Snow is an ordinary occurrence in the state of Michigan, but this winter’s accumulation has been a bit much even for lifelong residents. The fourth largest snowfall in the state’s history has already been recorded, and the blizzard conditions last Friday almost derailed Bryce McNeal planned visit to Ann Arbor. His resulting disappointment was muted when his father informed him that they would instead check out the Maize & Blue the following Monday. Now that the trip has come and gone, Mr. McNeal is extremely happy about his decision to reschedule trip because it gave him a chance to see what the Wolverines have to offer with his son, and he couldn’t be more impressed.
“They were really good, down to earth people,” Mr. McNeal said. “They really emphasized the education. Even the strength & conditioning coach. Everybody I talked to was focused on that education. That’s one of the biggest things. You hear schools say it, but they really just want to win and get money into the program. Michigan made sure education was on the top of the list with the rest of the stuff. No matter what department I was in, they focused on graduating a high percentage of their athletes.”
Heading into the visit Mr. McNeal was already familiar with the strong tradition and Michigan, but seeing it up close still made a significant impact.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “Just look at the history if Michigan… they’re going to win. They always win and they’re on TV. You can’t get a program any better than that. The thing I love the most is if my son does go there, he is going to be in the coach’s first recruiting class.”
As is seemingly the case with every recruit that travels to Ann Arbor, the McNeals found that their interaction with strength coach Mike Barwis was one of the most memorable aspects of the trip.
“He is a great motivator,” McNeal said of Barwis. “I asked him could I sign up (laughing). He makes you want to pay attention. He’s not boring, he is really active, and he is passionate about it. It ain't about the money man. He is a people person. He is hands on. He is just one of those guys that makes you pay attention. He wants to help you… not to just get big and strong… he wants to make you quick too.”
Barwis’ expertise was on full display in the current Michigan athletes he is molding. The physical progress of one player in particular resonated with the McNeals.
“There’s a guy that just came in from Houston, Texas (Darryl Stonum) at between 170 and 180 and in three months he is 195 and he is quicker,” McNeal exclaimed! “When we went to Iowa they had these big strong guys… they want to get big and strong and see who can lift the most. Barwis is about everything… your balance, your strength, and you quickness. He even showed my son a couple of things. Some guys will go to Michigan just because of him.”
Based on the impression Barwis made, it seemed as if he would be the visit’s main course. But as it turns out, he was just the appetizer. Rich Rodriguez’s pitch to lure the talented youngster into the fold was very compelling.
“They compared Bryce to (former West Virginia and current Cincinnati Bengals wideout) Chris Henry,” Mr. McNeal recalled. “They said he could come in and play outside receiver. He is the kind of guy they’re looking for. He said when they travel he takes nine receivers. He was being really honest with us. He said, ‘I’m new here and a lot of stuff before I got here.’ They just signed this big contract with Adidas. He had nothing to do with that. That was before he came in. He said he didn’t take this job because of the money. He could go to the NFL if he wanted to, but he doesn’t want to go to the NFL. He said his son is nine, and when his son gets done, he wants to retire. Michigan is the last place he’ll end up. He has been coaching for 17 years. He isn’t going anywhere else.
“He just was keeping it real,” Mr. McNeal continued. “I’ve coached and I’ve been around and I’ve seen coaches feed kids a lot of BS. I didn’t get that impression. He even asked my girlfriend what she does and where she’s from. It wasn’t all about football. It was about a variety of stuff. It was a well rounded experience.”
Stay tuned to part two of GoBlueWolverine’s feature on Bryce McNeal
for word from the young man himself.