UM’s Graham Glasgow puts his life in Grandma’s hands

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — This has the makings of a reality television show, but the reality is, this is the happiest Graham Glasgow has been at Michigan.

And he’s living with his 81-year-old grandmother, Carmella, in an apartment in downtown Ann Arbor.

Come again?

Early in the summer, when she moved in with her grandson, she worried about keeping up with the aqua aerobics classes she regularly attended at the YMCA back home in Illinois. Now what would she do?

“They told me to take Uber,” Carmella laughingly recalled, referencing her grandsons, Graham, Ryan and Jordan, all football players at Michigan, and the popular car service. “I said, ‘What is yuber?’

Angelique Chengelis talks about Glasgow, Saturday's UM-Northwestern game

Scratch that idea. So Graham, the Wolverines’ starting center and a leader on the team that is now ranked No. 18 with a 4-1 record as it prepares to face No. 13 Northwestern, decided to become her personal trainer. Together they hit the gym in the apartment building.

“I’d supervise her on the bike,” Graham said this week. “I’d tell her, ‘I don’t care how fast you pedal or how slow, you’re going for distance, Gma!’ I was pretty brutal.”

Carmella, nicknamed “Gma” (Gee-Mah), went along with the workouts, but not without some resistance.

“I’d get on the bike and say, ‘OK, you know what your father said. He said we should do this for five minutes. Why don’t you work out instead of watching me?’ ” she said. “And he’d say, ‘Grandma, no way.’ He did the same thing to me on the treadmill.”

Checkered past

The roots of this living arrangement lie in the off-field trouble that Glasgow, a fifth-year senior starting center, had become entwined. He was arrested on March 15, 2014 for drunken driving and three months later pleaded to a misdemeanor driving while visibly impaired. A year to the date of the initial arrest, a random test revealed he had violated probation by drinking. Probation was extended six months.

“It was around St. Pattie’s weekend,” Glasgow said. “I just made a bad decision again.”

But this time, the bad decision was made on new coach Jim Harbaugh’s watch. The previous year under then-coach Brady Hoke, Glasgow was suspended for a portion of spring football and the season opener. Glasgow didn’t know what to think.

“(Harbaugh) brought me in the office and that’s when I understood the severity and thought, ‘Uh-oh, something bad could happen,’ ” Glasgow said. “I’m happy things worked out the way they did. Instead of just giving me a whole bunch of punishment, he took a different approach than Coach Hoke would have. There would have been punishment and he would have threatened status.

“But Coach Harbaugh helped me outside of football and found me a different living arrangement where I wouldn’t make bad mistakes. I thought he was going to be really, really harsh. I heard he had a reputation of being, not hard on guys, but very stern and strict, and he ended up being very understanding, which I really appreciated. I love Coach Harbaugh. I know there’s no leeway. I have to do it his way. It’s cut and dry.”

Harbaugh phoned Glasgow’s father, Steve, and they discussed options. The first plan was to have Glasgow move back into the dorms, but a fifth-year senior moving into South Quad with freshmen didn’t seem like the right solution.

Enter a 5-foot-1 1/2 grandmother, called “the little Italian” in some circles.

Glasgow’s grandparents had been a part of his home life for as long as he can remember. They helped manage the household for their son and daughter-in-law, both orthopedic surgeons. So having Glasgow move out of the State Street house he shared with several football players to an apartment with his grandmother didn’t seem like a complete stretch.

“It’s good for her and good for me to have someone cook for me and wash my stuff and watch after me in some ways,” Glasgow said. “She gets to cruise the streets, walk around and do whatever she wants. But she’s the nosiest person I’ve ever known. She has to know everything. She’ll say, ‘You’re back a little later, why is that? Were you being smart, Graham?’ Oh, Grandma.”

Before camp and the start of football season, the two spent quality time together not only in the gym but watching popular television shows.

“At night I made him watch ‘Dancing with the Stars’,” said Carmella, whose husband has been in town for the last week. “He’d say, ‘No, no, no, I’m not going to watch Dancing with the Stars,’ and then if he’d miss a show he’d ask, ‘Who got knocked off?’”

Young at heart

For Carmella, this experience has allowed her to be close to her grandsons, the two oldest starting for the Wolverines and the youngest, Jordan, on the team as a preferred walk-on safety. She visits the house where Ryan, a defensive lineman, lives with several players and likes to do his laundry and often makes pasta dinners for them.

She goes to Mass every day at a church across the street and is grateful she can help her grandson.

Michigan center Graham Glasgow

“I’m an 81-year-old co-ed,” she said laughing. “I’m the only old lady on the elevator in the building. But this is a win-win for everybody. You know what I’m getting out of this? I see a lot of kids trying to find their way. They don’t know how they fit in yet. These are kids and, really, do we all know how we fit in yet?

“I’ve said to Graham, ‘You know, this is probably a blessing in disguise what happened,’ and he said, ‘You know, Grandma, I think you’re right.’ ”

For Glasgow, this has been an enormous lesson. His life now in his final year at Michigan, from which he will graduate with a degree in economics, is transparent, because it has to be. He remembered his father telling him before he left for Michigan that his actions on and off the field would be under a microscope. Glasgow brushed that off.

“What I do has bigger repercussions,” he said. “If I do something wrong, it’s news. I’m not a bad guy. I’m not trying to do the worst thing possible. I’m a college kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and made a bad decision

“I just don’t have anything to hide now. Everything I do is out there. I constantly am doing the right thing. There’s no leeway for me to mess up. It’s made me focus on what’s important, if that makes sense. What’s important is making sure I have the best season for my team. Part of me growing up was accepting what happened and making sure I take responsibility.”

His grandmother is here to help him maintain and offer guidance when needed, but Glasgow re-applied himself in the offseason and so far has had his best season.

“A lot of this has to do when I got in trouble,” he said. “I really focused on what I can do to have the best possible season. That meant not drinking, of course, I ate right for those five months and did everything I could do in the weight room. In a way, it ended up being a silver-lining thing. It sort of refocuses your life and you can prioritize what’s important.”

He said he’s had the best time his career. He has taken the lead in Thursday night film-quiz sessions with his fellow offensive linemen, flipping through clips and asking them to identify what defense they’re facing and what they need to do. He said the team seems rejuvenated and knows he raised some eyebrows after the season-opening loss at Utah when he said he felt better after that loss than he did after wins last season when Michigan was 5-7.

“Some people might have thought what I said was terrible, but I meant it — I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Glasgow said. “I’d have to say part of (being upbeat) is the atmosphere of campus and the overall attitude of the team. There’s a lot of optimism. It’s the overall feeling and attitude our coaches give us. Last year, we would be getting ripped after losses and ripped even after we’d win. I’m sort of used to the yelling. There was a lot of yelling. These coaches are positive and focus on how we can improve.

“I’m very thankful Coach Harbaugh became our coach after Coach Hoke was fired. It was terrible how it worked out for Coach Hoke, but it worked out for us. This has been a great experience. This has been amazing. This year has just been more fun than past years.”