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LITTLE MAN TATE: How Forcier went from little brother to struggling Catholic schoolboy to Michigan's starting quarterback

BY ANDY REID
Daily Sports Editor
Published November 5, 2009

Robert Forcier has been throwing things his entire life — everything from last-minute, game-winning touchdowns against Notre Dame to muddy football cleats, spikes up, at his older brothers whenever they picked on him. But when he was two years old, his family members didn’t quite know what to make of it when he showed the early signs of the arm strength and accuracy that would one day land him a scholarship at Michigan.

Chris Dzombak/Daily
Tate Forcier speaks with the media after playing against Indiana on 9-26-09.
Photo coutesy of Suzanne Forcier
Photo courtesy of Suzanne Forcier
Tate Forcier is interviewed after winning the Pop Warner Super Bowl in Orlando.
Photo courtesy of Suzanne Forcier

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During a family trip to Disneyland, Forcier played with a NERF Oakland Raiders football while his dad, Mike, and older brothers, Jason and Chris, went on Space Mountain. That's nothing out of the ordinary, unless, of course, that two-year-old is gunning tight spirals across the sidewalk.

“I would be sitting with him, waiting for everyone else to get off the ride, and I would be throwing the ball with him,” Forcier’s mom Suzanne said. “And I couldn’t believe it. He would throw it like he’d been throwing a football forever. And people would stare and be like, ‘He’s just a kid!’ And he’s still in the stroller!”

The problem was, at that age, Forcier didn’t always use his fledgling right arm for good.

Like many parents, Mike and Suzanne struggled to wean their youngest son of his baby bottle, and the bad habit was starting to rear its negative side effects.

“That’s why he had big buck teeth,” Forcier’s oldest brother, Jason, 23, said with a laugh.

Mike tried to be the enforcer of the situation, but Forcier knew how to cover his tracks. When he heard his dad’s large, rumbling Jeep Wrangler storming up the street, Forcier would stand up and hurl his bottle completely across the living room — over an Asian shoji screen room divider propped up in a corner of the room — and act as if nothing had happened.

“We were like, ‘What the hell?’ just watching him chuck it out of nowhere,” Jason said. “And then my dad would come in, and we finally figured out he just wanted to hide it and not get caught.”

Some members of the family were more lenient than others with Forcier’s newfound talent.

“As a mother, of course, I had a little bit more patience with things like that,” Suzanne said. “They would collect there, and at the end of the week, I would have to go back there and grab them all and wash them.”

To this day, the Forciers joke that throwing his bottle is how Tate developed his cannon of an arm.

Even then, Forcier was a quarterback.

Little Man Tate

Forcier’s competitive drive, which his dad calls “unimaginable,” stems from his older brothers’ bullying, an understandable result of being one of three boys who went on to play college football — one of his brothers played at Michigan and Stanford (Jason) and the other plays at Furman after transferring from UCLA (Chris).

Forcier, even though he was small for his age, was never one to back down when his brothers picked on him.

“He’d take a butter knife and try poking me with it and say, ‘Does that hurt, huh?’ ” Jason said. “I’d be laughing so hard I’d be powerless. He was pretty strong as a little kid, but I’m his big brother. I can still pound him down into the dirt.”

But the three brothers weren’t always fighting. In fact, they did almost everything together, including football and just goofing around. But they also worked — something Mike wanted to teach them from a young age. Forcier, Jason and Chris grew up helping out at San Diego Limo Buses, Mike's self-started party vehicle company.

On weekends, the three would clean limos and help Mike with marketing work for a few hours. They didn’t get much money, but $40 to an eight-year-old is a pretty hefty bit of pocket change.

The trio decided to pool their money to get a Zodiac boat, an inflatable raft with a two-and-half horsepower engine. Even though the boys could ride a bike faster than the boat could go, they loved taking it out together.

“That was the coolest thing, like buying a car or home,” Jason said. “We took that thing out every weekend. We’d go fishing, have little parties out there, find little islands and stuff. We were always trying to go out on it, just fun things we could do, because we were always together.”

They didn’t realize it then, but Mike’s message was clear — you have to earn everything, a message that Jason thinks has helped the boys get where they are today.

It’s a message that easily transfers to sports, and sports are what Forcier’s life has revolved around since he could walk. Even when the family would go to Blockbuster to rent video games, he would race into the store before his brothers just to make sure they didn’t pick out something non-sports.

“It would drive his brothers nuts,” Mike said. “They’d say, ‘Don’t you ever want to do anything that doesn’t have to do with sports?’ ”

The answer: Rarely.

Why would he? Forcier, who was nicknamed "Little Man Tate" in the early 1990s when a movie of the same name came out about a child prodigy, showed an innate knack for athletics. He was especially good at basketball and Pop Warner football, where he once again showcased his gunslinger’s arm.

On the court, Forcier regularly played up two or three age groups, even though he was a small kid to begin with. He played until ninth grade, and even though he would often get beat, sometimes, he would hold his own.

“He was playing inner-city kids, and Tate didn’t care,” Jason said. “He had skateboarding shoes on and had the bowl cut and two big buck teeth, and he was in like fourth grade trying to guard these sixth graders. It was cool to see, just his 'little brother' mentality that, ‘I’m not going to let these kids beat me.’ ”

But it was the football field — where he played kids his own age — where he really excelled.

“At that age, you never see the ball thrown,” Jason said. “The coaches would figure out which kids could catch and just have them run straight up the field and, when they caught it, it was always a touchdown, because no one knows how to cover passes at that age. They were killing these teams left and right because of that.”

Even then, the Forciers were making a name for themselves — in more ways than just the football field. An avid Michigan fan who grew up in Birmingham, Mike would take the boys to Trophies, a local San Diego sports bar, to watch the Wolverines after the boys’ Pop Warner games.

The Forciers would trot in, the boys still fully padded from head to toe and Mike in his coaching sweatshirt — one that made him look like Patriots coach Bill Belichick, according to Jason.

“We’d order a table, and everyone in there would turn around and look at us,” Jason said. “But after a while, they started to recognize us and get a kick out of the kids that would sit there in their pads and watch the football games. We were like, ‘Dad, we just want to take our pads off,’ and he’d say, ‘No, this is going to be funny.’ ”

But through his childhood, it was Forcier’s intense competitive nature that made him stand out — even in situations where it was better to subdue it. When Forcier was seven, he and a friend ran ahead of the family as they searched for their car in a parking garage.

Mike found him using a rock to scratch a game of Tic-Tac-Toe into a stranger’s car.

“My dad was like, ‘What an idiot,’ and told Tate he’d have to pay for it,” Jason said. “And he paid for it by himself, but at the time, he goes, ‘Well, I won!’ ”

Finding the right fit

As much as the brothers were together growing up, they took very different paths once each entered high school. Jason, the oldest, went to school in St. Clemente, Calif., nearly an hour and a half away from the Forcier residence. Chris went to a small, Catholic, all-boys school named St. Augustine.

Tate originally followed in Chris’s footsteps. The problem was, unlike Chris, who had gone to a Catholic middle school, Forcier was a public-school kid through eighth grade — and he was wholly unprepared for the transition.

“You’re talking about an all-boys Catholic school — it was pretty strict,” Mike said. "And Tate, well, he’s like a little gambler. He was pushing his luck all the time. He’d come to school with no belt, and he knew he was supposed to have a belt, and he wanted to see what he could get away with.”

He soon found out that he couldn’t get away with much.

Within three weeks of entering ninth grade at St. Augustine, Forcier had racked up enough detentions that he had to serve one on a Friday, forcing him to miss the bus for one of the Saints’ crucial rivalries — a game he would have missed completely if Mike hadn’t taken off work to drive him after detention.

After a while, Forcier had had enough, and his old competitive flair took over once again. He swiped a pad of detention slips off his teacher’s desk and started writing citations for members of the baseball team, who Forcier suspected had ratted him out so that their star pitcher could take over the quarterback spot.

He wrote out detentions for anything he could think of, stuffed them into his enemies’ lockers and soon, the detention room began filling up around him.

“No one knew how on earth all these kids were getting so many detentions,” Mike said with a laugh. “The teachers had no idea what was going on.

“It’s still legendary over there.”

Needless to say, the school and Forcier didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.

A couple weeks later, Forcier decided the Catholic school route wasn’t for him. But that put him in an odd position. On top of struggling at St. Augustine, Forcier, who had been an all-A student through sixth grade, didn’t do so well in seventh and eighth.

His parents had taken on more responsibilities at San Diego Limo Buses, which left Forcier to fend for himself — and he fell behind quickly.

Looking back, Mike knows the importance that time had on his son.

“That’s the two years kids probably need the most supervision,” he said. “That’s when they can make bad decisions and stuff. Well, fortunately, he didn’t make any bad decisions, other than not doing his homework.”

But Forcier resolved to catch up, and with a renewed sense of motivation and a love for football, he refocused and chose his best option — dual-enrolling at Scripps Ranch High School and San Diego Charter School, a home school that allows students to have a more custom schedule.

Forcier took almost double the required amount of credits in his first few years there, Mike said, because he wanted to surpass his schoolmates in order to possibly graduate early for college football purposes.

“We just wanted to put Tate in the best situation possible,” Jason said. “Especially if you’re good enough to play as a freshman, (enrolling early) is really your only opportunity. It benefits you that much more, especially if you’re in a QB battle.”

But graduating early meant more than just loading up on classes. In California, high school seniors are assigned a large report in December that they have to present by May, when they graduate. It involves a paper about a specific profession, creating a résumé, shadowing jobs, conducting interviews and spending a lot of extracurricular time to work on it.

“Basically, it’s so kids realize, ‘You’re becoming a young man now,’ ” Suzanne said. “You’re 18 now, and you’re left to do this thing all on your own.”

It takes most kids all semester to finish the project. But because Forcier wanted to graduate early and move on to Michigan — his self-proclaimed “dream school” — he worked day and night, finishing the project in less than three weeks.

Bet you can guess what Forcier’s theme was.

“He chose to do his project on being a professional football player,” Suzanne said. “He picked that because that’s what he knew the most about, and that’s what he wanted to be.”

And he had come a long way from the seventh grader who was quickly falling behind and the struggling Catholic schoolboy. His project was so good that the school kept a copy as an example for future students.

Although the Forcier family took some flak for putting their kid in home school, it’s becoming a more and more common occurrence for many football recruits around the country, including Florida poster boy Tim Tebow.

The home-school route also allowed Forcier to have a more flexible schedule. He used the time to work out with his trainer, former NFL offensive guard Marv Marinovich, a man who Mike said is like a grandfather to Forcier.

He also used it to take official and unofficial visits to schools and build up QBForce.com, all of which helped him get the name Tate Forcier out into the college football world. And that has been a key to the Forcier family’s success, Jason said.

“Most recruits don’t realize this, but you’re your own product, and you’re your own brand,” he said. “Tate Forcier is his own brand, and his quarterbacking is the product. If you’re good enough for them to find you, why not go advertise yourself a little bit? Pepsi and Coke still do it, and everyone knows what Coke is.”

It may not have been the most normal childhood — with the family of star quarterbacks, the home school, the self-promoting website — but that hasn't affected Forcier too much.

“He’s just a regular kid,” Jason says with a shrug.

A face in the crowd

Even when he was five or six, Forcier displayed the swagger that has become synonymous with his style of play.

“When we were in Pop Warner, he’d say, ‘My brother’s going to kick your butt and run all over you,’ and stuff like that," Jason said. "But that was just him being really proud of us."

But behind the confidence — which Jason carefully explained is what cocky people fleetingly attempt to emulate — is a regular college kid.

He declined to do an interview for this story, because, according to a member of the Athletic Department, he thought the attention should go to an upperclassman or “someone who deserved it more.”

When he goes to class, he pulls a hoodie or a beanie over his head. Because of his small stature, he can slip through the Diag without getting noticed.

He volunteers every Thursday at Motts Children’s Hospital after practice, as do many Michigan athletes.

And when the scare-tactic movie “Paranormal Activity,” a surprising hit among the college crowd, came out, he went with some friends only to find out that it was sold out.

“He’s not the type to go up to the manager and say, ‘Do you know who I am? I’m the Michigan quarterback,’ or whatever,” Jason said. “He’ll go home and check another time or make other plans. He doesn’t think he should be getting special treatment or anything. He’s just another regular kid.”

But for Jason, who overshadowed Tate for so long, it’s a humbling experience to see his brother lead a come-from-behind drive against Indiana or be worthy of the lead photo on ESPN.com.

“It’s like, I’m almost in that position now, where I’m always happy to gloat about him, pretty much” said Jason, who lived with Forcier in Ann Arbor for a few months before moving back to California to find a job. "I joke around with my friends that I’m like Drama in Entourage. ... I’m just happy to see him come full circle.”

Now one of the most recognizable names in college football, not much has changed for Tate Forcier since the days he threw his baby bottle across the room. It's just that, instead of his family being impressed by his arm, it's a national audience that is watching him throw touchdown passes.

After all, he is, and always will be, a quarterback — as simple as that.


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