The Wolverine

June July 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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66 THE WOLVERINE JUNE/JULY 2018 T he weather was mis- erable as the buses carrying the Michigan football team sloshed toward the beach at Arromanches- les-Bains in Normandy, France, April 29. Of the eight days U-M spent in Paris and its surroundings (this year's destination for Jim Harbaugh's annual overseas excursion), only two didn't include at least some sun- shine and blue sky. This was one of them, and yet there were no complaints when the players made their way off the busses and headed toward the beaches where thousands of Ameri- can soldiers died fighting for freedom. Some of them, in fact, even relished it, not- ing it was a similar blustery, rainy day when armies their age and younger stormed the beaches with the knowledge there was at least a solid chance they wouldn't live to tell about it. A few of the players took pictures, or posed for them. Most, though, simply surveyed the beach quietly, having just watched a 20-minute movie at the museum in Caen out- lining the atrocities that took place on the terrain now in front of them. "It puts football in perspective for you, that we're all 18- to 22-year- olds," junior offensive lineman Ben Bredeson said. "We worry about going out and performing on Satur- day, when these guys were worried about fighting for their lives. It just makes you think about the bigger picture." "That's a tough concept to grasp," fifth-year senior fullback Jared Wan- gler added. "People three to four years younger than me, and they stormed the beach. It makes you ad- mire what they did." It was an incredibly sobering mo- ment, its enormity etched on all of their young faces, and it wasn't lost on head coach Jim Harbaugh. When he first came up with the idea to take his teams overseas, Har- baugh said he had a mission — to "make the world their classroom" and teach his players there was more to their collegiate experience than just football. Make no mistake, Harbaugh wants to win as badly as anybody, and there (literally) might not be many more competitive peo- ple in the world. His parents have years' worth of childhood stories to back it up, and they've shared many of them. But he also understands part of his job is to educate, and it was evident in being there that this trip was more than just a pleasure cruise. Bredeson, for one, couldn't wait to experience Normandy and the American Cemetery on Omaha Beach. A World War II history buff, he thought he knew just about ev- erything there was to know — so we tested him as he stared over the English Channel with horizontal raindrops pelting his face, asking if he knew what the large, concrete war remnants still present offshore might be (we didn't). "Just learned about it on the bus, actually," he said. "Those are ce- ment pontoons they used to make kind of like a highway to get all of our supplies off or on the beaches here. They'd build iron bridges over the top to get all of our tanks and other supplies on land." It was an eyebrow-raising moment, one of many on this trip, with the point being that even a history buff like Bredeson picked up some knowledge out in the field. When it comes to teach- ing and learning, football is far from the only activity in which hands-on experience is crucial, a point Harbaugh has emphasized many times when people questioned him about these trips. It also opened the door for a thirst for more. There were many movie options on the eight-hour flight home, and we weren't the only ones en- grossed in "Darkest Hour," a World War II account from former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's eyes, and "Dunkirk," a history lesson of its own on an evacuation of allied troops during the war. Together, the coaches and play- ers bonded on their own mission to learn not just about the world, but also more about each other. "So often you're around the play- ers and it's always X's and O's and always football related, where this is just kind of hanging out with the guys," defensive coordinator Don Brown said. "Some people call it team bonding. "You're just furthering your re- lationships with your players in a non-football environment, which is unbelievable. We don't get to do that enough, by the way." They made the most of that op- portunity in France during an ad- venture none of them should soon forget. ❏ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997, working part time for five years before joining the staff full time in 2002. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS The World Was Their Classroom Among their experiences in France, the Wolverines had an oppor- tunity to visit the beach at Arromanches-les-Bains in Normandy, which provided a sobering history lesson. PHOTO BY CHRIS BALAS

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