Oct. 6, 2011
By Bruce Madej
He became a prominent athlete in high school and went on to become one of Michigan's top receivers. He also was one of Michigan's last two-sport student-athletes, playing basketball with the Wolverines in 1997.
Now, Tai Streets is mastering his craft with a new chapter in life.
The soft-spoken, mild-mannered Streets played five years in the pros after he left U-M. During that time and then through the last seven years, Streets has continued to hone his love for sports and young people. Streets is an in-school supervisor at Thornton High School in Harvey, Ill., and is a freshman football and basketball coach.
"I have been very fortunate," said Streets. "I have been able to do what I want to do after my pro career was over. I love sports and I love coaching."
While football was his ticket to the U-M and then on to the pros as a second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, Streets' background in baseball, track and especially basketball has given him an opportunity to see the different sides of student-athletes.
"When I went over to play on the Michigan basketball team in 1997, it was neat to see how that team interacted, it was a different atmosphere," said Streets. "It was so much more laid back and relaxed than what I was used to. In football, you have to have a certain edge or you won't make it."
The football edge, his knowledge of basketball and timing played out well for what was to follow.
Streets became a driving force in mentoring and coaching young men in Chicago, helping reshape the AAU program in his hometown.
"I started helping out during the summers when I was playing for San Francisco," said Streets. "Since it's so expensive to live in San Francisco, the team would let you go home during the summer, and because it was summer, it was easier to help out with basketball."
"This allowed me to help coach and work with young people in the Chicago area -- especially in basketball."
Streets was an outstanding athlete coming out of high school. He was heavily recruited by a few Big Ten schools and especially Notre Dame.
"Notre Dame was really recruiting me," said Streets. "Then they backed off."
It seemed Notre Dame was more intent on bringing in Randy Moss as wide receiver at that time. When that broke down, Notre Dame came back for Streets.
By that time, he was being recruited by Michigan assistant coach Les Miles.
"Les was relentless, he could have been a used car salesman," laughed Streets. "He sold me on Michigan."
When Miles left Michigan, it was Lloyd Carr who came in to close the deal.
Streets loved every bit of his time at Michigan, even when he was on the sidelines as a freshman.
"I remember that Virginia game when we came back to win as Scott (Dreisbach) hit Mercury (Hayes) with that touchdown pass," said Streets. "I said to myself, 'Wow, this is what college football is all about.'
"Then I was able to watch Tim Biakabutuka run for all those yards at the end of the season," added Streets. "He was a great back."
Tai Streets is a humble person, and trying to get him to talk about his career at U-M or in the pros is not easy. And what a career he had, especially at Michigan.
He still ranks in the top seven of career receptions, yards and touchdowns, and only two U-M players have ever caught more passes in one game for the Wolverines (Streets had 12 receptions against Northwestern as a sophomore).
He played on the 1997 Michigan national championship team, the 1997 NIT (vacated) basketball championship team, and was named football MVP in 1998.
The 13-9 comeback win at Ohio State in '96 was sparked by the 78-yard Brian Griese to Streets TD pass in the third quarter. When Streets was asked about the play, all he says is, "It was just a slant pattern. Shawn Springs (OSU) slipped a little bit and Griese laid the ball in there, and all I had to do is catch it and run."
Springs, by the way, was considered one of the top defensive backs in the nation, and the TD gave U-M its first points in that game!
Even when he talks about the 1997 season, he talks about the great defense with Glen Steele, Sam Sword and, of course, Charles Woodson and how they gave the offense a chance to make the plays to win the game.
What about the 1998 Rose Bowl win over Washington State to give U-M the national championship?
"Of course that was one of the greatest days of my career," said Streets. "The atmosphere was unbelievable and I was able to contribute."
Now, the humble Streets hopes to expand his sights in athletics and mentoring. He would like to coach and he'd like to teach football and basketball on a higher level.
Former U-M running back David Underwood and Streets are planning on developing football camps in the Dallas area where Underwood is now living.
"I learned a lot from people like (strength coach) Mike Gittleson, Lloyd Carr and (receivers coach) Erik Campbell," said Streets. "They were the ones who helped me grow up and learn so much.
"It was tough, but I owe my professional development to them."