The Wolverine

May 2021 Issue

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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62 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2021   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? His time in Miami also foreshad- owed the future. He played in the 2000 opener against Bowling Green, collecting gratifying, frustrating and humorous memories. "I had a pass breakup against Bowling Green," he said. "It still haunts me to this day. I felt like I should have picked off the pass. But it was a great experience. "I remember the wide receiver go- ing out. I ended up finding the game on YouTube and seeing the play. To this day, I still feel like I should have picked the ball off." That wasn't the only indignity involved. "The commentator got my name wrong," Smalls said, with a laugh. "At the time, Larry Stevens was a freshman. We both wore the number 13. He calls out Larry Stevens' name on the broadcast. My kids, to this day, they laugh and chuckle every time they see that clip. "They'll call me Larry, too. It's all in good fun. Larry's still a good friend of mine. We joke about that. The other commentator finally got my name right. I got a bit of camera time that day." He didn't get enough on-field time, although he still describes his Michi- gan football experience as "a dream come true." After the season, he con- sidered transferring, maybe calling up Jimmye Laycock, head coach at William & Mary. Forget it, Smalls' dad insisted dur- ing a memorable phone conversation. "He brought me back to reality," Smalls noted. "He said, 'That's not happening. You're going to stay there, finish up. If you're going to play, you're going to play there, but you're going to finish at the Univer- sity of Michigan.' "As mad as I was at my dad after that conversation, that's the best de- cision I could have made. Getting my degree from the University of Michigan, the lifelong friendships that were born out of that whole thing — guys from those teams were in my wedding. We still stay in close contact." He did finish his degree, working in the Michigan athletics department with former Wolverine tailback Jamie Morris. Smalls' assigned mentor was Warde Manuel, now the U-M direc- tor of athletics. "To see him back at Michigan is obviously very cool," Smalls offered. Smalls considered a career in or- thopedic surgery, prior to his first chemistry class. He quickly changed course, hoping to work in an NFL front office, armed with a law degree. He earned the latter at the Uni- versity of Miami, although insisting he never wanted to be a lawyer. The 2008 housing bubble bursting took real estate developer off the table, and he wound up doing what he vowed not to do. "It obviously turned out to be a really good decision," Smalls said. "I passed the bar, and went and got a job working for the city of Newport News, Va., as a prosecutor for the city. "It was an awesome opportunity, learning to try cases. I got the oppor- tunity to argue before the Supreme Court of Virginia while I was there. It was a really, really great experience." He eventually set up his own prac- tice, before getting appointed to a bench both coveted and impactful. "In the general district court, on the adult side, you see a lot of traffic cases, DUIs, people suing one an- other," he explained. "When you go to the Circuit Court side, you see a lot of criminal cases, civil stuff. "But on the juvenile side, in the J&DR court, you are making an im- pact on people's lives. The cases that come before the judges in those courts are so important, especially when you start talking about the young people that end up coming before that court. "I can't fathom the impact that the people that are involved in that pro- cess have on the people that come through the court system, whether in a civil or criminal case. It's so, so important. It really is an honor to be able to serve the community that raised me and made me into the per- son I am today." ❑ Smalls has recently been appointed judge over the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court of Williamsburg (Va.) and James City County. PHOTO COURTESY BRIAN SMALLS The Brian Smalls File Michigan Accomplishments: Played backup defensive back and special teams for the No. 5-ranked Wolverines in 1999 … Earned a Big Ten championship ring with the 2000 Wolverines, serving in the same capacities as a walk-on. Professional Accomplishments: Spent eight years in private practice as a lawyer, including a stint as Surry County (Va.) Commonwealth Attorney … Re- cently named judge over the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court of Williamsburg (Va.) and James City County. Education: Earned his Bachelor's in sports management and communications at Michigan in April 2003; received his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Miami in May 2006. Michigan Memory: "I remember one day, walking by Bo Schembechler's office in Schembechler Hall. Whenever you were in the building, you'd always kind of poke your head in and see if he had his door open. It just so happened, one day after practice, I came in and he was in his office. I poked my head in and just went in to shake his hand. "I remember saying, 'My name is Brian Smalls, and I'm a walk-on from Virginia.' He was like, 'I know who you are, Smalls.' We had a brief conversation, but that memory of Coach Schembechler saying he knew who I was … Here I was, a walk- on from Virginia. Not on anybody's Heisman list, or All-American, or anything. To me, that was one of the coolest moments." Family: His wife, Sonya, and he have one son, Brayden, 13, and one daughter, Brielle, 12.

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