Different teams, same spirit: Michigan football is common bond for brothers

Julie Walker Altesleben
The Detroit News
Nathan Grodman, left, and brother Louis Grodman are pictured after a game at the Big House.

Ann Arbor – They fist-bump in the tunnel before every game. Then the Grodman brothers run to their respective areas of the Big House. Neither athlete chose Michigan for its sports. A path of undergraduate degree to medical school drew them to Ann Arbor.

But sports got them to that tunnel, and sports helped them carve their places in college. It’s on campus and in those tunnel meets that the brothers from an already close family grew closer.

Michigan fifth-year senior Louis Grodman, 22, is a backup defensive back/special teams player for the Wolverines. His brother, Nathan Grodman, 20, is a junior on the UM cheerleading team.

Louis said their close-knit family helped him while working toward his football goals. He had played golf and football all four high school years, playing mostly safety, with shifts at quarterback and wide receiver, at Walled Lake Northern.

After deciding fraternity life wasn’t for him, Grodman joined UM’s rugby team. There he learned about football walk-on tryouts, with a clean physical the only requirement to participate. Grodman said the tryouts were NFL combine-style.

“Then I made the team, and I definitely found my place,” Louis said. “I just love being on the football team. It’s been a great experience.”

“I have learned a lot about myself and how to work through hardships and push through adversity and doubt of myself, with the help of others.”

Louis Grodman played youth football for the Multi-Lake Gators.

Louis said not playing or traveling with the team at first weighed on him. His support system of Nathan, their parents, sister, friends and teammates helped him stay focused. Grodman strived to set a good example for work ethic and behavior on and off the field, grinding daily for playing time. He finally made his debut in 2018, on special teams against Western Michigan, and earned his letter.

Nathan also found his campus niche via a walk-on tryout – the only way to join cheer since the team can’t recruit or offer scholarships. The NCAA doesn’t recognize cheer as a sport; the squad competes within the National Cheerleaders Association.

Michigan’s cheer team won the NCA national championship last year in Daytona Beach, Fla., competing after the conclusion of a regular season that includes football, and men’s and women’s basketball.

Nathan Grodman competes as a young gymnast for the Michigan Academy of Gymnastics in Westland.

Like Louis, Nathan hoped to find a club that fit his interests. A friend from home suggested his gymnastics background might jibe well with cheer.

Nathan had participated in diving and tennis in high school after a freak injury curbed his gymnastics career in eighth grade.

“I landed short and my leg just snapped,” Nathan said. “My tibia and fibula just shattered. That ended that.”

He said the overlap between gymnastics and cheer helped him, though he still had to learn the cheers and how to stunt, or hold up the women, in formations. Now in his third year on the squad, he knows he’s found his spot and said he’s met some of his best friends on the team.

He also can attend road games now. Cheerleaders, too, must earn traveling stripes, a right reserved for upperclassmen. Only eight of the 40-member squad travels. The athletes choose their preferred away games, and seniority decides the rest.  

Louis Grodman, left, is a fifth-year senior on the Michigan football team while Nathan Grodman is a junior on the UM cheerleading team.

The intersection of their squads help the Grodmans stay in touch, but they also try to make time to hang out. They did Sunday dinners together, roomed together last year, and both volunteer at a local hospital via an athletics department program.

Angela Lentz, their counselor at Northern, said the Grodmans are great students and people. A younger sister, Heidi Grodman, 19, graduated from Northern in 2018 and attends Michigan State.

“Both of those young men are talented, genuine, compassionate, and always put a smile on everyone's face,” Lentz said. “Their younger sister, Heidi, has the same characteristics of a strong work-ethic, sense of integrity, and deep-rooted family values.”

That Louis and Nathan ended up at Michigan is surprising, considering that their parents are Michigan State graduates.  

Robert and Lisa Grodman, both 51, met as freshmen at MSU and celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in May. Lisa, a retired speech pathologist, and Robert, a practicing cardiologist, said they were happy that all three kids plan to pursue medicine careers – Louis wants to work in kinesiology, Nathan in pediatric oncology and Heidi in occupational therapy – but they didn’t influence their choices there or in which school they attended.

“We’re very happy and fortunate that they’re all in-state,” Lisa Grodman said.

Now Lisa and Robert don Wolverines gear, attending all games, home or away.

“We do have a ‘house divided’ flag, though,” Lisa points out.

Robert said this year’s Michigan at Penn State game, outcome aside, was especially enjoyable because both sons got to travel with their teams. Of course, keeping an eye on both isn’t always easy.

“We definitely get some whiplash,” Lisa said, laughing.

This week, Heidi, who did follow in her parents’ footsteps to East Lansing, will come to Ann Arbor for the big game.

She says the siblings have fun during rivalry week.

“We exchange texts and stuff,” Heidi said, adding that Saturday will divide her support. She plans to tailgate with her sorority and Spartans friends before the game, then meet up with and sit with her family during. She plans on green and white attire, save for a blue No. 32 on her cheek to represent Louis. It’s the last rivalry game for Louis, who graduates in December.

And their family will support from the stands, watching from the moment Nathan and his squad runs out onto the field after the fist-bump, until the last seconds tick away.

Robert Grodman said his sons have added a new postgame tradition: “Louis comes over to the senior section and gives Nathan a hug, then they fist-bump again.”

Michigan State at Michigan

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: Fox/760, 950

Records: Michigan State 4-5, 2-4 Big Ten; Michigan 7-2, 4-2

Line: Michigan by 14