For Runyan family, blood runs thicker than Michigan ties in NCAA Tournament matchup

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Blood is thicker than alma mater, but Jon Runyan Sr. plans to represent both during the Michigan-Villanova second-round women’s NCAA Tournament game. You just might not know it.

Runyan, a Michigan All-American offensive lineman in 1995 and 14-year NFL veteran, will be in Crisler Center tonight watching his daughter, Bella Runyan, a sophomore guard for the No. 11-seed Wildcats. Michigan, the No. 3 seed, is 15-0 this season on its home court.

Villanova Wildcats' Bella Runyan (32) in action against the Seton Hall Pirates' during a women's college basketball game at Walsh Gym in South Orange, N.J. Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

Villanova (24-8) advanced with an upset of No. 6-seed BYU on Saturday, and Michigan (23-6) pummeled American, 74-39. The winner advances to the Sweet 16.

“It will be a little weird,” Runyan, now vice president of NFL Policy and Rules Administration, told The Detroit News of watching his daughter play against his alma mater. “When we were playing BYU, I had the Villanova half-zip on and then we stayed for the first half of the Michigan game, so I took the zip off and I had my Michigan T-shirt on under it.”

Runyan plans to wear a Michigan winged helmet T-shirt today that likely will go unseen under his Villanova sweatshirt.

“I don’t know that I’ll be able to pull that off again (today),” he said, laughing. “I’ll have it on, but I won’t be showing it.”

While he will be there for the 6 p.m. tipoff (ESPNU) to support his daughter, he admitted the connection to Michigan is strong for him. Jon Runyan Jr., Bella’s older brother who played offensive line for the Wolverines (2016-2019) and is now starting guard for the Green Bay Packers, also will be in the crowd.

More: Naz Hillmon stars for Michigan, but Leigha Brown could be 'difference-maker' in NCAA run

“My Michigan blood ties go twice as deep as my Villanova, between myself and my son playing here,” Runyan said, laughing.

He described Jon and Bella as having that “edginess” and “grittiness” as athletes. When Bella was younger, she prevailed upon her father to install a basketball hoop in the driveway. He dug the hole and made it happen for her.

Jon Runyan

“Give my son credit, he would go out and play with her, lean on her, body her up and get her used to physical contact like that and frustrate the crap out of her,” said Runyan, inducted last year into the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame (he said he will be rooting for Jon and the Packers when they play the Eagles next season). “I wasn’t able to move around like that with a bad wheel, but I could rebound and do stuff when we were shooting around working on drills.”

Bella Runyan is averaging 22.5 minutes this season and had six points and three assists in the Wildcats’ first-round win. Now they have to get through Michigan, unbeaten at home this season, and All-American Naz Hillmon, who is coming off her 15th double-double performance.

More: 'It means a ton': Michigan women look forward to friendly confines to open NCAA Tournament

“It’s gonna be a challenge. When you look at the physical matchups with Michigan, we’re way smaller,” Runyan said. 

Villanova, which boasts the Big East Player of the Year in Maddy Siegrist and had a huge win over UConn last month, reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018.

“It’s great not only for her but the school, especially on women’s side to be able get back in the NCAA and do what they’re doing and play on this big stage,” Runyan said. “It’s just awesome. I know they’re enjoying it and having fun.”

Twitter: @chengelis