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Michigan defensive end said he's still thinking about his decision whether to return for another year or head to the NFL following the team's bowl practice on Thursday. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News

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Tampa, Fla. — Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich, who continues to weigh his options about leaving early for the NFL Draft or remaining with the Wolverines for another season, has been pleasantly distracted by his goal to raise money for the ChadTough Foundation.

Winovich, who led the team with 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks during the regular season, has been preparing with his teammates for the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day against South Carolina. He has had an internal debate about what he will do after the game, while also seeking out Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and teammate Maurice Hurst, among others, to discuss his options.

“Honestly, I’m still thinking about it,” Winovich said of his future, after practice Thursday at Berkeley Prep High. “I haven’t really had that come-to-Jesus moment yet. It’s obviously a tough decision. If you guys ever hypothesized if you were in my shoes, what would you do? Come back and risk injury?

“It’s a violent game. I see people get hurt all the time. I see managers get hurt. They break arms and stuff, and they’re not even on the field with us. I’m just having fun and enjoying the moment with my teammates playing a lot of football here and getting ready for this game. Once that’s over with, I’ll ultimately be forced to make a decision.”

He said the decision has been difficult because there are advantages that come with choosing either options.

“It alternates,” Winovich said. “A lot of fluctuation. There’s so many pros to both. There’s not a lot of cons to either. Michigan has been so great to me. It’s not even about the money. I didn’t get in this game for the money, I’m not going to leave for the money; it’s just a matter of opportunity. The NFL has been a dream of mine, so we’ll see.”

What are the pros regarding returning to Michigan?

“The fact, I’m just being frank here, as Michigan football players, there’s not a lot of things that I can really say we did,” he said. “We lost to Michigan State this year. Two years we lost to Michigan State. I can go on and on about those losses. And we’ve just been so close. Just a matter of hanging my hat on something and saying I came here to make Michigan great again and you’ve got to ask yourself, not that it wasn’t great when I got here, but that national championship-contending power, it wasn’t quite there yet.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, I mean, I think we’re in that trajectory, but am I there yet? Are we there yet? That’s the question you’ve got to ask yourself. There are other positives, like if I come back, good chance I’d be a captain. There are so many reasons to be a leader for these young kids. In my eyes, I know what it takes to win. I love Coach Harbaugh, the coaching staff, Coach (Greg) Mattison, Coach (Don) Brown. I could go on and on. There are a lot of reasons.”

Winovich had been looking for a reason all season to associate his long blond hair with a charity.

He announced that if he raised $15,000 — his jersey number is 15 — for the ChadTough Foundation, he would dye his hair orange for the Outback Bowl.

The ChadTough Foundation was created by parents Tammi and Jason Carr, whose son, Chad, died two years ago at age five, 14 months after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor — Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). Chad’s grandfathers have deep Michigan connections, as do his parents, who are both graduates. Jason Carr played quarterback for his father, Lloyd Carr, who coached the Wolverines for 13 seasons, and Tammi’s father, Tom Curtis, was an All-American defensive back.

Chad’s favorite color was orange.

Since the challenge was posted by Winovich on Dec. 20 at 6:30 p.m., other teammates and even defensive coordinator Don Brown have issued challenges and more than $155,000 has been raised. This week, Ron Weiser, a University of Michigan Regent, announced he will match donations up to $1 million total. All donations will be directed to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Initiative at Michigan Medicine, which supported the research of Chad Carr’s donated tumor that shed light into the rare pediatric tumor that took his life two years ago.

Teammates Hurst, Grant Newsome, Devin Bush Jr. Josh Metellus, and Brown, along with young Michigan fan Larry Prout Jr., who has endured 100 surgeries and has become part of the Michigan program, all joined Winovich’s plan and also will dye their hair orange after certain amounts were met.

Newsome pledged to dye his hair orange if $38,500 was raised, since that’s half his jersey number 77. Hurst said if $73,000 — his number is 73 — was raised, he would go orange, while Bush (jersey No. 10) and Prout raised the bar to $100,000. Winovich then revealed that Brown said he would dye his mustache orange if $125,000 was reached.

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Michigan defensive end talks about his fundraising idea to dye his hair orange if a certain amount of money was raised for charity and getting defensive coordinator Don Brown to join the cause. Angelique S. Chengelis, Detroit News

“We were messing with (defensive line) Coach (Greg) Mattison about dying the sides — because he’s bald -— the sides of his hair orange,” said Winovich, who worked with Michigan’s NCAA compliance department before launching the fundraiser. “He would have looked absurd. I’m not going to do that. We were in the meetings, Coach Brown, right before it started, he commended Mo and I for taking a stand. He thought it was very noble of us. I jokingly said, ‘How much for you to dye your mustache orange?’ I was like, ‘150?’ and Coach Mattison chimed in, ‘Yeah, Don, how much, 150?’, and (Brown) is like ’150,000? I’ll do it for 125.’

“At that point, we were at 25,000, so it was pretty daunting to get to that point. I was like, ‘All right, let’s do it. This thing is going to blow up now.’ It says a lot about coach Brown’s character that he cares more about helping kids out, a selfless act that he holds so beloved to his heart than what naysayers might about him rocking an orange mustache. He’s one of the best men I know, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I’m honored to play for him every day.”

A hair stylist from New Jersey is paying his way here to dye their hair, Winovich said, either Saturday or Sunday.

“I knew the Michigan community was strong, and I knew people cared, but I just didn’t to that extent,” Winovich said of the support the fundraiser has received. “It’s not about me, necessarily, just so happy. In my heart, man, just filled with love just to see people on Christmas day donating thousands of dollars when they could be spending time with their families. Just an awesome feeling.”

Harbaugh didn’t completely rule out dying his hair orange when asked at the end of his news conference on Thursday.

“For Chad, maybe,” Harbaugh said.

He also has been dazzled by the response generated by Winovich’s fundraiser.

“Everybody, I think, has just been blown away by that,” Harbaugh said. “It’s just awesome. I know that the guys were hoping to raise a couple thousand dollars, and they were really excited that it was going to be up to $10,000, and seeing that it’s up to (almost) $200,000, I think it’s just phenomenal, and really proud of the whole Michigan family and community, the way they’ve rallied. Just awesome.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/chengelis

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