Glasgows make being a Michigan Wolverine a family affair

The Glasgow brothers -- from left, Ryan, Jordan and Graham -- were all together at Michigan for the 2015 season. All three started as walk-ons with the Wolverines and have maintained that walk-on mentality. Courtesy of David Turnley

Jordan Glasgow has heard the jokes about being adopted, and he has to admit that he kind of sees it.

The youngest of three brothers who have all earned a walk-on spot on Michigan’s roster doesn’t share much resemblance with older siblings Graham and Ryan. The sophomore safety sports a thick beard and long, curly hair. Graham and Ryan are far less hirsute. Graham and Ryan are usually the first to crack a joke in a meeting room. Teammates jokingly describe Jordan as having a personality similar to a serial killer -- quiet and meticulous.

The boys stack up like Russian nesting dolls. Graham, the oldest, stands 3 inches taller than Ryan, who stands 3 inches taller than Jordan. Both the older boys have at least 100 pounds on Jordan.

Nonetheless, the last name on his jersey should be proof enough by now that Jordan has a bright future for the Wolverines. Both older brothers have forced their way into scholarship spots during their college careers by being too consistent to leave off of the field.

“This little guy that walks on, and you’re like how the heck are these two related to this guy?” Michigan assistant coach Chris Partridge said. “And then you see the kid play. You see how much he cares. They have the same values.”

Graham started 37 games and led the Wolverines’ offensive line before being drafted in the third round of the NFL draft last spring. He’s now starting for the Detroit Lions. Ryan, a senior nose tackle, is the anchor of a Michigan defense that leads the nation in more than a half-dozen statistical categories, including points and yards allowed per game.

Jordan, a safety, started his second year in Ann Arbor as a backup player on one special-teams unit. Partridge, who partially oversees special teams, said it has been impossible not to add more to Jordan's plate during the first eight weeks of the season.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called it “obvious” that all three were overlooked and underrated coming out of high school. So what trait ties these brothers to each other and sets them apart from so many others?

“Similar parents,” Harbaugh said.

Whether he intended it or not, Harbaugh’s literal view stumbles upon more than one layer of truth.

Steve and Michelle Glasgow are both orthopedic surgeons with medical degrees from prestigious universities. They share a sports medicine practice and spent a large part of their careers working as team physicians for the Northern Illinois athletic department.

The job required long hours and weekends on the road with the football team. To help manage a busy life around the time Ryan was born, the Glasgows called on Steve’s parents to lend a hand around the house. Twenty-three years later, they have yet to ever really leave.

James and Carmella Glasgow paid the bills for their New Jersey-based family as a construction worker and a nurse. Their grandchildren describe them as the embodiment of blue collar. Yet the couple didn’t mind when Steve passed up scholarship offers in the ‘70s to attend an Ivy League school. They didn’t doubt his ability to work multiple jobs while studying to be a physician, wrestling and playing football at Penn.

An injury ended James’ days on construction sites, and the couple retired into a second job taking care of the grandkids. Together, the four of them had no problem teaching Graham, Ryan, Jordan and their little sister Anna that the solution to whatever life threw in their way was hard work.

(Carmella even moved in with Graham in Ann Arbor last fall as part of an agreement to keep him on Michigan’s team after he violated probation related to a 2014 drunken driving arrest.)

“I think that setup is an integral part of who they are,” Steve said.

James and Carmella played their roles with the loving, laissez-faire attitude that comes with being grandparents.

Wrestling matches were permitted, if not encouraged. A bit of long-leash spoiling occurred. Their job was to keep everyone happy, on time and in one piece. On that last part, they succeeded most of the time.

There was the day that Steve came home to find that his two oldest sons had redecorated the walls of their home with crayons while Grandpa admired their work from his armchair. Or the time Ryan tripped Jordan to keep from losing a backyard race. The fall broke his younger brother’s hand.

“I felt bad about that one,” Ryan said.

Or the time Jordan returned the favor by stopping short while the boys chased each other on bikes in the cul-de-sac. Ryan’s front wheel jammed into Jordan’s training wheels and launched him, mouth-first, into the curb. The accident is the source of a gap in Ryan’s front teeth, which he still sports with pride in postgame interviews.

“I remember a lot of blood and a very angry brother,” Jordan said.

Graham, always the largest, managed to reach college without any permanent damage. He decided early on in the little bit of a recruiting process he experienced that he was bound for the Big Ten. He didn’t want to accept a scholarship to a smaller school. Steve, of course, could understand.

Graham consistently graded out as the top offensive lineman on the scout team throughout his rookie season. When he returned to campus the following fall, he expected to be listed as a backup on Michigan’s two-deep. Instead, true freshmen who had yet to attend their first college practices had leapfrogged him.

“You have to show them every day that you’re the better guy for the job,” Graham said. “That was the hardest thing I had to accept. They would try to find reasons to play the other guys. If it wasn’t clear that I was better, I wouldn’t have gotten where I am today.”

Hard-learned lessons have been passed from one brother to the next. While Graham was battling his way past true freshmen on the depth chart, Ryan was getting his first taste of life as a walk-on. Graham had started to blaze the trail, but each Glasgow brother still had to walk down it.

“Best advice I got from Graham was to just keep pushing," Ryan said. “Sometimes you might feel as if you’re slighted. ‘Make it so they can’t ignore you,’ that’s the biggest thing Graham said to me."

Jordan passed up MAC offers and academic scholarships to join his brothers at Michigan last fall. He, too, is getting harder to ignore.

He won special team player of the week honors after a 78-0 win at Rutgers and has six tackles and a fumble recovery during his first year on the field. Still, Jordan is swimming upstream to reach a backup role in a defensive backfield full of young, talented scholarship prospects.

If he’s going to following in the family footsteps and earn a scholarship, he’ll have to prove he’s just like his brothers. He’ll have to go above and beyond to earn it -- even if it seems obvious that by the third time through some Big Ten coach should have figured out that the Glasgows are all alike.

“I was saying the same thing,” Graham said. “But I don’t know if it’d be as good of a story if it happened that way."