Bennie Joppru and his older brother J.J. had a love-hate relationship. Separated by three years in age and a galaxy in maturity, Bennie and J.J. always seemed to know exactly how to push each other’s buttons during their early childhood years. And they always ended up scrapping somehow.
“Bennie was more of the jokester and would take a poke at his more serious brother and run away from him,” said Sheldon Joppru, Bennie’s father. “Bennie couldn’t beat his older brother, but he was always good at cheap shots.”
But one day Sheldon decided enough was enough. He bought boxing gloves for each of his oldest sons and told them to settle their arguments in the living room with a few rounds – while their mom, Kay, anxiously watched with disapproval.
“We used to fight like cats and dogs,” said J.J., 25, who played football at Arizona. “I was always his biggest fan, but his harshest critic.”
J.J. was also Bennie’s mentor, and fiercest opponent. Bennie remembered one time while playing an imaginative baseball game of “greatest catches” – where each brother would toss the baseball ahead of the other so they could make spectacular diving grabs – when he led J.J. too far with a throw – right smack into a tree.
Was it on purpose? “Maybe a little subconsciously,” Bennie said with a grin.
Bennie may have been the practical joker in the family, but was as focused as a doctor performing brain surgery while playing baseball, basketball, football – and even hockey as a kid.
Growing up in Wayzata, Minn., where hockey was as big as the Beatles, Bennie became a “rink rat,” spending nearly 10 hours each day on a local outdoor pond playing “boot hockey” with kids nearly twice his age. Bennie said he even played against some of the stars of the famous Disney movie “The Mighty Ducks,” which was shot at the same arena he played in.
And whenever Bennie played, he’d be the first pick.
“Kids in high school would call Bennie when he was like eight years old to play – because he could play goalie, and play it well,” Sheldon said.
Kay Joppru said the reason Bennie played goal was because he scored close to 100 goals while playing hockey at age 6 – and his coach forced him between the pipes to keep him off the scoreboard.
“He was so driven and motivated,” said Kay. “He had so much energy, like a motor that would never stop running.”
Bennie still has that same energy, the same smirk on his face – and admittedly, the same immaturity he had when he fought his brother at home. Now, as captain of the Wolverines, he said he’s taking major steps in trying to grow up, learn from his past mistakes and fulfill his potential at tight end for the Wolverines.
“I realize there’s a time for partying and fun and a time for being serious,” Bennie said. “I may have not always felt that way, but what happened this spring put things into perspective for me.”
Joppru said he was surprised to still be playing for Michigan, much less earn the sacred honor of being named captain by his teammates this summer.
He didn’t know if his friends, teammates and coaches had forgiven him for his admittedly “immature” act of getting arrested after fighting with Michigan wrestler Mike Kulczycki outside Rick’s American Caf