Michigan's Taylor Lewan learns to play through injury by shutting up, growing up
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Taylor Lewan was wearing a walking boot. He had a cast on his right wrist. His elbow was bothering him.
And he was complaining.
The Michigan football team's star left tackle has been lauded by teammates for playing through a growing number of injuries, especially considering the tenuous depth up front if he goes down.
But his pain reached a climax during the off week following the physical — and in his case, violent — Michigan State loss. He couldn't practice, but was riding a bike during workouts. And running his mouth.
That's when senior center David Molk told the gregarious Lewan to shut up.
Lewan said that was the best injury advice he's ever received.
"I was at practice one day, saying all kinds of words I can’t say in front of you guys, and Dave’s like, ‘What the hell are you doing? Why don’t you just stop talking about it, and it’ll go away?,’" Lewan said. "I stopped talking about it, I stopped trying to limp, I stopped trying not to limp, and you just keep going.
"If you don’t talk about pain, it will go away. That’s one thing Dave Molk taught me."
That helps to explain how Lewan's been able to stay in the lineup despite his mounting injuries.
Coach Brady Hoke said that kind of courage has given No. 22 Michigan a lift — one it will need as it prepares to face the good defensive line of Illinois on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC).
That is particularly true due to the ankle injuries sustained by starting left guard Ricky Barnum, which leaves the Wolverines with only one healthy reserve offensive lineman. Hoke, when asked what he would do if Lewan went down as well, efforted a response before surrendering: "It would have been interesting."
But Lewan doesn't like to talk about the pain, nor the praise he's received for playing through it.
"People keep talking about staying healthy and fighting through injuries and stuff, and I don’t know why everyone’s making a big deal out of it," he said. "I’m playing football, I’m an offensive lineman, that’s what I’m supposed to do.
"Everyone sees me limping on the field? That’s going to happen. I’m all beat up everywhere — but at the same time, so is everybody else. At this point in the season, if you’re not hurt, you’re not playing, and I don’t want to be that guy."
The Wolverines are going to need him to be their guy.
Illinois leads the Big Ten in sacks by more than 0.5 per game. End Whitney Mercilus has a staggering 11.5 this season, nearly double anyone else in the conference, and Michael Buchanan is second in the league with 6.0.
Michigan is going to need Lewan to help withstand the onslaught, as he has become a vital component up front for his talent, and now his ability to play through pain. Yet, Lewan says his greatest growth has come in his maturity.
He was whistled for seven penalties in seven regular-season starts last year, but didn't pick up a single penalty this season until being called for two personal fouls against Purdue.
Lewan said he lost his temper, but has spoken to the coaching staff about the penalties and is determined to correct the issue — another sign of his budding maturity.
The best sign of all?
Lewan was punched in the throat by Michigan State's William Gholston three games ago — for which Gholston was flagged, and later suspended one game — yet did not punch back. Considering Lewan's fiery and sometimes combative demeanor last year, it's not a stretch to say he may have reacted differently then.
Molk, when asked recently if he was surprised Lewan didn't punch back, simply nodded.
"That's my comment," he said.
Would Lewan have retaliated last year?
"Yes, and we all know that," Molk said.