Michigan football team fired up for Italian adventure

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan running back Ty Isaac

Ann Arbor — Flying is not Michigan running back Ty Isaac’s favorite thing to do.

“I hate flying,” he said recently.

He has spent some time strategizing how he will handle the nine-hour flight from Detroit to Rome when the majority of the team travels on Saturday for a unique sightseeing and educational trip that will also include the Wolverines’ final three spring football practices.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said 99 of the players are expected to make the trip to Rome, some with later departures while finishing exams. Because the trip is optional, a few, he said, have decided not to go and some have classwork to complete that will not give them enough time to make the journey.

For the majority of the players, this will be their first trip overseas.

“I have to get over the flight, but other than that we’ll be good to go,” Isaac said. “I have to figure out how I can make it. I might stay up all night the night before. I’ve got to figure something out.”

They all have said they’re excited about the opportunity to see Rome and experience a new culture during a trip that will include among many other activities, an audience with the Pope, cooking school, an opera and Gladiator school.

Study-abroad trips ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ for UM players

Their final three days, April 27-29, the team will have three, one hour 45-minute practices.

“What we hope to accomplish is making it the best experience in these youngsters’ lives up until this point,” said Harbaugh, who last year took his team to IMG Academy in Florida during spring break and held four practices.

Harbaugh and his wife, Sarah, will see their infant son, John, baptized at the Vatican.

Many of the players are staying in Europe after the Rome trip and will backpack to different countries before participating in three-week study-abroad programs.

“They’re the only ones in college football who are going to get that opportunity this year, so you don’t take that for granted,” Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said.

The trip is being funded by a Michigan donor who wishes to remain anonymous.

“We’re so excited,” quarterback Wilton Speight said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity. I’ve never been to Europe. There’s only a select few that have been to Europe on our team. To do that from someone else’s donation, that’s pretty spectacular.”

Many of the players said they are most looking forward to visiting the Colosseum — the team will have an extensive sightseeing trip through ancient Rome on one day — and also the Vatican. Brown’s message of not taking the trip for granted apparently has sunk in.

“It’s incredible what Coach does for us,” defensive lineman Carlo Kemp said. “I don’t even know if I’d be able to go to Italy in my lifetime, but because of Coach, he makes everything possible. And being able to take a whole team to Rome and be there for a week, practice with the guys you see 24-7, there’s not a better experience I can think of than that. Seeing a whole part of the world I haven’t seen before with some of my best friends for life and just get to experience this first experience together.”

Harbaugh has frequently discussed putting the “college back into college football,” and he sees this type of team bonding and building as a logical extension. His staff and players have completely bought in to the idea of sharing this adventure together.

“To be able to take the players over there — my wife’s going to come — to experience that as a team, what a great team bonding and share with the Italian people the American game of football,” offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said. “And take our players to different places and see the great history of Europe and Italy, there’s nothing better than that. Than guys getting on a plane and staying together and practicing over there. It’s going to be a phenomenal experience. It’s going to be fun.”

Brown was only half-joking when he said he will be also working on game prep for the Air Force game on Sept. 16 while he’s overseas.

“For me, we’ve got three more practices,” he said. “I’ve got to think about getting ready for Air Force and the triple option, so that’s going to be the majority of my time. I’m looking forward to going to Rome. Coach has really got a tremendous plan for our players to experience that culture. Pretty excited.”

Rashan Gary and Devin Bush are among those who plan to head back to Ann Arbor once the Rome trip concludes.

“I’ve never been out of the country,” Gary said. “I’m looking way forward to that. More team bonding, becoming more like brothers. (Then) I’m going to come back here and stay in my little routine, working out, fine-tuning my game. Going to take a couple days off but I’m going to get back at it.”

Roman holiday 

Here are some of the things, besides visiting the Vatican, on Michigan’s agenda for the trip to Italy:

1. When in Rome … The team will spend a day sightseeing and visiting the ancient wonders of the city, including the Colosseum – which is high on the priority lists of most of the players – the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and Forum.

2. Time for culture: How can you not experience opera when in Rome? The team will take in one opera that will feature a number of arias from some of the most famous operas ever written. In this form, it will give them a feel for music and type of signing.

3. Who doesn’t want to be a Gladiator? The players will learn Roman history and sport when they get hands-on instruction and learn how to fight with authentic weapons. They also will wear a traditional gladiator tunic and belt.

4. Cook like an Italian: Italian food is a staple of many American diets, and that goes way beyond pizza. The team will attend cooking school and learn to do more than just boil water for pasta.

5. Kick like an Italian: The Italians certainly are familiar with futbol, but what about American football? The team will hold a coaching clinic while there and will work to share American football with youngsters.