The Wolverine

October 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 68 of 75

OCTOBER 2017 THE WOLVERINE 69 BY JOHN BORTON D r. Eric Mayes didn't wait for opportunity to knock, or even tap lightly. He dove through the window and cre- ated chances for himself, all along the way. From Michigan to Howard to Harvard, the 1997 football cap- tain just kept on tackling chal- lenges. In his view, Ann Arbor served as his launching pad. Even reaching the Univer- sity of Michigan represented a stretch for the stars. Earn- ing a scholarship, getting on the field and becoming cap- tain of what would become a national championship team? Maybe in a Disney movie. It all happened, for someone born in Benton Harbor, Mich., to a family with no back- ground of college attendance and a football affinity for Notre Dame. Mayes' older brother sold football programs at Irish games, but one day the younger sib- ling helped stop them cold. The all-state performer out of Por- tage Northern High School didn't follow a seamless path to a winged helmet. He attended Xavier in New Orleans for a year, returned home- sick and applied to Michigan and Michigan State. Mayes, always a strong student, noted Michigan State lost his tran- script, and he found a home among the Wolverines. "I bought the book The Fab Five, and I read it," he recalled. "There was no question Michigan was where I wanted to be." Mayes enrolled in the fall of 1994 as a regular student, but always felt he could rise above the crowd. He definitely believed that during one of the darkest moments in Michigan Stadium in the past quarter century. The last-second loss to Colorado sucked the life out of The Big House, and fans felt helpless to do anything. One took a different approach. "I'm sitting in the stands as Kordell Stewart rolls out and throws the Hail Mary to [Michael] Westbook, and they beat Michigan in Michigan Stadium and the place goes silent," Mayes recalled. "I look at the other students I'm sitting next to and I said, 'Man, I could have done some- thing about that. I could play here.'" They probably shook their heads at his audacity, if not his delusion. Be- fore long, those inside Schembechler Hall were telling him he almost cer- tainly couldn't play there. A call from his former high school coach to a friend in the building got Mayes an introduction. But strength and conditioning coach Mike Gittle- son put him off a few times, Mayes recalled. "Every time I'm coming, he's tell- ing me, 'I'm going to work you out when you come back,'" Mayes noted. "He sends me back a couple more times. Finally, I stop by with my school clothes on — Dickies, a white tee-shirt and Chuck Taylors." The equipment staff wouldn't out- fit the unknown, and thus began Mayes' bold series of not taking no for an answer. "I finally go back, and he works me out with my Dickies and my white tee," he recalled, with a laugh. "Later, he told me, 'Listen, son. Odds are, you'll never play here, and you'll never get a scholarship. You're better off quitting.' "I said, 'Okay, I understand, sir.' And I just kept coming back. I kept showing up, and eventually they didn't kick me out. I was given a locker, and they gave me the number 16-R." Receiving a letter along with a number doesn't exactly por- tend playing time, or a cap- tain's mantle. In fact, Mayes' dearth of practice snaps be- came fodder for humor among his teammates, even ones with whom he became friends. Mayes wasn't laughing. At the same time, he didn't de- spair. He just kept trying to find a way. He'd sneak into huddles during practices, get tossed out by a coach, draw sideline snickers and wait for an opening to slip back in as a safety once secondary coach Lloyd Carr got distracted. "One time he forgot I was in there or he was talking to another coach and he didn't see I was in there," Mayes recalled. "They hand the ball off to Tshimanga Biakabutuka, and he runs it in a straight dive. I hit him in the A-gap and blow him up. "I tackled the guy, and [head coach Gary] Moeller goes crazy, like, 'Who the hell is this tackling my starting running back? I don't even know who this guy is!'" After that play, some knew. More did when Mayes turned an error in a walk-on scrimmage into a plus. "I get a rep, and I'm supposed to play the deep half," Mayes said. "It's a boot. I bite up on the boot, and I say the hell with the deep half. I come off the edge and I sack Colby Keefer. I give it to him, seven or eight yards deep. "Coach laughs and says, 'Dam- mit, you're supposed to be the deep half. You're not even supposed to be anywhere around this. But if you're going to make a mistake, that's how you make it." Te a m m a t e s o n t h e s i d e l i n e s were calling out his nickname: "Zeuuuuuuuus!" But Michigan's   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Eric Mayes Relentlessly Pursued Success Mayes came to Michigan as a walk-on, but was later elected a co-captain on the undefeated 1997 national championship team. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - October 2017