Last week, Michigan unveiled its 2014 roster, and the first name listed ended months of speculation about the status of a hallowed number from the team’s storied past.
Defensive back Blake Countess is switching from No. 18 to the No. 2 jersey of Heisman Trophy winner and NFL great Charles Woodson.
The roster revelation ended conjecture that 5-star recruit Jabrill Peppers, who hopes to emulate Woodson’s career at Michigan, would don the No. 2 jersey. Peppers will wear No. 5 at Michigan, the jersey number he wore for his high school career—at least for now.
Countess, a redshirt junior, is a worthy recipient of Woodson’s jersey after having racked up impressive statistics during his Michigan career, including totaling 90 tackles (56 solo) over two full seasons. He emerged as a star last season with six interceptions that he returned for 169 yards, including a touchdown. His performance earned All-Big Ten first-team honors.
Last season’s performance came after he missed the entire 2012 season after being injured in the season opener versus Alabama.
The jersey switch will increase the spotlight on Countess.
While technically not a Michigan Legends jersey, No. 2 is an obvious candidate to join the pantheon of honored Wolverine greats.
|Michigan Legends Jerseys|
|Number||Player(s) Honored||Current Status|
|11||Wistert Brothers (Francis, Albert, Alvin)||Vacant|
|47||Bennie Oosterbaan||Jake Ryan|
|48||Gerald Ford||Desmond Morgan|
|87||Ron Kramer||Devin Funchess|
|98||Tom Harmon||Devin Gardner|
Even without the official designation, the jersey holds a special place in Michigan history because of Woodson’s status as the most recent Wolverine to win the Heisman Trophy and the first defensive player to do so. He also bears the distinction of having a stellar NFL Hall of Fame-caliber career while still being an active professional player. Woodson’s NFL resume includes Super Bowl champion (XLV), eight-time Pro Bowl selection, seven-time All-Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2009) and being named to the 2000s All-Decade team.
Countess now steps into the shadow of Woodson’s celebrated collegiate and pro careers.
The only jersey that comes with similar baggage is Desmond Howard’s No. 21. Howard also won the Heisman Trophy and is a frequent presence around the Michigan football program in his current role as an ESPN college football analyst.
The other Legends jerseys are associated with players in the distant past, long before televised games became standard.
Countess will also need to contend with the expectations that precede Peppers’ collegiate career. Peppers has set a goal of eclipsing Woodson’s collegiate accomplishments. But, no matter how quickly he taps his potential, the No. 2 jersey won’t be available until Countess is done with it.
Countess’ task is to create his own legacy for his new jersey number while keeping fans from looking ahead to who might wear it next.
All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.