Caleb Lavey tries on a Wolverines helmet and shoulder pads during a visit to the Michigan locker room in 2002. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lavey)
Not long ago it seemed predestined that the son of a Michigan Man would one day become one himself. Then a changing of the guard at the helm of the storied program weakened some of the allegiances that were previously sacrosanct. Now that Rich Rodriguez has been on the job for a little more than a year, the bridge to the open-minded contingent of the old Michigan guard appears to be strengthening. That development could very well help the Maize and Blue land one of the top linebackers in the south, Celina, Texas, standout Caleb Lavey.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Lavey is a Michigan legacy of sorts. His father Mike served as a team manager for the football program from 1975 through 1979. After graduating, his job search necessitated a move to Texas in the early 1980s, but his college football loyalty remained in the Great Lakes State. That virtually assured that any of his offspring would root for the Maize and Blue.
"He was raised a Michigan fan and we'd always watch the Michigan games," the elder Lavey said of his son. "Once a year we would make a road trip up to Ann Arbor. We had always gone to the stadium on Friday before the game. I remember taking him over to the stadium before the Ohio State game in '97."
Little did he know at that time that young Caleb might one day have the opportunity to don the uniform himself. Tenacity and intensity were always present in his son's play, but that outstanding size and speed eventually became part of it came as quite a surprise.
"We didn't think he was going to be 6-4," Mike said of Caleb. "We always knew he would be a player, but I never figured he would have the size to be a college-caliber player. I'm 5-9 and my wife is 5-7."
"My grandparents said that my parents didn't put a rock on my head when I was little," Caleb added laughingly. "My mom is actually tall for a girl. I think I got most of it from my mom's side of the family."
The origin of Lavey's size is inconsequential at this point. All that matters is he has it, and he puts it to good use. The ball-hawking backer is a disruptive force on the football field who often utilizes his self-reported 4.56 40 speed to track plays from sideline to sideline. At the same time, his high football IQ and love for the physical side of the game might be even bigger attributes.
Said Caleb, "I have a passion to hit. I live for big hits. I have a nose for the ball. The fastest way I can get to the ball, whatever it is, I'll do it. I like to play at the highest speed. When the ball is snapped, it's on! I get to the ball as fast as I can, and I just want to light the runner up."
Lavey lit up ball carriers an astonishing 200 times last season en route to leading his club to its third consecutive state title game. Along the way he also caught the attention of a number of big-time college coaches. His scholarship tally has now stands at 19, including offers from prominent programs like Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State, Stanford, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Each time a new suitor joins the fray, he begins gathering as much information on them as possible. A handful have already received unofficial visits, and his most recent trip took him back up to Ann Arbor.
"It was different because for so many years it was all the same guys," said Mr. Lavey. "Maybe a new one or two every year, but it was Bo (Schemblecher), and then (Gary) Moeller, and then Lloyd (Carr) and (Jerry) Hanlon was always there. There was clearly a new cast there this time, but some real quality guys. I feel like Michigan football is in good hands."
Young Lavey came away with a similar impression.
"I really like Coach Rodriguez," said Caleb. "He left me no doubt in my mind that he will be able to turn Michigan around. He's a great coach and a great guy. Me and my dad sat down and talked with him. We talked about the program and what his plans are. He has a great vision for Michigan and he'll be the coach that turns it around and turns it back into the national championship Michigan that it always has been."
Another trait that stood out was the vigor with which the players practiced. "It was just unbelievable how hyped up they were and how they were just getting after each other," Caleb reported. "It was great."
By the time the visit was over, the school that already possessed a built-in advantage of being Lavey's childhood favorite had received an undeniable boost.
"It definitely opened my eyes and moved Michigan up in the ranks," the talented youngster admitted. "I love Michigan and the distance really isn't a problem with me. It just depends on how it all happens - which (school) I feel most comfortable at. I would feel very comfortable with Michigan, so there is no doubt they are on high my list. I think I got all of the questions I had answered."
Now the wait is on to see if any other program can answer those questions as satisfactorily.
"We'll probably begin to narrow it down," Caleb said regarding his list. "I'm going to try and visit as many as I can. I want to make my decision during the summer so I can focus on the team that I'm still a part of."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine magazine and GoBlueWolverine.com, and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His column appears every Thursday.