stronger in the Oline, IF, they can develop a decent replacement for Molk....That is the key at this point, replacing Molk.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 4:28 p.m.

When the Fitz, has his shoulders square, and running down hill... he's see's all and knows most of all. The last few games, when he ran wild...The Fitz had a little, Barry in him (NO NOT that Barry) #20 Barry. STOP, START, juke here, juke there...


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 3:57 p.m.

Some real nice comments about Fitz T.. I wouldn't like to think of Fitz on the same level with Charles White since Charles was, is an admitted cocaine addict. Charles has talked about playing high on cocaine in several games including the phantom touchdown against Mich. in that Rose Bowl. I think there are better comparisons for our younger generation than Charles White. I would like to see one of our big backs step up to compliment Fitz. With that schedule next year I can see the need for a big back to get in the game once in awhile.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2:51 p.m.

"White won the Heisman trophy in 1979 and was a first-round NFL draft pick in 1980 — 10 years before Toussaint was born." Obviously there are other great minds out there besides the ELMEANador! It's beginning to look a lot like Fitsmas, Everywhere you go..................... MEEEEEEEEEEEEEANchigan footbal is up and a risin!! Fitz is a shoe-in for da-HEISMAN!!!


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2:56 p.m.

Happy Fitzmas to you MEAN!!!


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2 p.m.

The headline of this article suggests comparisons to Chris Perry. The more Perry got the ball, the better he got. Fitz also has shown much better durability, much like Perry. Fitz should get some help from Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes next season.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 8:02 p.m.

Chris Perry's 51 carries against MSU in 2003 was nothing short of ironman-like. Every time he got the ball late in the 4th, I thought he couldn't run another play. He got up slower and slower after every tackle. But each successive carry was as good as the last. It was an amazing display of determination on his part.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 1:34 p.m.

..Fitz ran with vengeance vs. ohio.. and held onto the ball like he owned it.. valuable performance.. Go Blue! v


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

"held onto the ball like he owned it" Yes ... he leaves the impression he understands the concept of protecting the ball. Some runners I just cringe when they're in the open field, but not Toussaint. Also love the way Toussaint doesn't concede the tackle ... he fights through each and every one of them. An extra yard or two can make a big difference.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 1:26 p.m.

It's nice to get excited about running backs again.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 1:13 p.m.

To me Charles White seemed to be more of a power runner than Toussiant. White could run over people if he had to. Toussaint should be ready for an even bigger year in 2012. Go Blue !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 12:14 p.m.

Did anybody mention to Big Al that Michigan was a victim of White's magical powers? Until Fitz can score touchdowns without bringing the ball into the EZ, perhaps hyperbole and comparisons should be set aside.

Lorain Steelmen

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 3:47 p.m.

DonAZ, I agree, I recall that rose bowl, and that play where does the time go? As I recall, those were big ten refs doing the game, or a least a 'mixed crew'. And Bo was all over the big ten ref, to overrule the TD on the field! Bottom line, the compliment is a nice one, and Fitz now has high goals to aim for! Don't know about you, but I'll settle for All American, if the Heisman does open up. Great kid...but right now, he's probably just angry he didn't get that last TD against ohio, with 2 minutes to go.... AND, he's focusing on VA Tech. Go Blue!

Jim Knight

Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 3:16 p.m.

Want more on Charles White and look at the famous Associated Press photograph from the 1979 Rose Bowl? Check out this 2008 article on White from <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 3:06 p.m.

DonAZ: There is fairly clear enlargement of that play in the Football Display Case at Crisler Arena. Check it out if you ever get up here for a BBall game. One of Bump's Boys - '58


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2:48 p.m.

I'm a bit amazed that nobody at the presser knew about the connection, he wasn't asked about it as a follow up. Nor did Kyle Meinke or Heiko over at MgoBlue pick up on it in their articles. Research guys, research.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

Amazing how things like that last in our memories, huh? I recall that Rose Bowl like it was yesterday. If they had today's HD replay and video review that would have been overruled. There's a still photo somewhere of the ball hanging in mid-air at about the two yard line while White is stretched out over the goal line, with the ref in the background singalling TD.