But the fact that he played at all is basically a miracle, and here's why:
A 2007 Christmas Eve car accident near Mealer's hometown of Wauseon, Ohio, took the life of his father, 50-year-old David, and his longtime girlfriend, 17-year-old Hollis Richer. Elliott Mealer, his mother, Shelly, and his 23-year-old brother, Brock, survived. The accident left Brock Mealer with a severely damaged spinal cord and a broken right wrist. Elliott Mealer suffered a torn right rotator cuff, believed to have been incurred when he tried to lift a section of the SUV to free his loved ones.Holy Lord. Rich Rodriguez honored Mealer's scholarship offer despite the injury, and Mealer spent all of 2008 rehabbing. He worked his way into the offensive line rotation last year and will be in contention for a starting spot at guard this fall. His emotional recovery ... well, that's been a little tougher. Here's the story from ESPN360 (trust me, it's worth your time):
Hang on a second while I get a Kleenex ... just a second ... OK. I can't even imagine.
And then there's Mealer's brother, who got a nice, optimistic prognosis after the crash: He was told that there was a 99.9 percent chance he'd never walk again. I'm sure he was happy to be alive, but that had to be utterly devastating for a 23-year-old college student. Fortunately, the story gets better:
By springtime, Brock started standing with the help of braces. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez introduced him to the team during a practice. The Wolverines were kneeling with their helmets as Rodriguez told Brock's story. At the end of it, they rose to their feet and gave him an ovation.Great story -- and that's where it ends, right? Nope. Michigan has a strength and conditioning coach by the name of Mike Barwis. He's a former cagefighter (yes, seriously) who used to wrestle with wolves (yes, seriously); he's basically the Chuck Norris of trainers. He's also widely renowned for his advanced training techniques and has been cited by many NFL players as THE guy to visit for offseason workouts. How does this relate to the Mealers? Barwis is the guy with the gravelly voice walking next to Brock Mealer (who supposedly had a 0.1 percent chance of ever walking again) in this video:
Rodriguez was just two weeks into his new job when he got the call about the Mealers. He hadn't met Elliott or the 100 or so others on Michigan's roster. But he called Mealer to tell him that no matter what happened, even if he couldn't play, he'd always have a scholarship at Michigan.
The family -- Ohio State diehards before Elliott committed to Michigan -- immediately fell in love with Rodriguez. For Brock, it wasn't hard to do. A few months after the wreck, the coach visited him in the hospital during the Super Bowl. They promised to someday run out of the tunnel into the Big House together.
A lot of people hate Rich Rodriguez because he isn't an eloquent, grandfatherly figure like Lloyd Carr and he didn't come from Bo Schembechler's Old School University, and therefore he's the anti-Christ. But all the criticism he's absorbed through two rough seasons, an NCAA investigation and a whole bunch of roster turnover has created this inaccurate image of a terrible coach who hates his players and is doing everything possible to destroy Michigan on and off the field. The Mealers would be happy to set you straight on that.
A tip of the cap to Brian at Michigan blog Genuinely Sarcastic, who compiled a bunch of this Mealer-related material. He's always worth reading if you're a Michigan fan.