Michigan's Ambry Thomas bets on himself in coming back from colitis

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Cornerbacks often will tell you they’re on an island, alone opposite a receiver on the football field. Ambry Thomas has experienced that. He also recently experienced being on his own personal island surrounded by doctors telling him something he refused to accept.

Thomas versus a receiver, seems like he's a good bet. Thomas versus doctors, not so much.

Michigan defensive back Ambry Thomas worked his way back from a bout with colitis in time to play in the season opener against Middle Tennessee State.

Thomas’s stomach was cramping in early June and he said he felt “off." He was diagnosed with colitis, a chronic digestive disease of which there are many types, spent a month in the hospital and dropped 35 pounds from his 6-foot frame. All he could think about was football and his chance to start this season. He was focused on getting healthy and proving the doctors wrong.

"They told me my chances playing this season were slim and none,” Thomas said Monday. “All the doctors said that. I was the only one on my own side.”

Alone on his island in the hospital, Thomas was determined to prove everyone should bet on him.

“I’m playing this season no matter what,” he told himself and the doctors.

At the start of preseason camp, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh shared a not-entirely-promising update on Thomas, revealing he had a significant weight loss but had regained the weight and that he had a number of physical milestones to reach before he could even start thinking about playing football. Thomas is the one who broke the news on social media late in camp, saying he was back practicing.

Meanwhile, doctors, he said, were telling him as late as Michigan’s opener against Middle Tennessee State on Aug. 31 that he should sit this one out, redshirt this season and get fully healthy.

“But I’m like, ‘No, I’m feeling fine. Feel like I’m getting back, so why wait?’” Thomas said. “They’re pretty impressed with my case. They said they’ve never seen anything like that. They’re really happy how I’ve dealt with everything being in the hospital, sitting in the hospital bed for a month.

"It was bad, but I got through it.”

Even some of his teammates thought he would miss the season and were shocked that not only was he back, he was starting in the MTSU game.

“Personally, I didn’t think he was going to be back Week 1,” tight end Nick Eubanks said. “He faced a lot of adversity, and he went out there and executed everything the coaches told him to. For him to go out there that first game he played, it was heart-touching.”

He had an impact in the opener with an interception and a fumble recovery.

“It was a great moment for me,” Thomas said of the interception. “I was still in disbelief when it happened.”

Thomas always had believed he would be back on the field with his team, but had to relish that moment even more considering that in June, he began a lengthy hospital stay.

“The first three weeks, I was depressed laying in bed,” he said.

But he persevered. Family and friends, teammates and coaches dropped by to visit him. Thomas said he had at least one visitor each day to keep him motivated and maintain an upbeat outlook.

“One thing stands out looking back on it was Ambry’s attitude,” Harbaugh said. “His positive attitude. His attention to detail in terms of doing everything the doctors told him right down to the rest, the diet, the fluids he was taking in. It was so mature (his) attitude. He had also combined (that) with the positive attitude.”

That final week in the hospital, Thomas started seeing improvement, and his mother encouraged him to get up and get moving. He found stairs to challenge him.

"I walked them, I couldn’t run them, every day twice a day until I started feeling a little bit better day by day,” Thomas said. “I was very weak. My legs were cramping. I couldn’t get halfway up the steps. It was bad. But I’m back now.”

It didn’t take him long to get back. He said in about two weeks he felt “100 percent." Thomas worked out with his brother and father at a Planet Fitness and he started eating more. By the end of August, he had regained the weight plus some. He’s listed at 182 pounds, but said he’s about 190 now.

His diet has not be drastically altered. There are certain things he can’t eat, but not enough that turned his world upside down.

The only thing that would have done that was not to have played football this season, his first as a starting cornerback, and Thomas was never going to let that happen.


Twitter: @chengelis