ORLANDO, Fla. — The only person to play for both Jim Harbaugh and John Beilein never thought it would happen.
Brad Anlauf, now a senior wide receiver on the Michigan football team, is nearing the culmination of a winding athletic career for the Wolverines. The twists and turns of his career are largely the result of a decision that seemed relatively inconsequential at the time, when Anlauf was a senior in high school. A two-sport star in football and basketball at Hinsdale Central High School near Chicago, he decided to send out recruiting tapes for both sports.
He ultimately decided to become a preferred walk-on wide receiver with the Michigan football team. At that point, it appeared his hoops career was over. But circumstances allowed Anlauf, now preparing for the final game of his college football career, another foray into basketball.
After he arrived in Ann Arbor, Anlauf redshirted his freshman year of football as he adjusted to the collegiate level. He was readying for his second year of football when he received a call from Beilein. Beilein remembered seeing the tape Anlauf sent out, and he had an open walk-on spot on his team. He told Anlauf to come try out.
Anlauf survived multiple rounds of cuts and eventually made the roster. Beilein worked out a deal with former Michigan football coach Brady Hoke to allow Anlauf to play basketball for a year, and that’s exactly what he did in the 2013-14 season.
As a walk-on, Anlauf saw little playing time. He appeared in eight games, playing 16 minutes and scoring two points. But he won a Big Ten championship, something none of his football teammates have done. Plus, he was able to experience an NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight and play alongside NBA-level talent like Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert.
Anlauf realized that dream would have to come to an end the following summer. The deal with Beilein was that he would be on the team for one year and not longer. He got back in touch with former Michigan wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski, the coach who recruited him, and told him he was interested in rejoining the football team. He wasn’t ready to give up on his athletic career.
“I keep playing just because it’s kind of part of my identity,” Anlauf said Wednesday.
While he considers himself a basketball player at heart, he missed the camaraderie of playing Michigan football during his year on the basketball team. Anlauf felt as though the team building associated with football, derived from the constant hitting and rigorous weight lifting, cannot be replicated. He has always lived with football players during his college career, and he started to hear it from them, too.
“We always told him he was too soft, and that’s why he went over to play basketball,” said senior safety Shaun Austin, Anlauf’s roommate of four years.
The tougher side of football threw a wrench in Anlauf’s career once he switched back to his original sport. A broken foot sidelined Anlauf from football during his junior year.
This year, though he isn’t injured, has featured the same relegation to the sidelines. He sometimes wonders if he could’ve seen the field or gotten on the court more if he stuck to one sport all four years, but it doesn’t concern him too much. He can still savor the end result: In four years, Anlauf has played for two of the most respected coaches in their sports.
Beilein and Harbaugh have mutual respect for one another, but the one person who has played for both says they aren’t very similar in their coaching styles, though sees brilliance in both.
“Oh my god, no one’s like Coach Harbaugh,” Anlauf said. “I can’t really draw too many parallels between Coach Harbaugh and Coach Beilein, but the one thing I can say is that they’re both very passionate about the game. They’re students of the game through and through.
“Coach Harbaugh is a little younger, a little bit more energetic. He’s willing to come in, take a couple snaps, run a couple plays. You’ll see him in the warmups throwing passes to the wide receivers, whereas Coach Beilein, he kind of leaves it to the younger assistants to kind of take that role.”
Anlauf’s time on the basketball team has sparked trash talk between him and his football teammates. The natural assumption, based off his time on the basketball team, is that Anlauf would be the best basketball player on the Michigan football team. That notion, however, can be disputed.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Drake Harris was a top basketball recruit, once committed to play both football and basketball at Michigan State. Junior defensive end Taco Charlton played high school basketball with LeVert, and once threw down a dunk in flip-flops when Beilein came to visit LeVert on a recruiting trip. Anlauf also commended redshirt junior wide receiver Amara Darboh and redshirt junior defensive end Chris Wormley for their basketball abilities.
Anlauf has his sights set on Harris in particular, saying he has challenged Harris to games in the Central Campus Recreation Building on numerous occasions, but that Harris won’t oblige his request. Harris denies that claim, saying he will play Anlauf once the football season is over. When asked if he would defeat Anlauf, Harris expressed little doubt.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said.
When Anlauf’s eventful Michigan athletic career ends after the Citrus Bowl on Friday, he’s planning to graduate in April with a double major in political science and psychology. He hopes to work in sales consulting or earn a fellowship in South Africa in which he would work with the government.
But whatever happens from here on out, the memories of his college career will stick with him long after he puts on a Michigan uniform for the last time.
“I’ll have a story for the rest of my life to tell,” Anlauf said. “It’s been a cool, cool ride.”