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Mealer, beard battle for starting spot on offensive line

Erin Kirkland/Daily
Michigan fifth-year senior offensive guard Elliott Mealer hasn't shaved since early April. Buy this photo

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published August 18, 2012

Elliot Mealer’s beard is the only thing keeping the Navy SEALs at bay.

Mealer, a fifth-year senior offensive lineman battling for the starting left guard position this fall, hasn’t shaved since spring camp in early April. Teammates immediately took a liking to the whiskers.

“He has a face full of straight, perfect, beard hair,” redshirt junior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon told ESPN. “You don't find that everywhere. I mean, look at it, you can’t even put it into words. It's amazing.”

When Mealer and 21 other seniors took a trip to Coronado, Calif. for a three-day leadership trip in late May to train with Navy SEALs, he was told by the SEALs that he was sporting a true “Afghanistan beard.”

“We take pride in that,”one of the SEALs told Mealer, he recalled.

But the SEAL left Mealer a stern warning: “If we find out the season comes along and you've shaved that, we’re sending the team after you," he recounted laughing.

Mealer has kept in contact with the SEAL over the last two months and pledged to keep the beard to ward off the commandos.

“I’m keeping it whether I want to or not,” he said.

Recently, Mealer matured the look by coupling the beard with a fresh haircut featuring tight-cropped sides and a slick right-to-left comb-over. It was all done on his mother’s orders. Shelly Mealer wanted her son to shave the beard before fall camp. He said no, so she played the only card she had left — the barber card.

“I wouldn’t let her touch the beard, so she said, ‘Alright, I want you to stay cool so I'm going high and tight on the head,’ ” Mealer said.

Mealer has never seen another barber in his life, so he agreed. Plus, Mealer is a fan of actor Tom Hardy’s hair, so the current look function as a combination of a couple inspirations.

On the field, Mealer appears to be neck-and-neck with redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Joey Burzynski vying for the starting left guard spot. Burzynski doesn’t quite have the bird’s nest Mealer does but, for his part, he is working with thick sideburns that are an inch or two away from full-fledged mutton chop classification.

“Joey is great,” Mealer said. “He pushes me to get better and I hope I push him to get better.

“I think competition is good. It’s healthy — you need it. Especially with playing a team like Alabama in the first week we really have to have a sense of urgency.”

Mealer has yet to make his first collegiate start and has seen the field primarily on special teams duty. Burzynski saw time in a reserve role in four games last season but emerged during spring camp.

Last season, the left guard spot was occupied by Michael Schofield, who is now shifting over to right tackle as a redshirt junior to replace graduated senior Mark Huyge.

A date with a tenacious Alabama defensive line lurks just two weeks away, but Mealer isn’t concerned with the inexperience at left guard. The offensive line is often something of a revolving door, and five years in the comfort level is typically high.

“We definitely have things we can work on, but since I’ve been here we've had guys like Stephen Schilling and Dave Molk who have left and we’ve been able to move guys into those positions and fill those roles,” Mealer said. “That's Michigan. It’s a place you come to where it’s all about offensive line.

“As an offensive line, we’re holding each other accountable to play our best and really have a sense of urgency.”

Schilling, who is now a guard with the San Diego Chargers, took Mealer under his wing as an underclassman. Molk, also with the Chargers, was the rock in the center of the line last season. Mealer saw both former teammates at Huyge’s wedding over the summer.

“The offensive line as a whole, we’re a pretty tight-knit group off the field and on the field,” Mealer said.

Mealer has culled advice from the coaching staff as well as current and former teammates and hopes to make an impact blocking for senior quarterback Denard Robinson and the running backs this fall.

“I wouldn’t say that the expectations have changed for me at all since last year or any previous year — I think the goal as a player is always to start,” Mealer said. “But obviously this being my fifth year, I’d like to think I’m working just as hard and am just as focused as any other year.

“There’s always competition. There are always great guys that you’re competing with for a position and you’re never locked in as a starter or a backup. All I can do is continue to work hard and let the chips will fall where they do.”