Life is back to normal in the A&M backfield

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- As the final minutes drained out of Texas A&M's leisurely 46-14 win over aspiring Big 12 member SMU, Christine Michael sat between his running mate and trailblazers.

He and Cyrus Gray chatted with an assistant coach before offensive lineman Brian Thomas jokingly jabbed him and the two shared a laugh.

Later, he carefully undid the tape on his wrists and waited for time to expire.

It was all very normal, and a welcome change for Michael.

It capped a night when he returned and ran for 85 yards and two touchdowns, finally joining his teammate, Gray, who led the way with his eighth consecutive 100-yard game and two scores of his own.

But the bulked-up, 221-pound Michael ran hard. He ran angry. He ran like a man that knows what it's like to have the ability to run taken away.

"I haven't been out there since October 31st," Michael said, not needing any reminder of the night he broke his leg and ended his season.

Technically, it was the 30th, but against Texas Tech, in the middle of what would become a six-game winning streak to close the regular season, Michael suffered the injury and with one carry, his sophomore season was over.

For home games, he'd watch from the press box high above Kyle Field, far from the sideline. On away games, he didn't travel with the team.

"The leg felt so bad, I didn't want to do any moving, so I just stayed home," he said.

He had to settle for a postgame cell phone call to Gray and other teammates.

"I forgot what it was like to win with my teammates," he said.

Sunday night was a reminder.

Teammates told him to keep it simple. Complement Gray, run hard like he always does and "be a beast."

"Give the team that we're playing hell, just like you give us in practice," they told him.

They did exactly that.

"Cyrus and C-Mike did their thing," said receiver Ryan Swope.

Their "thing" is being one of the nation's top 1-2 punches at running back, with Gray providing the flash and straight-line speed, and Michael bruising defensive front sevens with his shoulder-lowered blows.

"[Gray] shows tremendous patience in his running style, and demonstrates a phenomenal burst through the hole," coach Mike Sherman said. "Christian is probably more explosive from snap to start at the line of scrimmage."

It's been nearly 10 months since Michael was able to log a carry, but the first time he did, he scored, and did it with Gray flanking the opposite side of his quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.

"I was very nervous and anxious at the same time," Michael said. "That first hit I got opened me up and brought me back to reality. It's a big difference in playing in front of 86,000 and just playing in front of your team."

Gray took advantage of Michael's absence to become the league's top back entering 2011, but the Aggies' first touchdown in Week 1 went to the teammate he'd missed for the second half of last season.

Gray was the workhorse in landmark victories over Oklahoma and Nebraska, each time telling reporters he felt like he was playing for both himself and Michael, who could only watch.

"It was exciting to see my brother out there," he said.

Michael's return excited the crowd of 86,951, too -- the largest for a season opener in program history. It won't be the last time.

Cyrus and C-Mike are back.