That challenge follows one of the most unique experiences Manuel had in his more than three decades involved in college athletics as both a football player for the Wolverines and an as an administrator. He spent a week with the football team for a trip to South Africa before returning to Ann Arbor last week.
“Amazing, in one word,” Manuel said Monday while at Big Ten headquarters outside of Chicago for the annual spring athletic directors meetings. “Just a unbelievable experience for all of us and unbelievable for me because not only did I get to experience it, I got to experience it through the student athletes as well and their eyes were open and they were engaged and they were just taking it all in.
As was the case last year, the team had already completed spring practice and the trip was an educational, sightseeing excursion.
They toured the Robben Island prison Nelson Mandela spent nearly two decades imprisoned during apartheid before becoming the nation’s first democratically elected president, checked out penguins while visiting Cape of Good Hope and participated in a rugby and football clinic. After leaving Cape Town for Johannesburg, Michigan’s traveling contingent visited the Apartheid Museum and saw wildlife while on safaris.
Manuel, who has named athletic director in January 2016, went with the Wolverines to Italy but wasn’t with the team in France last year. He said the experience this year was overwhelmingly endorsed by the players.
“You can talk to them,” Manuel said, “but the majority, the super majority who talked to me said this was the best – of those who went on all three, said by far this was their favorite of the three.”