As final game approaches, J.T. Floyd glad he turned down NFL last year
ANN ARBOR -- J.T. Floyd could have left when the staff that recruited him was fired. But he didn't.
He could have left after last season, when he flirted with the NFL. But he didn't.
The Michigan cornerback stayed through a coaching change, through a gruesome ankle injury, through a dance with the NFL, however serious.
And you know what?
"I’m glad I came back, to be honest with you," he said.
Floyd stayed for five seasons, and now is playing the best football of his career as he prepares to face South Carolina in the Outback Bowl -- his homestate team, and the first to discover him as a sophomore at J.L. Mann High School in Greenville, S.C.
"They were my first offer," Floyd said. "It's neat that life is coming full circle for me.
"They were a school I looked at early… especially with those guys being the first ones to jump on me and show me I could play at the collegiate level. They were definitely in the running, but you can’t go wrong with the maize and blue."
Floyd didn't grow up a Gamecocks fan -- he preferred Florida State and Michigan, even as a kid -- but has ties to the school. His uncle, Norman Floyd, was a defensive back for South Carolina in the 1980s and his grandfather, James Thomas Floyd -- the same birth name as J.T. -- is "probably the biggest South Carolina fan you'll ever meet."
No worries, though. He'll be in Floyd's corner on Jan. 1.
"Blood is thicker than water," he said.
Floyd doesn't know many South Carolina players, although played against star tailback Marcus Lattimore in high school. Lattimore won't play in the Outback Bowl due to a leg injury.
But Floyd will, and at the top of his game. Finally.
Floyd said the ankle injury that cost him the final four games of the 2010 season impacted him for most of last year. He didn't feel fully healthy until the final month of the regular season.
"For months, I couldn't walk," he said. "I had staples in my leg. I remember being in the dumps about it.
"I remember last season going into camp and thinking, 'Oh boy, this is going to be rough.' ... The first five or six weeks of the season, I was still feeling my way out there. I had to adjust my game."
Floyd finished the season well, and joined quarterback Denard Robinson in applying with the NFL Draft advisory board to gauge his pro stock.
He elected to return.
"I was just sort of trying to feel out the process," Floyd said. "Everything was new to me. It was a situation where, you can never gain enough information. ... I just wanted to gain as much information as possible and move forward with the proper decision."
His game has flourished with another year of seasoning under defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and secondary coach Curt Mallory. He started all 12 regular season games for a secondary that ranked No. 2 in the country against the pass.
He was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and media.
That's a far cry from Floyd's early days at Michigan, when he started twice in 2009 for one of the worst defenses in the country and eight times in 2010 for the worst defense in school history.
Rich Rodriguez and his staff were fired after the 2010 season, Brady Hoke was hired and brought with him the respected Mattison and Mallory.
Floyd said his game blossomed under Mattison's NFL pedigree and Mallory's attention to detail.
"It's kind of like a computer: You hit a refresh button," Floyd said. "You got to refresh everything. There's new techniques, different plays, different terminologies, different guys coaching you.
"I'll put it to you like this: Anytime you can get NFL experience in (a guy like) Coach Mattison, a guy who was just there the year before, a guy who's coached at different colleges at a high level, who has coached a lot of players to play at a high level, I think any time you can get around that and gain knowledge from that, I think it's only going to be beneficial."
Floyd likes to say his career has come full circle.
But after being thrust into action as a freshman because of a lack of depth in 2009, to starting for the worst defense in school history in 2010, to playing well enough to weigh his pro stock after 2011, to starting for the No. 2 secondary in the country in 2012, it appears his career isn't so much a circle at all.
More like a line. Not necessarily straight, a few dips here and there.
But clearly trending upward.