Michigan players, staff draw closer on trip to France

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Paris — This is the last time senior safety Tyree Kinnel will be on a Michigan spring trip overseas, and while the full itinerary of excursions and events were beyond memorable, his biggest takeaway was being with his teammates.

In its largest sense, the Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh-led trips to Europe the last two years have been about team bonding. They’ve also been about a widely varied itinerary that has included sightseeing and community service.

But mostly, it has been about the players.

The trip concluded Wednesday with a walk from the team hotel about a mile and a half to the Eiffel Tower and then a visit to the U.S. Embassy. Among the events, the Wolverines visited the Louvre and Versailles, they traveled to Normandy for the most moving of experiences and returned to Paris to participate in community service by spending time with the homeless.

“Just being here with the team, just sticking together as a team and doing everything as a team and learning each other a little bit more than we normally do than just going to camp and practice all the time and classes,” Kinnel said this week when asked the best part of being in Paris. We get to know a little bit more about each other on this trip.”

It was also a chance to expand relationships with teammates they might not have known as well as others. Kinnel roomed with defensive back Matt Mitchell in Paris.

“I know him from football side,” Kinnel said. “I don’t really know him from outside football because how busy we are with classes and when we do have free time a lot of us go home. I got to learn a lot about him this week. A couple other guys, too. It’s good being around a lot of people you’re not used to.”

Offensive lineman Grant Newsome said the concentrated time in Paris together as a team allowed players to draw closer.

“I feel like we all know everyone on the team, but you definitely get to know them better,” Newsome said. “Anytime you have an experience like this where you get to be together outside football, obviously we hang out some in Ann Arbor outside football, but having a whole week dedicated to fellowship and spending time together as a team and bonding a team, t I think it’s an incredible experience.”

Linebackers coach Al Washington, a newcomer to the staff, said before the trip that from the outside looking in last year, he admired what Michigan did taking the team to Rome.

Washington used the time to get to better know his players and also the staff. He said he enjoyed having meals with his players and colleagues, and said he has a better feel for everyone.

“This is unbelievable and really kind of puts everything in perspective,” Washington said. “Everything from history, we learned about details of our country and World War II, which was amazing going to Normandy, and then just culturally here. Everything from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, Versailles, so it’s just amazing and puts everything in perspective.”

Linebacker Peter Bush was part of a group that visited with refugees Tuesday. The team made ham and cheese sandwiches and many distributed to homeless around the city.

Bush said talking to the refugees — although there was a language barrier — was a particularly significant event.

“Incredible. Life changing,” he said of the refugee camp, which he said was among the key highlights of his trip. “Just getting to meet those men. Along with that I would say the Normandy beaches. Omaha Beach, to think that thousands of people died in 100 days, and hundreds on even one day alone is something you’re having to take in. You feel blessed and humbled by it.”

The entirety of the trip blew him away.

“I mean the fact that we’re able to do this,” Bush said. “The university is generous enough to give us the opportunity to be here, the fact that we got the opportunity to go to the Eiffel Tower, meet refugees, immerse ourselves in the city for a week is something a lot of people don’t get to do, and I feel blessed.”

Washington said that while it was important to get to know the linebackers better, he used the time to also get to know the other players he doesn’t coach.

“Just being around them and getting to know their personalities, and you see it happening amongst themselves,” Washington said. “They’ve also being able to connect.

“We were on the bus ride back from Normandy, you’d think guys are asleep, but they’re back there playing charades, doing some things. Having a ball, and that’s pretty cool.”