Not looking for recognition, just wanting to help, three University of Michigan football players slipped into Battle Creek (Mich.) to serve as mentors for a group of young men looking for role models.
Michigan’s Chris Evans, Nick Eubanks and Josh Uche were invited by the Michigan Patriots to come to Battle Creek and join them for a practice. The trio of Wolverines accepted and hung out with the 25-plus kids, ages 5-to-12, to talk football and life.
“I hooked up with them through social media and told them if they have an open weekend, they should come on down,” said Battle Creek’s Jonathan Matthews, who is a co-coach of the Michigan Patriots with Chris Montgomery. “They said, what about this weekend. And it happened that quickly. They weren’t looking for anything from us, they just wanted to volunteer their time, come to town and talk to the kids and play a little football with them.”
The three Michigan players joined a practice at Piper Park last weekend, being held by the three age-division teams of the Patriots, who play in a New Level Sports football league in the fall – the 5-7 year-old flag football team, a 7-9 year-old tackle junior varsity youth team and a 10-12 year-old varsity youth team.
Evans is a budding running back for Michigan and had 700-plus all-purpose yards as a freshman last season. Eubanks is a second-year tight end and Uche is a second-year linebacker.
“Plus, I think it shows the kids the power of networking and social media,” Matthews said. “It shows them how you can be from a small city and not think small. You can impact a larger audience, that’s bigger than the one we live in today. We reached out to these U-M players with social media, used some networking skills and we were able to have them come here and make an impact.”
An afternoon like the one at Piper Park is an extension of what Matthews has been doing through social media. A budding hip-hop artist, he creates videos with a University of Michigan football/basketball slant, using original music, and distributes them on YouTube and Facebook.
A growing Internet sensation, Matthews has used U-M players in some of his videos – including Evans – and is trying to create an international profile all while working from Battle Creek.
His next project is to shoot videos of his Michigan Patriots team throughout the season and create a YouTube series, similar to TV’s Friday Night Tykes. Matthews says the videos will help bring exposure to the young players in Battle Creek, as well as the team and the league. The first episode, which will include footage from the practice with the U-M players, is slated for some time in August.
He also hopes to create more of a dialogue regarding the improvement of cultural diversity in Battle Creek. His biggest goal is that his work with these youth teams, or bringing in U-M football players to talk to the young kids about cultural diversity, leads to even bigger things down the road. Recently he has reached out to Michigan State University and expects to have former Spartan Mateen Cleaves coming to town in the future.
“We are setting up a meeting with the Kellogg Community Foundation, looking at some grant proposals to improve cultural diversity in Battle Creek,” Matthews said. “That’s what this is all about. Trying to do something for the kids in this town, for this community, and help them improve and show them that they can do anything they want as long as they go for it.”