Harbaugh, players salute Michigan’s newest recruit

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor – Michigan does not have a game to prepare for this week, but that hasn’t stopped the Wolverines’ recruiting efforts.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, during a news conference Tuesday night, announced the honorary signing of 15-year-old Larry Prout Jr. of Howell. Prout was born with spina bifida, cloacal exstrophy, short gut syndrome and several additional illnesses that have forced him to endure 90 surgeries and counting at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Through Team IMPACT, a Boston-based non-profit with the mission is to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of the team, Prout has officially joined his favorite, Michigan, of which he has been a lifelong fan.

Prout, seated next to Michigan quarterback John O’Korn, Harbaugh, Team IMPACT executive director Seth Rosenzweig, and Prout’s parents, Kathy and Larry Sr., is grateful to be a Wolverine. O’Korn handed him a number of Michigan accessories, including gloves he quickly tried on.

“I stand here as just one of the stories that could be told about many sick children and their families across the country,” Prout said, reading from a statement he prepared. “My heart goes out to all families of children with chronic illness.”

Harbaugh believes Prout will add depth to the team.

“Our team just got bigger,” Harbaugh said. “It’s an honor to share our sideline with Larry. He’s been to two games so far this year, we’ve won them both.

“We feel like we’re drawing the long straw on this one to have Larry part of our team.  You’re an inspiration to all of us.”

It won’t take long for Prout to learn the playbook, Harbaugh said.

“Larry’s quick, as you can tell, just as sharp as can be,” he said. “It’s been love at first sight, and that’s the best kind of love. Larry’s loved us, and we loved him right back. He’s been all in from birth as he said. There were no other teams. There were no other visits he took. He was all in for Michigan, and we’re all in for Larry.

“He’s had a big impact on all of us, especially our players. Those teammates have connected. You wish the surgeries and adversities and illness wouldn’t affect anybody until they’ve grown up, but to have Mott Children’s Hospital and the U-M Health System, we all feel very blessed. As long as he keeps bringing the wins. We like that part of it as well. He’s a cool guy. He’s a cool cat. A good dude.”

O’Korn, who had previously worked with Team IMPACT while a student at Houston, met Larry last summer. They became fast friends.

“Right from the start, knew this guy was special and his whole family is special,” O’Korn said. “Just hit it off. Stayed in touch ever since. Like coach said, we feel like we’ve drawn the long straw on this one. Larry has been such a blessing, a great add to our team. Every day I’m scrolling down Facebook, and I see his mom’s posts about him. So we stay in touch every day. It’s not just a once-every-few-weeks thing.”

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Prout has been home-schooled and he and his mother, Kathy, write children’s stories together and someday hope to help other kids going through similar medical problems. She said her son has an extremely high threshold for pain, doesn’t cry and has taught himself coping mechanisms for all the unpleasantness he has had to deal with.

Nothing scares him, she said.

When Larry, who has three older brothers and two older sisters, was born, he immediately was placed on a ventilator.

“Larry’s been asked to do so much,” Larry Sr. said. “As a baby, he was born into pain, he was born into surgeries. He’s been asked to do so much.

“Look where he is now. He started walking when he was 9, and to accomplish all these things and be part of something as big as U-M football, it’s amazing.”

Young Larry attended all of his sibling’s games and activities. Kathy said he was on a tracheostomy that had to be suctioned during the games while he cheered them on.

“Larry did say this is something he can bring them to,” said Kathy, who pointed out her children who were able to attend the event. “So he’s bringing them to his team.”

Michigan defensive lineman Taco Charlton, who joined several other teammates in the audience for the news conference, said the players have learned plenty from Larry Prout Jr.

“It shows you that this game is bigger than just football,” Charlton said. “It shows you how much this game can impact somebody that you never knew would ever be impacted by this game. Seeing that we can inspire people who are going through such hard times to keep fighting, it adds to what we do on that field and how hard we work, and we see we can inspire kids all over the world to keep striving.

“He shows you, as a football player, we think we’re strong but that’s real strength right there, to go through all those surgeries and keep going. That’s some strength a lot of us probably couldn’t bear or think about going through.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com: @chengelis