There was a mix of former, soon to be former and current football letterwinners at Jacksonville University Thursday afternoon (Dec. 30) when Michigan conducted its last practice of 2010 for Saturday's Gator Bowl (Jan. 1).
The last practice is somewhat bittersweet. You have watched these student-athletes grow to adults in a four or five year time frame, and you wonder what the future will hold for the players leaving college life.
Today, they are being hoisted on the shoulders of their teammates as they are carried off the field for the final time at Michigan. Tomorrow, these same players will be headed into their 'real' lives. A career as a lawyer, dentist, sales rep, teacher, etc.
So it seemed apropos that today was also the day the U-M football M Club Letterwinners were invited to practice. This is the same group that sponsors the M Go Blue banner that the team touches as it runs out of the Michigan Stadium tunnel.
Max Richardson, a running back from the mid 70s, took advantage of the invitation. He is a close friend of former U-M running back Butch Woolfolk. He asked about Butch's son Troy, who suffered a broken leg in pre-season practice. Max asked "How he was doing."
Moments later, Troy Woolfolk and JT Floyd (who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in practice in early November) walked by Max. When Max found out it was Troy, the stories came out. Max laughed and told him "I used to change your diapers!"
The two talked. Max could not wait to call Butch, and he did immediately, enjoying the moment.
Michigan's great wide receiver from the late 1940's Gene Derricotte, a member of the University of Michigan Hall of Honor, also stopped by. Derricotte not only set many U-M football records from 1944 to 1948 and was a member of both the 1947 and 1948 Wolverine national championship football team; he was a Tuskegee Airman during World War II. A retired dentist from San Antonio, he traveled to Atlanta to meet his son before coming down for the game and the practice
His background on the gridiron and how he served our country in World War II made him a star once again on the football field, even though he was standing on the sidelines.
U-M's play-by-play announcer Frank Beckmann, an honorary M Club letterman, and others could not wait to talk to Gene after hearing of his exploits.
Equipment manager Jon Falk, also an honorary M Club letterman, made sure he shook the hand of every former player that came out, bringing a smile and a big laugh to all of them as he told a story from their era. And head medical trainer Paul Schmidt, an honorary M Club letterman, talked with many on the sidelines.
As practice came to a close, the letterwinners that stayed for the entire practice gathered to talk to Rich Rodriguez.
But before that happened, the former letterwinners watched the soon-to-be-former letterwinners get hoisted in the air and then carried off the field by their teammates.
As I watched the proceedings taking place, I -- yes, an honorary M Club letterman -- looked at our M Club lettermen and thought to myself if these players being carried off the field today have a life like those former players I have been with during this practice, Michigan and its coaching staff did their 'real' job -- building the young men to be leaders and the best.