Michigan football’s 1st practice in Rome was strange but productive – Detroit Free Press

Michigan football’s 1st practice in Rome was strange but productive – Detroit Free Press
  • Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh speaks after practice in Rome
  • Michigan football team practices in Rome
  • Michigan football practice in Rome: Part II
  • Michigan football team practices in Rome: Part III
  • Michigan football practice begins in Rome

ROME – Everything about Michigan’s first football practice in Italy felt a little strange

The acting long snapper, Coach Jim Harbaugh, was wearing cleats and khakis with a baseball cap that was splattered with paint from a paintball competition earlier in the week.

He lined up with the offensive line. Crouched over. Snapped the ball. And stepped out to block.

What was his self-assessment?

“I thought he did a very good job,” said Harbaugh, smiling like a man who had met the Pope one day earlier. “At first, I was trying not to screw it up. Then, ‘OK, I got this.’ Then, I started to really snap them off there. I was getting into the groove, didn’t want to stop.”’

The Wolverines practiced at Giulio Onesti Training Center on Thursday, a massive sports complex built to support Italian Olympic athletes. While the Wolverines practiced on one field, rugby players were practicing on the next field over. It was among the oddities for the workout, the first of three for the team while in Rome.

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“This couldn’t be better,” Harbaugh said. “This is as good as you could have field-wise. They did a tremendous job lining the field. All the accommodations. Showers. Cafeteria. This looks like it would look like in the United States.”

The field the Wolverines were practicing on was a rugby pitch dressed to look like an American football field. They made it work, even though there’s less distance between the rugby goalposts than the ones used in college football.

Then there was the Italian media.

One writer pulled out an Italian newspaper and showed Harbaugh the story he had written about Harbaugh meeting the Pope. Then, the writer asked Harbaugh to sign the newspaper.

That would be a cardinal sin for a journalist, back in the States.

But Harbaugh obliged and gave the writer an autograph. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.

Finally, the fans. Specifically, the fans who looked incredibly out of place, wearing Ohio State attire.

“I’ve still got my eyes on those guys,” Harbaugh joked.

Fearing the Wolverines would be exhausted from jet lag, travel and an endless series of tourist visits, Harbaugh made the schedule so the players practiced in shorts and helmets.

“This was our third helmet practice; you have to have three in the spring,” Harbaugh said. “We anticipated this would be a good day to have that.”

Obviously, without any pads, there was no hitting. But the players did plenty of drills and team work. More than anything, it was a chance to get out of tourist mode and get back to football.

So in that sense, it was productive.

The Wolverines will hold a total of two more practices on Friday and Saturday, with a stop at the opera wedged in between on Thursday night wedged.

“We just brought the tempo down to about 85 percent, because of the walking around they have been doing and the traveling,” Harbaugh said.  “Some guys had just gotten off planes a couple of hours ago. That was a consideration,”

A group of 27 football fans from a U.S. Navy base in Naples, Italy, attended the practice – troops and their families.

“Oh, it was wonderful,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve met people from Naples, Fla., but I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody from Naples, Italy, until today. They were huge football fans and wanted to watch us practice. I was so honored, so honored to meet them. From all different branches of the military. There was Army. There was Marines. There was Navy. And their kids. That’s what we were hoping for today, to connect with as many people as possible.”

After the practice, Harbaugh met with the group from the Navy base.

They circled around him  and one of the kids asked Harbaugh about the NFL draft.

“We are hoping to set a record,” Harbaugh said. “The (modern) record is 14 players drafted in a single draft class. … We want to be the best. We want to hold the record of most players drafted.”

Then, another fan asked how the Wolverines would do this year.

“We are striving to be the best,” Harbaugh said.

LATE ARRIVALS: The Wolverines arrived in Italy in different intervals because of exam schedules.

Many arrived on Sunday. But others had had to finish their finals.

Josh Metellus, a wide receiver, had to stay in Ann Arbor to take finals in calculus and economics, but he took the tests and arrived in Rome around 6:30 Wednesday night.

Then he turned around and he was practicing this morning.

That, in itself, is amazing considering how messed up these players are with jet lag.

While Metellus missed seeing the Colosseum and the Vatican, he had a seven-hour layover in Paris and took advantage of it.

“We went to the Eiffel Tower ,” Metellus said. “It was amazing.”

After all of the flights and time changes, Metellus said he went 40 hours without sleeping.

“I felt good,” he said. “I got to play football. It gave me a little adrenaline to get me through it.”

REFUGEES: Salkod Sannek and Kana Jallow, a pair of refugees from Gambia, stood on the sideline and watched the Wolverines practice, wearing Michigan jerseys.

They live in a refugee camp. Since arriving in Italy, they have joined an American-style football team.

On Sunday night, the Wolverines watched a documentary about the two refugees and invited them to the practice.

“I’m so happy to meet them,” said Jallow, of meeting the Wolverines.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.

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After Thursday’s practice, the Michigan football team attended an opera in Rome. Video by Jeff Seidel/DFP

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