By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 4, 2012
EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Billy Powers won’t forget that conversation.
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It was late April 2008, and the Michigan hockey assistant coach had just extended a one-year tryout offer to Luke Glendening, a forward recruit from The Hotchiss School, a prep institution in Lakeville, Conn.
“You’re on a one-year tryout,” Powers told Glendening. “If you’re good in practice, you’ll stay.”
Powers left him with one last word of warning.
“If you have somewhere else to go, you should probably do it.”
Powers almost surprised himself with the offer — he’d only actually seen the gritty Glendening play once. But there was nothing ironclad about this offer. No promises. No scholarship. Just a one-year tryout.
“I remember the conversation as plain as day,” Powers said. “You really don’t have many of those conversations with recruits. Usually, you’re telling kids that they have a guaranteed spot and that they’re going to be there for four years.
“But I couldn’t in all confidence promise Luke that he had any chance at all to crack our lineup as a rookie. It was more of an opportunity for him to get in front of us every day. If he felt he could have an impact on us, then we could try and take him beyond one year.”
Four years later, Glendening is still a member of the Michigan hockey team. Not only does he have a spot on the bench, he’s a second-year captain — the tireless leader of the sixth-ranked Wolverines.
But that’s just the middle and ending of his story. To understand Glendening’s backstory, you have to step off of the ice and onto the gridiron.
Peter Stuursma raised his hand and blew a sharp whistle. A linebacker leapt out of his stance and tore into the backfield, walloping the tackling dummy.
The hand went up again, and the whistle pierced the air.
Pads met pads and the dummy hurtled to the ground again. Stuursma smiled. The East Grand Rapids football coach was leading a linebacker drill. That particular lesson was an important one: How to blow up the fullback on a bull-rush.
The tackling dummy was Luke Glendening.
Stuursma liked what he saw in the scrawny sophomore. It was Glendening’s first week on the varsity squad. Despite his lack of brawn, he was already being penciled in as the starting fullback.
Plucking grass out of his facemask and struggling back to his feet, Glendening realized that he probably wasn’t built to play football. His genes weren’t the problem — they were probably the only thing going for him. His father, Tom Glendening, was the starting fullback for Bowling Green in the early 1980s. His mother, Leslie Glendening, had been a Bowling Green cheerleader.
Joe Glendening, Luke’s younger brother, was an All-American as a junior running back at Division-II Hillsdale College last fall, racking up 1,604 rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns. (Even today, when Luke returns to East Grand Rapids, he’s “Joe’s brother.”)
Somehow, that All-American pedigree wasn’t translating to Luke.
Until that sunny afternoon on the practice field, Luke had always found an excuse to discount weight-room workouts.
“Luke always gave me his theory that weight lifting doesn’t really work,” Stuursma recalled.
Being a three-sport athlete — football, hockey and baseball — through high school kept Luke in shape, but lifting wasn’t a priority.
That changed with one linebacker drill. Stuursma’s tackling dummy didn’t miss another lift. And he had plenty of motivation. If practices were painful, Friday night football games were terrifying.
As the starting fullback, Luke was the lead blocker for the star senior running back — five-star recruit and Michigan commit Kevin Grady. Grady set the state records for career rushing attempts, rushing yards, touchdowns and points at East Grand Rapids.
Grady was a burly 225 pounds. Luke was not.
“I was a buck fifty-five soaking wet my sophomore year,” Luke said. “It’s just a funny picture: You’ve got this All-American running back and me, this little weakling guy, trying to block for him.
“It was almost comical at that point.”
Two years later, Luke had grown into his role as fullback and senior captain. He was still the lead blocker for a Grady, but now it was for Kevin’s brother, running back Kelvin Grady, and his cousin, quarterback DeMarcus Grady.
The triple-threat backfield comprised one of the best running games in the state.