People often talk about experiencing life-changing moments, serendipitous encounters that at first glance may seem nothing more than a random occurrence.
To those who believe, those interactions are not random at all, rather the universe speaking to them. The rewards are great for those who believe.
David Dever Jr. was only 5 years old, but somehow he knew the words of a gruff, grandfatherly football coach would change the course of his life.
He was in Ann Arbor, Mich., for a college football game with his dad, David Sr., mom Kelli and younger sister Morgan. Wandering the concourse, they spotted Bo Schembechler, the legendary Michigan coach whom David, Sr. had played for from 1984 to 1987. Schembechler came over, said hello to his former player, leaned down and shot a gaze at his startled son. Then he spoke in that familiar salty tone, the echoes of which you can hear around the bowels of Michigan stadium.
“You may not know who I am today, but someday you’ll know what it’s like to be a Michigan man.”
In one way, young David Dever already knew. After all, he already was comfortable being called by his nickname, Bo, something the old coach did not know.
Although Bo was more interested that day in ice cream than football, he already was on the path to becoming a Michigan man.
Father Carves Path
In the Dever’s spacious, classic Lake Forest home, the colors of maize and blue are prevalent everywhere, dotting tables, shelves, providing an almost kaleidoscope effect in certain rooms.
If soup and character are made at home, it’s the basement where fathers and sons bond, surrounded by the soundtrack of football. That’s where Bo grew up watching the Wolverines on Saturday and at a young age, learning an important life lesson.
“I think of the movie Rudy and that dad says ‘We only watch one team in this house and that’s Notre Dame,’ ” said Bo. “Since we were little, we were like, ‘Dad can we turn it?’ He would say, ‘No, the Michigan game is on.’ We’d go, ‘But Dad it’s a commercial. It’s going to be back on in a minute.’ ”
That didn’t matter to David, who grew up in Midland, a town two hours from the University of Michigan. There, every kid on the cul-de-sac wanted to be a Michigan man and play for coach Schembechler.
“I was a junior high kid running around saying that and people would laugh at you,” said David.
But unlike most of the neighbor kids, David actually lived his childhood fantasy. Blessed with hulking genes, he grew up to be a 6-foot-5, 290-pound lineman, choosing his beloved Wolverines over the likes of fellow blue bloods UCLA and Penn State. He lettered as a guard in 1987 and was a member of the 1986 team that went to the Rose Bowl.
As his post-graduation career saw him move around the country and start a family with his wife, Kelli, he could never ignore the loud whispers boomeranging from Ann Arbor.
“It was a focal point of our lives to some degree. We did tie our falls around getting back to Ann Arbor, regardless of where we lived,” said David.
Son Starts Football Career
The Dever’s settled in Lake Forest and it would be no surprise when their only son wanted to play football. By the time he was in fourth grade, attending Sheridan Elementary, pickup games had a familiar cadence.
“We played backyard football, and the first kid picked was always Bo. No one could touch him,” said best friend and classmate Owen Williams.
A running back through middle school, Bo switched to wide receiver when he got to Lake Forest High School in the fall of 2008. After a stellar freshman season, Bo received a phone call from the varsity quarterback. He wanted to know if Bo could come out and play catch. The quarterback’s name was Tommy Rees.
When the universe gives you a nudge, open your eyes
In front of college scouts, Bo ran routes for Rees, who eventually chose Notre Dame. It was after this experience when the father began to believe his son’s destiny could mirror his own.
“It was at that time we starting thinking, ‘What does this mean?’ ” said David.
Said Kelli Dever, Bo “always loved Michigan. He always wanted to be there, but I don’t know if he ever thought it was attainable. It was a big dream.”
After a sophomore season on the varsity with Rees, letters starting pouring in from schools like Stanford, Iowa, Wisconsin, Harvard. Bo was creating options for himself. Would he ever consider them? The summer before his junior season, he attended Michigan’s summer camp. He won two MVP awards for best hands and route-running. He, David and Kelli so desperately wanted the choice to be obvious.
But the coach, Rich Rodriquez, and his staff made it hard to synchronize actions with their intentions.
Players “would be sitting in front with their hats on backwards. Coaches would come up and they’d be leaning back, all full of it,” said Bo.
Said David, “There was no real connection with the coaching staff, a totally different class of people coming through. The Michigan family was not valued.”
As often happens when circumstances are meant to be, Rodriquez was fired, replaced by Brady Hoke, who had coached under Schembechler. A true Michigan man was now in charge.
Offer of a Lifetime
It’s June 2011 and Bo has grown into a 6-foot-2, 210-pound slot man. Bo and David are in Ann Arbor for Michigan’s football camp. David took a phone call from Bo saying his position coach wanted to see them the next morning.
“We had talked that night and decided they aren’t going to call us in to tell you they think you’re terrible,” said David. "I don’t think either one of us slept that night.”
When you put your life in motion, the universe will re-arrange itself
In that meeting, coach Jeff Hecklinski told Bo they had a spot for him as a preferred walk-on. The word “yes” had never been uttered more rapidly from a young man’s mouth (YES!!!).
As Bo went to practice, David walked out to his car and before he drove away, had one of those tear-soaked moments all fathers do when their child’s dream is actualized.
Old Memories, New Beginnings
Saturday, Michigan will play its annual spring game. Bo's 91 receptions for 959 yards and 6 TDs during his Lake Forest career will begin to take a back seat. Bo and David will be watching from the sidelines along with other fathers and sons. The dad’s will swap stories about coach Bo, the sons will talk eagerly about playing for coach Brady — generations bound by football and the legacy of a leader, who left his footprint on a young boy all those years ago.
“It’s knowing you will always do the right thing. It’s not right for you, but it’s right for everyone around you,” said Bo.
Just as his father’s coach predicted, Bo Dever now knows what it means to be a Michigan man.