Freshman Mel Santander almost decided to stay home this year.
Fortunately for the Michigan men’s gymnastics team, he changed his mind.
The Michigan coaching staff initially recruited the top-flight all-arounder, but when he didn’t show interest, the Michigan coaches let the matter drop. By this past summer, it seemed Santander would remain in Massachusetts, preparing with his personal coach for a shot at the Olympics.
But, unbeknownst to the Michigan coaches, Santander had applied and been admitted to the University.
And when he and other young gymnasts – in Battle Creek for the Junior Nationals – visited Ann Arbor on their day off, the recruiting process received a jump-start.
“We brought him and his mom in June of last year,” Michigan assistant coach Scott Vetere said (recruits normally visit in the fall). “He was very, very quiet. We really couldn’t get any words out of him, just gentle small talk. . We thought he had a good time on the trip, but when someone doesn’t talk, you really don’t know.”
Vetere and the rest of the team got their answer about a week later, when Santander finally committed to Michigan.
“My family and my teammates at home wanted me to try something different, experience something new, just take the chance to do it,” Santander said. “If I didn’t like it here, I would go back home anyway, so it was worth a shot.”
Never a chatterbox, Santander has nonetheless emerged from his shell in the supportive, encouraging surroundings of his new gym. Though he’s still subject to some gentle teasing – he was tagged with the number 85 to represent the number of days between when he committed to Michigan and the start of school – Santander’s teammates are overjoyed to have him.
“Mel has an unmistakable swing on the pommel horse,” senior Aaron Rakes said. “He’s one of a kind on that event. He’s so graceful in all his gymnastics; he’s just a pleasure to watch.”
Santander comes to Michigan with an impressive r