There aren’t a ton of perks to being the author of Touch the Banner, but one of them is the occasional chance to get an advance copy of a Michigan-related book. One of those chances popped up a couple weeks ago when I received a copy of Tom VanHaaren’s new (and first!) book: The Road to Ann Arbor, which was released yesterday on September 4.
The Road to Ann Arbor is a piece separated into chapters detailing the stories of how many Michigan greats (and some guys still making their mark) were recruited to Michigan. Each chapter is dedicated to a lone player, and many of them are from the pre-Rivals and pre-Scout eras. All-timers like Mark Messner, Desmond Howard, and Jarrett Irons lead all the way up to Rashan Gary and Aubrey Solomon.
If you’re reading this site, you’re probably pretty familiar with how recruiting works here in 2018. You see it develop on Twitter, you see the commitment videos, and you see players pick a hat at All-America bowls. In the days of yore, recruiting was done by sending out surveys (not requesting Hudl film) and sending handwritten letters (not trendy Photoshop edits). It’s funny and nostalgic to see how much times have changed, but the attitudes are the same among the players. Jarrett Irons, for example, knew he was a big-shot football player and had some demands for anybody recruiting him.
Among my favorite anecdotes are stories of Bo Schembechler, Chris Spielman, Mark Messner, and Desmond Howard. (Yes, I said Chris Spielman.) High school highlight films of those players aren’t widely available like they are now, so it’s fun to read about their high school exploits. For example, I wasn’t aware that Howard was a high school running back and safety before becoming a superstar wide receiver at Michigan.
Overall, The Road to Ann Arbor is just a good, fun piece of Michigan nostalgia. It’s uplifting to read stories about kids’ dreams coming true, especially from a time when football recruiting seemed more pure. It was about relationships and football, not necessarily TV deals, flashy uniforms, and making a big splash. And TomVH has a way of conveying Michigan stories without being too sappy. If you’re a fan of TTB, I think you’ll enjoy it.