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UM’s Rome trip reverberates with recruits back home

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Thomas Wilcher

Detroit — In their trip to Italy, the Michigan football team has had a whirlwind tour, visiting Rome, including stops at the Colosseum and to Vatican City.

It’s already made an impression on coach Jim Harbaugh and his current players, who will get around to three team practices beginning today.

More than that, though, it has the potential to pay some future dividends, as high school coaches and recruits around metro Detroit also are paying attention to the Wolverines’ European trip.

Detroit Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher, a Michigan alum, is impressed by the opportunity the trip is providing to players — not from a football perspective, but what could be added in their personal growth.

“It’s great whenever you can get impacted in your life by a situation that will give you more creativity in your thinking, make you look at a different culture and give you more insight you have here versus the environment in other settings,” Wilcher said.

“You grow more as a person and learn things and view life differently.”

It’s an eye-opening experience for many of the current Wolverines, but as Wilcher has groomed some of the top football players in the state over his long coaching career, he knows the importance of expanding young men’s horizons beyond their neighborhoods.

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It’s more about helping them become better men and helping them see that there are alternatives to what they see in the city. Wilcher said he’s sponsored workshops and seminars that focused on non-football topics to help make them more well-rounded.

“You view life as an inner-city kid from Detroit and all you see is people doing crazy things all the time and bad behavior,” Wilcher said. “That’s what you’re going to think: that’s what life is until you see people doing other things.

“You just want to be better and do whatever it takes to be better. We want to keep building on that because we want to increase their life skills.”

Belleville’s Devontae Dobbs, ranked among the top offensive linemen in the class of 2019, is considering Michigan and sees how beneficial the trip is, but it’s not going to determine his decision.

“It’s pretty interesting that they get to get out of the country and see something new and do something fun,” Dobbs said. “I would love to travel one day but it’s really a neutral response — not too good and not too good; it’s in between.

“I haven’t done that much reading on it and I didn’t know they met the Pope. I’ve just been really focused on staying in my books.”

King wide receiver/defensive back Jaeveyon Morton, a 2018 standout, also had heard about the Michigan trip and also was impressed.

“It gives me a positive impression; they’re doing nice things,” Morton said. “I would like it.”

For Wilcher, it’s not just a good opportunity for the Wolverines players to take an international trip and expand the Michigan brand internationally. While Michigan does a lot for student-athletes throughout the season, the Italy trip is a unique opportunity.

“How many kids can afford to do something like that? How many adults get to do something like that?” Wilcher said. “They’re just pushing the envelope to a different level. You’re just practicing in a different atmosphere. You’re going someplace (different) — and people still know who you are? That means something.”