In today’s competitive recruiting for college football players, notably absent from the discussion is the character of the young recruit. We have no trouble learning about touchdowns, yards gained, high school wins, which are easily measured. Those statistics are concrete. Let’s return to the late 1960s, when Bump Elliott was head coach at the University Michigan and was then replaced by Bo Schembechler. In my book, Bo’s Warriors all the players interviewed were recruited by Bump Elliott. A lot of Bo Schembechler’s initial success can be attributed to Bump.
Bump recruited players that were terrific athletes, intelligent, coachable, and mentally tough. These young man came from strong or discipline- athletically oriented families. For instance, Thom Darden came from Sandusky, Ohio. Darden excelled in baseball, basketball, in addition to football. Thom was placed in a college prep curriculum and expected to excel in the classroom and on the field. His father, according to Thom was a terrific athlete himself. He had his young son practicing over and over until he got it right. [Throwing that hard ball, so it cut the corners of the plate]. He supported his son’s athletics, making sure in the process, that Thom did not get a big head; and he wouldn’t tolerate any excuses nor a poor me attitude. Thom’s mother led the choir in church and had a mirror placed on her piano, so she could watch the young singers. Darden stated that all she had to do was give that expression on her face, and he was quick to comply. Both parents gave him clear messages about taking responsibility for behavior. He was not given mixed messages. His instruction and messaging were clear. No shortcuts allowed. In fact, both parents were hard-working, both in and outside the home. In addition, the elder Darden was a pastor so, spirituality, played a significant part as well in his rearing.
Mike Keller was reared in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mike excelled in every sport such as swimming, golf, basketball and football. In fact, he didn’t believe that football was his best sport. Mike grew up attending parochial school and knew about the discipline required for academic success. He learned not to mess with the nuns. Mike’s father was a hard worker, and played college football. Even though he was away a lot [because of his work], he supported his family in a healthy style. He didn’t hesitate to get up early on a Sunday to go to church and then take Mike to an athletic event.
Mike’s mother was described as the drill sergeant and she had to manage her large family. She was organized and had them keeping their large house spec and span. In fact, she even had the kids cleaning the neighbors. Mike was no stranger to hard work, discipline, and doing things the right way. He had to please his mother who also taught college literature. She had him reading the classics to learn the morals and messages of the past. Even though, his family was very comfortable, he learned to work [had a newspaper route and an early age], save and purchase things that he wanted. Things were not given to him on a silver platter.
Both of these defensive stars at the University Michigan, were recruited by Bump, and played on the freshman team together. When Schembechler became coach, both were coachable and familiar with strict rules, male aggressiveness, do it my way or the highway, becoming a team member, rough and difficult physical practices, and being with an authoritarian leader.
These players character was grounded in hard work [getting your hands dirty], abasement [accepting criticism and feedback], affiliation [loyalty to teammates], deference [admiring a coach] dominance [controlling one’s environment to achieve desired outcome] order [achieving precision by practice] succorance [wanting to be admired and loved]. Thom and Mike also exhibited mental toughness and the desire to achieve and overcome hurdles, regardless of the obstacles.
Jim Harbaugh do not forget about the character of the players, recruited. That’s another legacy you want to leave.
Go Blue Go!