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Atlanta — Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich knows he could have skipped the Peach Bowl, his final game with his teammates, and has another reason why — an injury that requires surgery — but sitting out was never an option in his mind.
Winovich, named the team’s Most Valuable Player, a year ago mulled whether he would return for his final year of eligibility. He wanted to play in Saturday’s Peach Bowl and finish his career with his teammates, what he described Thursday at a morning news conference as “literally the first thing I love outside of my family.”
In so many ways, Winovich has been the heart and soul of this team, and that’s how he would like to be remembered as he moves on to the next phases of his football career.
“Just important I’m viewed in a positive light and I’m viewed as someone who busted his butt and gave everything he had for his school,” Winovich said Thursday. “That alone by itself would be a great legacy and conclusion that he made Michigan better and put Michigan in a better place than when he started. I think I can check those boxes.”
Defensive end Rashan Gary and linebacker Devin Bush have decided to forego their final seasons at Michigan and are not playing in the bowl game. Running back Karan Higdon also will not play in the Peach Bowl, as well as right tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty.
Winovich is dealing with an unspecified injury suffered in the Indiana game, the week before the season finale at Ohio State. He described the situation recently.
“Whenever I was on the ground (in the third quarter of the Indiana game) I was just getting up a little slow. I think I was kind of laughing in my head. I was like, ‘Holy heck, that was a good hit,’ because I didn’t even see him coming from the side,” Winovich said earlier this month. “Whenever I was head first in the ground, he had jumped on my back and there was kind of a cracking.
“That’s all I heard. My back started to spasm and locked up. That’s why if you see my face, I was in pain. I was almost immobilized from my back and that settled down and that’s why I was able to walk off the field. They were worried it might have been my spine. Came back and my spine was good. Thank you to whoever helped me dodge those bullets upstairs. It was a muscular back injury. I definitely felt it in the Ohio State game, but it’s football. You have to deal with injuries all the time and you’ve got to sometimes strap your boots up and get to work, so that’s what we did.”
Winovich said Thursday he will require surgery but with the Peach Bowl, his final college game on Saturday, and the Senior Bowl next month, he chose to delay surgery. Ultimately, he wanted to play with his teammates one last time.
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“It was an interesting, I don’t want to say conundrum, but it was an interesting position because Devin Bush and Karan (Higdon) and Rashan (Gary), they all had to make their own decisions,” Winovich said. “By my answer, I kind of alienate and disparage myself against Rashan and those guys, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. You can’t answer that without doing that. I’m trying to look at it from my point of view.
“They told me after the Ohio State game the injury I sustained early on in that game that I’m going to need surgery. They said you need surgery, what do you want to do? You can get it now or try to put it off until after the combines. I knew I had to work out in the combine because it’s important for a lot of reasons to display some of my skills.
“From that point, I know I’m not going to get surgery, I know I want to play in the Senior Bowl, and I have this bowl game. This is a great opportunity. It’s my last game at Michigan. It was like, ‘Shoot, I’m already hurt I might as well take this opportunity and seize it.’ This is what I came here to do. This is why I came back. I didn’t come back to leave early and take the first chance to jump ship. I’m careful with my words, because jump ship is not what I’m saying what they did. Everyone has their own individual decisions that they have to make. For me, I wasn’t ready to leave. I felt like Michigan has done so much for me, I almost felt like I owed it to Michigan to finish it out in what I thought was the best way.”
He would not share what surgery he’s going to have.
“I have to have it, but it’s a tough position because I can’t reveal what stuff is because the medical staff would be mad at me, Coach (Jim) Harbaugh would be mad at me, and my enemy would be very glad if they discovered these sorts of things and puts myself at a risk and some sort of vulnerability to my opponents,” he said.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson got to know Winovich well this season in large part because the two were roommates.
He said Thursday that Winovich’s legacy was clearly important to him.
“That dude gives everything he has, every single snap,” Patterson said. “You can really see it. His love and passion for this university and for Michigan is great.”
During the stretch run of the regular season with momentum building, Winovich coined the “Revenge Tour” after the Wolverines beat Wisconsin, avenging last year’s loss. The idea was for the Wolverines to avenge all their losses from the previous season, including Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State.
Michigan rolled into the final week of the regular season, facing Ohio State with a Big Ten title game appearance and a national playoff spot on the line. The Wolverines lost badly, 62-39, and the Revenge Tour ended with a thud.
The Wolverines are going for their 11th victory when they face Florida on Saturday. Winovich wants No. 11 and a positive sendoff.
“I can’t wait for the game and the chance to compete,” Winovich said. “We’re competitors. We’re looking forward to this. We were born to do this. We were created to play football, and what better stage to do this than this.”
During his final weeks as a college player during the regular season and now in his final week with the Wolverines, Patterson has detected how wistful Winovich has been. The career of one of Michigan’s most colorful players — his personality, not his long blond hair — is nearing its conclusion, and he is simply taking it all in.
“You see the change in his attitude. Not in a bad way,” Patterson said. “Just him going to the point, these are my last few games in the maize and blue. You could see how much it meant to him and he was leaving it all he had on the field. It would take a catastrophic injury for him not to finish.”