ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -Elliott Mealer always believed he was destined to play college football.
Just not at Michigan.
But there he was, all 6 feet, 6 inches and 298 pounds of him, emerging from Schembechler Hall on Sunday in a uniform he grew up despising. Now it's part of a a new beginning that's helping him slowly replace tragedy.
Mealer's new football home has provided solace 55 miles from Wauseon, Ohio, the small town where Mealer learned to love football and where last December, his life was changed.
There isn't a day when Mealer's mind doesn't flash back to Christmas Eve, when the Mercedes sports utility vehicle he was riding in was struck by another car. The crash killed Mealer's father and 17-year-old girlfriend and paralyzed his brother.
``Whenever I'm in a car I think about that,'' Mealer said. ``I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I guess you learn to move on and it's something you have to live with.''
Mealer will likely redshirt this season because of a shoulder injury from the crash. On the ride home from church, a vehicle ran a stop sign and slammed into the Mealers' vehicle, flipping it and landing it upside down.
Mealer's 50-year-old father, David, was killed along with Hollis Richer, whom Mealer had been dating for two years.
David and Elliott Mealer were best friends. Elliott had always told his father that he would grow up to play football at Ohio State and eventually land in the NFL.
As a sophomore, Mealer met Vic Cales, a minister and former offensive lineman at Bowling Green. Cales told Mealer that if he was serious about playing college football, he would help him get there.
Their time was spent talking not only about football, but about faith. Mealer visited Ann Arbor and almost instantly, knew he had found his new home.
``I remember him getting into the car and saying, 'God wants me to go to Michigan''' Mealer's mother said in a telephone interview.
When David Mealer asked his son how he knew, Elliott replied: ``Everything's better here - even the food is better.''
Mealer had established a fondness for former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr and his staff. So when Carr announced his retirement following the Wolverines' loss to Ohio State last fall, Shelly Mealer wondered how her son would adjust to Carr's successor.
Soon after the accident, she got her answer.
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez visited Elliott in the hospital, spending as much time as possible learning about him and his family and how he and his staff could assist the Mealers in dealing with the tragedy.
``After that, I started sleeping a lot better because I knew what kind of men were going to be taking care of my son,'' Mealer's mother said.
Secretly, Mealer wondered if he was making the right move leaving home to go to Michigan.
But by February, when he signed his national letter of intent, Mealer knew he had to take the leap of faith, focusing on his future - not the past.
``He's a strong kid,'' offensive lineman Stephen Schilling said. ``He doesn't let (his pain) affect him at all. We're trying to help him along any way we can, but he wants to be just like any other guy.''
Cales said that Mealer he still struggles with coming to grips with the events of that December night. There are mornings, Cales said, when Mealer wishes he hadn't woken up, forced to deal with taking another step away from losing his father and girlfriend.
But football has provided him with a therapeutic outlet, giving him something to focus on as he adjusts to life as he has come to know it.
``His father's dream was to watch him play college football and so the first time he comes out of the (Michigan Stadium tunnel) and the first hit he takes, it's going to have a different meaning than it would have,'' Michigan offensive line coach Greg Frey said. ``I don't think it's so much that he's putting up a brave front - I think he's a brave person. I think he's a courageous person and I think he's a faith-filled person.
``I think that's what's carried him.''

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