Michigan walk-on Files aces tryout, wins spot

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan freshman Joey Files was a member of the crew team, but he’s giving that up for football.

During Christmas break, freshman Joey Files was at his Lake Orion home with his little brothers wondering aloud about things they miss.

Danny and Ben made their revelations, and then it was Joey’s turn.

“I miss football,” his mother, Christine Stephens, heard her oldest say.

Files was a standout football player at Cranbrook-Kingswood High, where he also played basketball and lacrosse, and was an excellent student. He arrived at Michigan last fall eager to pursue medicine, taking 17 credit hours. He also participated on the crew team, a sport he never had tried.

But football for the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Files, who played offensive and defensive line in high school, is a passion. He had some interest from Division II and III schools, but he ultimately chose Michigan because of his medical aspirations.

He had toyed with the idea of walking on the football team, and after that Christmas discussion, his mother encouraged him.

“I said, ‘What’s the harm in trying?’ ” Stephens said.

When he heard about an open tryout Jan. 23, Files knew he had to give it a shot.

“The worst thing that could happen, I don’t make the team and still be with my friends on the crew team,” Files said.

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Files arrived at the designated time, pulled on a jersey and went through a warmup. He was weighed and measured, ran some timed sprints, performed agility drills and then hit the bench press. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was there, which Files didn’t expect, and was running the first part of the tryout.

About 50 others participated, and Files said he felt OK about his chances since his aerobic base, thanks to rowing, is strong, and he’s big — his playing weight is 275, but he lost about 35 while rowing. His upper body strength in terms of lifting wasn’t as he had hoped, but he left the tryout knowing he tried his hardest.

“I thought I was sort of slow with the 40, and the bench press was set at 225, and I couldn’t bench that,” Files said. “I thought, ‘I’m too slow, I’m too weak.’ ”

Two days later, as he headed to a late lab, he happened to look at his email and found a message from Michigan football welcoming him to the team. He expects to play tight end.

“I was really just stunned and thought, ‘Holy cow, I’m now part of this program,’ ” Files said. “No matter how small a part I play, I’m part of this program.”

Joey Files played on the offensive and defensive lines at Cranbrook-Kingswood, but he will be a tight end at Michigan.

Then came the fun part — calling his parents, who happen to be diehard Michigan State fans. Christine Stephens, an attorney in Oxford, and her husband, Bob Files, have undergraduate degrees from Michigan State. She went on to Detroit College of Law, now Michigan State’s law school, and Bob received his master’s in engineering from UM Dearborn.

“He was already leaning toward the UM thing,” she said, laughing.

The family started flying a great divide flag — half Michigan State, half Michigan — when Joey enrolled at Michigan, and, yes, their friends are jokingly giving them some flak now that Joey is not only a Michigan student, but a football player.

But everyone knows how thick blood is.

“I’m so proud of Joey,” Christine said, before adding what she probably never imagined she’d ever say.

“I’m a huge Wolverine fan now. When Joey called us and told us, I’m screaming into the phone, ‘This is amazing!’ ”

Files said he has heard from Michigan State family and friends, who already were giving him a hard time for going to Michigan.

“Getting into Michigan and now making the team it’s like, ‘Come on. really, Joey?’ ” he said, laughing.

Files and the others who made the team are currently going through workouts. They lift weights Mondays and Wednesdays, run Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Friday is a heavier workout.

“They’re pretty tough,” Files said. “At Cranbrook, I was the biggest guy on the field regardless who we played. Now guys have an inch or two and close to 70 pounds on me.”

Harbaugh led Michigan to a 10-3 record last fall in his first season, doubling the number of victories from 2014. Files said Harbaugh has a “wow” factor and feels privileged to be on the team.

"I’m more than happy playing the role I have,” Files said. “It’s obviously a fantastic opportunity and a fantastic experience. 
“It’s definitely a privilege to be involved with the team at all. I’m definitely looking forward to putting in the work, getting in reps against really good guys. God willing, if I ever get my chance, I’d embrace it. But I’m more than happy with my role, being there and working my butt off.”