- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The stuff of 2013 signee Wyatt Shallman's life seems like that of a tall tale, not what stereotypically would be the life of the No. 1 fullback in the nation.
There was that time as a toddler when his family was living in Singapore but vacationing in Queensland, Australia, when -- having just learned to walk -- he sprinted down the beach between the rough surf and crocodile-infested swamps only to be found 200 meters later, unharmed and laughing.
In elementary school, he once caught a 10-pound bass using nothing more than a Spiderman fishing rod and a Lifesaver candy.
Between seventh and eighth grade he grew 6 inches and gained 70 pounds. His growth spurt put him over the top end of allowable weights for ball carriers in his junior high league, forcing him to move from quarterback to defensive tackle.
Today, Shallman volunteers at a retirement community, hanging out with the retirees. They discuss everything from war stories to football and spend afternoons painting, bowling and playing card games.
So in a recruiting scene full of faces and names that always seem to be interchangeable, Shallman stands out. He has never allowed football to become -- or change -- his identity.
“It’s not necessarily me marching to the beat of my own drum, or me doing things because they’re different,” Shallman said. “It’s what I like to do. ... I just feel like too many people are worried about how they look or how people perceive them.”
Starting in June, a large part of Shallman’s perception will be shaded by the fact he’ll be a member of the Michigan football team. And that’s OK with him. Football was always the place Shallman had the most fun. Even though he’ll be at Michigan, it’ll still be football.
“Wyatt has always been very comfortable and gregarious. Even when he was a little kid he was always the guy who would have the most fun on the team,” said John Shallman, Wyatt’s father. “It has been his personality the whole time.”
Football was the sport he loved the most, even though he exceled in several. In basketball, he had loved the contact. In baseball, he could rip the cover off the ball. And in track, he was a 100- and 200-meter specialist.
So being a defensive end and fullback combined all of those.
“As stupid as it is, playing football is just fun,” Shallman said. “But when you’re playing running back or D-end, they’re just cool niche positions. ... There are so many intricacies and ways you can do the same thing -- that has always been cool to me.”
And it didn’t hurt that it was a sport that embraced Shallman’s eccentricity, even at a Catholic high school (which he got in to after acing an entrance exam he took on a whim).
During the day he might wear a headband or carry a briefcase (which he named Krista) around school with him, but after school he made even bigger statements on the football field.
Brady Hoke and Michigan noticed very early. They wanted to install a downhill, power run game with the Wolverines. And Shallman -- whose favorite Michigan football years can be charted back to the 1960s and ’70s under Bo Schembechler -- exemplified that.
Shallman hadn’t even considered college football as an option when Michigan offered. He didn’t have older brothers who had gone through the process nor had he received much attention from recruiters or college coaches.
“It wasn’t even on my radar,” Shallman said. “It’s not like I played to impress scouts. It was just something I had done from when I was young and I did it for fun. Then all of a sudden you hit a point in your career when you’re having fun but it’s impressing other people.”
It was almost a year between the offer and his commitment, but he knew Michigan was the right choice for his academic and football future.
But it didn’t come without struggle. Shallman ended his freshman year with a broken wrist and his sophomore year with a torn hamstring. Those injuries brought doubt onto whether Shallman actually had the gusto and ability to compete at the college level.
That only made Shallman work harder. He funneled the doubt into his workouts with Mike Barwis, who had been Michigan’s strength and conditioning coach under Rich Rodriguez.
“He has been doubted, but the way he addressed that and worked harder, I think that’s pretty unique,” John said. “I think you’ll see that in a college or pro athlete but for a high school kid to kind of redirect himself ... typically you don’t see that.”
Barwis’ methods, often considered offbeat, suited Shallman.
And even there -- among more than 100 professional athletes who might intimidate most young kids -- he was completely himself. In workouts that can make grown men sick to their stomachs, Shallman found a way to bring levity into the room.
“He does something goofy every day,” Barwis said. “He has a way to make it fun. That’s just his personality. ... He can take a tough, hard, painful situation and make it light, make it laughable and make people around him relax.”
It never mattered the people he was around or the situation he was in, one thing always seemed for sure: Shallman would be Shallman.