Wolverines push follicle limits
Players call it 'The Flow,' from long locks to dreads to Mealer's masterpiece
Some Michigan football players remember the first time they put on their jersey or the winged helmet. Others remember walking out of the tunnel their freshman year, sprinting toward the maize and blue banner. Many remember their first crucial win or loss in the Big House.Michigan senior defensive end Craig Roh remembers all those moments. But another sticks out in his mind as well: the first time his hair -- or as the Michigan football team so lovingly calls it "the flow" -- finally grew long enough to stick out of the back of his helmet.[+] EnlargeCourtesy Michigan Athletic DepartmentIf Elliott Mealer doesn't start at left guard his beard just might.
"It's kind of like it's saying hello to everyone," Roh said. "It's great."
Roh isn't alone in his sentiment. "The Flow" has been a rising trend on the team. Kicker Seth Broekhuizen, a Michigan native, has often been confused as a California kid because of his longer blonde hair. Linebackers Jake Ryan and Joe Bolden can pull theirs into ponytails.
Offensive lineman Elliott Mealer has his head buzzed but hasn't shaved his beard since last April.
"It has built a fan base amongst the team," Mealer said.
For some players it was an easy decision to grow their hair.
Broekhuizen has been growing his long since he was a kid. His father, who was an undercover cop, often grew out his hair for work so Broekhuizen did, too, shaving his head once a summer and letting it grow out the rest of the year.
"Back when I was little, I thought it was the coolest thing ever," Broekhuizen said. "But I got here and everyone had the flow going, so I kept it."
For others, it wasn't as easy.
Roh required follicle persuasion from both former defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen and a childhood friend before finally growing his out.
"It's an extremely personal decision for everyone," Roh said. "It's a commitment, that's what it is."
And as the hair has gotten longer, the awe among teammates has gone up as well.
Nearly every player can point to his favorite flow on the team. Some players chose quarterback Denard Robinson's because it seems to be the most recognizable flow. Others prefer Ryan's because of the length. Some can't choose.
"I love Jake's for him, and I love mine for me, and I loved Ryan's for Ryan," Roh said. "Everyone has their own different type of flow that's very specific to them."
But wide receiver Jeremy Gallon, who sports medium-length braids, said he pays attention to only one flow -- Mealer's.
"He has a face full of straight, perfect, beard hair," Gallon said. "You don't find that everywhere. I mean, look at it, you can't even put it into words. It's amazing."
Gallon can rest assured that Mealer's flow is going nowhere. While at Navy SEALS training this summer with the rest of Michigan's senior class, Mealer and his beard gained fans on the West Coast.
"When the troops go to Afghanistan, I guess that's one of the things they do -- grow beards," Mealer said. "The SEALS told me, 'If we find out the season comes along and you've shaved that, we're sending the team after you.' So I'm keeping it whether I want to or not. I will not shave it."
Even SEALS can agree that the flow, on certain players, is an overwhelmingly good thing. But what can't be agreed upon is who started it.
Roh points to Van Bergen as having "planted a seed" in his mind. Linebackers coach Mark Smith believes it's just a trend and soon enough his linebackers will have short hair again.
"It's like clothes," Smith said. "It comes around and pretty soon it's out. I'm sure the short hair will be back in and they'll all want to have the military cut."
"I don't want to say I started it, but I kind of did," Ryan said with little trepidation.
And then there's Mealer, who also believes he began the flow, at least facially, for the football team.
"I've taken it to a new level; no one has tried the flow on the face," Mealer said.
But when pressed about which player truly began any form of flow, he relinquished the title to former defensive lineman Tim North (2005-09), who predates nearly every flow-ful player on this year's roster. Mealer believes North truly defined the Michigan man flow.
But North wasn't so quick to take credit.
"I'm sure there's someone from the 1970s who's crushing all of us, someone whom we couldn't even get close to," North said. "With the long hair, I mean, ride it out as long as you can. You're going to look back when you have to have the same haircut for the rest of your life and you'll realize you can't change it anymore. So grow it out as long as you want."
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