Michigan defensive line coach Bruce Tall had an unenviable task in January shortly after taking that job.
Toledo, Ohio is part of his recruiting territory, meaning it was his job to visit freshman offensive lineman Elliot Mealer, whose father and girlfriend died in a car crash on Christmas Eve on their way to Church. Mealer’s 23-year-old brother, Brock, was paralyzed in the accident, too.
Tall said he was a little apprehensive about the visit, but it went smoothly.
“He’s always upbeat and real high-spirited,” Tall said. “You’d never know he was going through such a tragedy unless somebody told you.”
The Michigan football team had its chance to show its support to the Mealer family, participating in the “Bowling for Brock” fundraiser. The players bowled and signed autographs to raise more than $15,000.
The team arrived at Colonial Lanes in Ann Arbor by bus. As the players got off the buses, each walked by and shook hands with Brock, who sat near the entrance in a wheel chair, as they walked into the alley.
“It’s amazing,” said Brock, who will get braces for his legs Friday. “It’s just kind of unreal to have all these players that you see on TV and everything, and they’re actually excited to see me.”
When Rodriguez found out about the accident, he contacted some of the incoming freshmen that knew Elliot and many told him they already reached out to the lineman. And Rodriguez said several players had asked him what more they could do.
“I don’t think you have to be a coach of a team, or even an associate, to hear a story such as this story and not touch your heart,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “The fact that I was going to be his coach, and he was going to be part of our football family, it made it even more reason for us to try to reach out.”
In addition raising money for Brock, the team used the event to relax in the middle of fall practice.
Before the bowling began, Rodriguez said fifth-year senior Morgan Trent was the favorite to win because he brought his own ball and shoes. Trent wasn’t happy with his score as he rolled his first game and said it was just a warm-up. But he was quite pleased with his second-game finish of 198.
But the players didn’t lose focus of what the event was really about.
“As we go through conditioning and camp, you think that your life is hard and that practice is hard, you don’t feel like waking up and your legs are tired — you’ve got people out here that really has problems,” senior nose tackle Terrance Taylor said.
Brock comes to Ann Arbor three times a week to rehab at the U-M Medical Center. Sometimes when he’s in town, he watches practice.
Elliot hasn’t been able to practice because of the injuries he suffered in the accident and is likely to redshirt.
“He has lost the most in this and wants to be the strongest,” said Shelly Mealer, Elliot and Brock’s mother. “With the coaching staff, and O-line players and all the players at Michigan, they help him walk everyday. And they are his brothers, his new brothers on campus. And I’m just thankful he’s here.”