ANN ARBOR, Mich. — At his peak, Ty Isaac could be one of Michigan’s most effective running backs. He could be a goal-line and third-down specialist, a true not-so-secret weapon. But that’s at his peak, which has eluded the Southern Cal transfer for the past two years.
There have been spikes — wild spikes of 70-yard-plus touchdowns and 40- and 50-yard bursts — but nothing on a set and regular schedule.
But that could change in 2017 for Isaac, who was the No. 2-ranked running back of the 2013 class, according to Scout recruiting experts on-site at Michigan. Running backs coach Jay Harbaugh and several Wolverines players have said that Isaac hit camp in the best possible shape this time around, performing well when compared to the rest of his position group.
There was no change of routine, just a clearer sense of purpose.
“I figured if I was going to be doing this stuff, I was going to try and win it,” Isaac said. “If you’ve got to push yourself, physically — you don’t have a choice of getting better (or not getting better). I mean, you have to get in better shape, or you’ll pass out … one of the two.”
During a recent media session, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound — as listed on MGoBlue — fifth-year senior further discussed the sense of urgency motivating his final year of college football. He talked about the need to to develop more rhythm and flow; the need to be — simply — more consistent and take advantage of opportunities.
No hesitation. No lingering thoughts of the past, no thoughts of what could have been — only what could be on the horizon.
“To me, it’s one of those things I don’t really think about, because if I’m lucky enough to make it to the next level, every season could be your last,” Isaac said, also noting the same for the Sept. 2 opener vs. Florida. “It’s one of those things; there’s no sense in worrying about something that I can’t control.”
But he’s controlled his conditioning. And he can continue controlling that aspect, which likely will lead to a good amount of playing time as part of a four-man rotation.
While he can’t quantify immediate results and gains, he knows they’re present. He can just tell.
“It’s hard to say during conditioning because the goal is to get you tired, so they were, you know, pretty successful at that all summer. I feel better now,” he said. “I mean, (there are) certain situations where I know — I know they’re taxing situations — and I come out and I don’t feel as tired as I normally would. I think I can see it more on the back end and not as much up front — like, ‘Oh, I can tell during summer conditioning.’ “
During the past two years, conditioning and production have been spotty. Really, that ideal combination has dodged him since the conclusion of the 2013 season, when he left the Trojans in favor of the Wolverines.
But again, this year, he has new motivation.
Following a promising debut in SoCal, he sat out one year — due to NCAA rule — before hitting the field in 2015 with the Wolverines. At that point, he needed just three games to wow a fan base, breaking loose with a 76-yard touchdown and 114 total yards during a 28-7 home win over UNLV.
He did all that on just eight touches. Yeah, the long run helped his total — but Isaac appeared to be well on his way to center stage in Ann Arbor.
WATCH: Isaac discusses RB group, his personal strides
Then came a dormant phase. Following 10 carries during the next four games, Isaac finished the season on the bench. Leg issues, lack of production — everything started piling on the former Illinois prep superstar.
In 2016, he had 10 or more carries four times, highlighted by 12 rushes for 99 yards and two touchdowns during a 78-0 win over Rutgers. Despite the lack of total volume, Isaac showcased his speed and obvious power on more than a few occasions.
But he didn’t do anything of statistical value during the two most important games of the season: a 30-27 double-overtime loss at Ohio State and a 33-32 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State in Miami. On top of that, he had 10 carries during the final four games of the regular-season schedule.
He’s prepared for the gauntlet that awaits around the corner. So are his teammates. Everyone understands the plan — and if they don’t, they won’t play much of a part this fall.
“So, at this point, you need to know. That’s not really an option,” Isaac said. “There’s not an option of knowing or not knowing, or being confused. You’ve got to know, because it’s time to go.”
Time to go. It was more of a team-wide message, but Isaac has undoubtedly applied that same mantra to his personal career. Time is of the essence … for everyone. The time is now for Isaac, who has the means necessary to prove that he’s capable of far more than career totals of 144 carries for 858 yards and eight touchdowns — potentially a season’s worth of production for a peak Isaac.
The clock is ticking.
“You have to know your assignments, you have to know what you’re doing,” he said. “So, you know, the reps that you get become more precious; it’s not like you can come in and mess up once and say, ‘Oh, all right, I’ll get it back in practice …’ “
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