Heininger still hopeful he can play in Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS — Will Heininger realizes he may have played his last game at Michigan, even with the Sugar Bowl still to be played on Tuesday.

He was injured in Michigan’s Dec. 22 practice in Ann Arbor, and on Thursday, he called it a “sprained foot” but declined to specify how it happened. Heininger had his right foot in a walking boot after Michigan’s practice at Tulane University.

“You never want to get hurt, but of course (I’m) optimistic, we have great trainers so I hope to get back,” said Heininger, who said his foot is “getting better every day.”

The fifth-year senior has worked his way from walk-on to a starting defensive lineman, versatile enough to be moved around and fulfilling the dream of starting together he and Ryan Van Bergen discussed as freshmen.

Despite being a walk-on, he realized in his first practice he could play at the Big Ten level.

“I can definitely say it’s a dream come true,” he said.

He wouldn’t even wager a guess about whether he’d play in the final game of his football career — Heininger eventually hopes to own or run a professional sports team. However, he’s glad he’ll at least play a part in the decision.

“It’ll be an overall decision and I think I’ll have input on it,” he said. “Medical is always first then the coaches will ask you how you feel.”

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Heininger has played enough and is smart enough to play with fewer reps this week and is watching enough film in meetings to make a smooth transition to the field, but he made no promises.

“You don’t worry as much about him knowing what a gap scheme is and how to play a base reach and those kind of things, and he’s an intelligent guy,” Hoke said. “He’s doing a tremendous job of coaching the young guys. Richard Ash and him were watching the film together and (Heininger) was just talking about the different things with Richard so, we’ll see.”

Heininger said helping defensive line reserves Quinton Washington, Will Campbell and Nathan Brink learn the offense has long been his role . Now he can only tell them, not show them.

His fellow defensive linemen feel for him, injured as Michigan approaches the biggest stage of his career.

“He’s a guy that’s improved so much and he’s a great player and a great friend of mine,” defensive end Craig Roh said. “It’s tough.”

Heininger isn’t just sitting around hoping, though.

“If there’s any way I can play,” he said, “I’m going to play.”

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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