Some of Michigan’s most recognizable alumni returned to campus in early February to help Jim Harbaugh, U-M’s J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach, initiate what they hope will be an annual tradition.
The event raised more than $110,000 for the Chad Tough Foundation, which funds research for pediatric brain tumors and Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
Athletes Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Desmond Howard, and Denard Robinson, alongside comedian Randy Sklar (who served as emcee), shared their thoughts with Michigan Today about the National Signing Day event and what resonated about their respective times as undergraduates at U-M.
Tom Brady, four-time Super Bowl champ; QB New England Patriots
“It was rough. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” he said. His roommate and friends from the Cleveland and Chicago areas showed him his first North Face jacket.
When Brady mentioned receiving a warm coat, Harbaugh joked, “We’ve got global warming now, Tom. That has really helped recruiting. It’s good for Michigan.”
During NFL season, Brady watches every Michigan game, even when he’s on the plane en route to an away game. The Wolverine football program is heading in the right direction, he said.
“And I think our biggest recruiting day was last year when we got Coach Harbaugh back … we’ve got the right man for the job.”
Derek Jeter, retired New York Yankees shortstop
Jeter, who grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich., had signed a National Letter of Intent to play for Michigan. He took classes at U-M in the fall semester of 1992 after playing in the minors for the Yankees. According to a story at mgoblue.com, he’d registered again for the next fall, but when the Yankees asked Jeter to play in the Instructional League in 1993, he withdrew from classes and didn’t return to college.
He savored his short stay at Michigan, though, which included residing in Couzens Hall, before signing a pro baseball contract.
“My experience was good. It was a long time ago,” he said. “Fortunately, I signed with the Yankees. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to spend four years here.”
Jeter’s new media outlet, the Players’ Tribune, provided a live stream of the Signing of the Stars event.
Desmond Howard, 1991 Heisman Trophy winner; ESPN college football analyst
Howard said he takes pride knowing that Michigan is “leaders and best” on and off the field, and in the classroom. During his undergraduate years, his favorite spots were the Law Quad and Hill Auditorium where he listened to invited speakers from all walks of life.
For current students, he said it’s important that they embrace the University’s quality education and academically competitive environment.
“The University, to me, (has) so many different tools to help you succeed and it’s just a matter of taking advantage of them. I took advantage of them, especially off the field,” Howard said, noting that students wouldn’t find him in bars, but attending speaking events and lectures.
Denard Robinson, former Michigan QB
Robinson, a wide receiver and running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars, described the event as “awesome” and a great day for the signees.
Coming to Michigan was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. He treasures the bonds he formed on campus — from his professors and teammates to the people working in the Michigan Union.
“It’s all about the people you meet here. It’s about building relationships when you’re here,” he said.
Randy Sklar, comedian
Penn, Wisconsin, and Michigan all sent acceptance letters to Sklar and his twin brother, Jason. The choice to attend Michigan came easily once the brothers visited campus and met so many “dynamic” U-M undergrads and other high school seniors planning to enroll.
The learning environment at U-M and the proximity to inspiring faculty — such as Ralph Williams and Herbert Eagle — left a favorable impression on Sklar. He graduated in 1994 with a major in English.
“That’s what I really gathered the most about Michigan. Yes, [we had] big classes, but we would come out of a huge lecture hall, and five or six people would be milling around and they would say ‘Hey, man, what are you doing right now? Want to go over to Cafe Espresso and just continue talking about what we were just talking about?’ Yeah, and then we would sit down about talk about it, and there would be a love of learning.”
The Sklar brothers have returned to U-M often, performing comedy shows at the Power Center and Michigan Theater. “I am so proud to be a Michigan Wolverine,” Sklar said after the event. “It’s such a huge part of my make-up and my identity.”
In fact, he wants his two children to attend his alma mater.
“I want them to experience what I experienced here — the greatest four years in my life,” he said. “I’ll always take that with me.”
(Top image: Kareem Walker (left) is welcomed to the stage by Derek Jeter. Image courtesy of mgoblue.com)