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“Big Brother” Away From Home

Terra Molengraff/Daily
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By Justin Stern, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 20, 2014

Bryan Mone and Sione Houma are just like any other students on the Ann Arbor campus. They sit in their dorms in West Quad, watching movies like Catching Fire or playing Call of Duty: Ghosts.

Their humble personalities often serve as an invisible cloak for their athletic abilities. Their skills on the gridiron are often hidden by their character. However, it’s that character that makes them so close on and off the field. The same chemistry that once led the Highland Rams to a Utah state championship is now making a comeback in Ann Arbor.

For Mone, an incoming football recruit, and Houma, currently a sophomore fullback, protecting one another has been apparent since the first game they wore black and white together on the Highland High School football field in Salt Lake City.

Currently spending his first semester at Michigan this winter, the standout lineman Mone was recruited by high-profile programs such as Alabama, Florida State and Stanford. When Houma packed his bags for Ann Arbor and left his hometown in the summer of 2012, he always remembered Mone, who consistently made the key block leading to touchdowns. While Mone was protecting Houma on the field, Houma played Mone’s “big brother” off the field.

“Sione is an older brother to me,” Mone said. “He tells me what I need to do and keeps my head straight, and helps me out a lot whether it be the recruiting process or in the classroom.”

In high school, the two hung out in the hallways between classes, walked out together after practices or a game and attended church together on a weekly basis. During Mone’s senior year, he attended a church retreat on a spiritual trip to Sacramento, Calif. It was this trip that finally put him over the edge to make a verbal commit to Michigan.

“For some reason Michigan was in my head when I was there praying about it,” Mone said. “I felt like that was a sign. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing. God brought me here to Michigan.”

It was just a week later after the retreat that Michigan received their second prized recruit’s verbal commitment from Salt Lake City. The two high-school teammates got to resurrect their bond when Mone told Highland High School football coach Brody Benson that he was committing to Michigan.

“(Mone and Houma) both carry two strong characteristics that make them stand out — a caring personality and a strong work ethic,” Benson said. “That is what got them to the place they are today.”

On Aug. 1, 2012, Houma officially enrolled at the University. The time together on the field vanished between Houma and Mone, but their friendship got stronger.

Still in high school, Mone tried to speak with Houma about once a week, but due to Houma’s schedule as a student athlete it became challenging. When they spoke, Houma always gave words that made Mone more comfortable with his Michigan commitment.

Recruits are often influenced by location, their ability to get noticed by NFL scouts and the chances of seeing the field early. Yet Mone chose to look for three features that ultimately made his decision easier: a caring coaching staff, academics and Sione Houma.

For those who know Mone, it’s no surprise that he believes in the importance of creating special bonds with the players and coaches at his new Michigan family.

“(Houma) told me the coaching program is one thing that Michigan has that is unlike any other school I received offers from,” Mone said. “They really care about their players and put their players first. I felt that right away when I came here. All the boys really helped me fit in and everyone shows so much love.”

Family values go hand-in-hand for Mone, and he deeply believed in what he saw from the Michigan coaching staff. However, Mone’s family values start with his immediate family.

He has been forced to take care of his disabled older brother Filimone with his mother Sela his entire life. Filimone was born with the inability to see, speak or perform daily tasks like feeding himself. He wears a diaper, which is left up to Mone to change. The battles Mone faces on the football field are pale in perspective to assisting his brother every day.

“When I wake up each day, I give him a shower or feed him pills, change him,” he said. “That happens two times a day, before I go to school and when I come home.

“Taking care of my brother and family is a lot more rewarding than the recognition I have received from football. I play for my brother. Taking care of my brother is like taking care of my quarterback if I’m on the offensive line. My lives on the field and off the field are both similar in many ways.”

Mone finished his senior season with 41 tackles and 1.5 sacks, while also being a student who cares about his academics — another reason he chose Michigan. In his last semester of high school, he received all A’s. Yet Houma tells him the challenges will only be greater in Ann Arbor.

“At Michigan, Sione tells me to stay on top of school. The most important thing is managing your time wisely,” Mone said. “You will have distractions, but the main thing is to manage your time and stay focused.”

The rise of Mone’s stock both on the field and off is a reflection of many people in his life. Through his humble attitude, he remains poised and still shocked that he’s about to begin playing football and attend the University. From Coach Benson pushing him in the weight room to the inspiration from his older brother, to the teachers in his classrooms, Mone has been led in the right direction.

However, when Mone departed for Michigan in early January, it was the farthest he has ever been from his family and life in Salt Lake City. As he begins his new chapter, he will always have a reminder of where he came from with “big brother” Sione Houma by his side.