ANN ARBOR – Keith Washington flipped his commitment from California to Michigan on national signing day in 2015.
The three-star athlete from Prattville High School in Alabama chose the Wolverines “to be a part of something special,” he said at the time.
Washington, now a cornerback headed into his redshirt sophomore season, will fulfill that goal, just in ways he never imagined when he picked Michigan. The Wolverines will spend next week in Rome, wrapping up spring practice. After that, Washington is headed to Argentina for a study abroad program.
“Honestly, I never even thought about going overseas at all,” Washington said on Tuesday evening, following the final spring practice in Ann Arbor. “This is definitely a new experience for me, but I’m excited and I look forward to it.”
When Michigan announced the Rome trip in January, the university made sure to point out the additional opportunities it would provide as players have the entire month of May off.
“The world is our classroom,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said on national signing day in February, adding that he plans to make it an annual spring trip to different destinations.
A Michigan spokesman on Tuesday said that 21 players will be involved in study abroad programs in six different countries and nine others have lined up international internships.
Jared Wangler, a redshirt junior linebacker, is one of three Michigan players who will depart Rome for a three-week study abroad course titled reading and writing fairytales in Iceland.
“The premise of it is going around exploring different parts of Iceland and their culture and writing about it,” said Wangler, who will be joined in Iceland by fullback Henry Poggi and punter Will Hart. “They came to us and gave us a couple options for study abroad and this one stuck out to a couple of us.”
Wangler, the son of former Michigan quarterback John Wangler, joked about being kidded by family members for signing up for a course about fairytales. He also admitted he previously didn’t know much about Iceland and thought the island was a giant glacier, but is learning more heading into the trip.
“I started looking it up and the culture looks amazing, the (country) just looks beautiful,” he said. “I’m really excited about it.”
Noah Furbush, a redshirt junior linebacker, will spend a week in Rome with family members after the final spring practice on April 29. Then he’s travelling 6,000 miles to study food, energy and water systems in Costa Rica.
The aerospace engineering major tried to convince teammates to join him in the course but was unsuccessful. However, the subject matter is important to him.
“The infrastructure in Costa Rica is 90 percent renewable energy methods and resources,” he said. “We’re going to be studying stuff like that. Basically, I see it as the way of the future. We have so much progress to make and I’m really excited to study how their infrastructure is so far advanced as far as using those renewable energy methods.”
Washington is also going on his own as the only football player headed to Argentina to study sports and culture.
“Why not go to Buenos Aires, Argentina? That’s what I figured,” he said. “They’re big soccer fans down there and I love soccer, so I wanted to just go down there and try out a new environment, a new experience for me.”
After flying back from Rome to Detroit, Washington will depart the next day for Argentina as part of a brutal travel schedule. Although he will be the only football player on the trip, he’s eager to get to know fellow students and immerse himself in a foreign culture.
“Michigan’s got a lot of nice students, nice people that make you feel like you’re right at home,” he said. “So that’s no biggie for me.”
Garrett Moores, a redshirt senior holder, will join quarterback Alex Malzone, running back Joe Hewlett, linebacker Alex Kaminski and offensive lineman Stephen Spanellis as part of a group studying the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.
“I’m a political science major so I’ve done a lot of European government study,” Moores said, “but I haven’t gotten a hands-on approach and I’ve never been to Europe so I’m extremely excited.”
The trip to Rome also allows a jumping-off point for those who simply want to travel through Europe. Prior to arriving in Brussels, Moores said they will depart Rome for Florence, Venice and Munich. The study abroad program will also include day trips to Amsterdam and Paris.
“After the week in Rome, we’re kind of on our own. They’re going to call us every 48 hours to check in, I think, just to make sure we’re alive,” Moores said with a laugh.
Wangler remembers Harbaugh calling a team meeting to announce the trip to Rome and the players being shocked. Washington said the innovative idea is part of what makes Michigan so appealing to recruits.
“I think that’s why he’s such a cool coach to play for,” Moores said of Harbaugh. “He wants you to have all these cool experiences. After practice (Tuesday), it wasn’t even talking about practice. It was like ‘oh my gosh guys, this is going to be such an incredible experience, I’m so excited for you guys. You’re going to remember this forever and I’m excited to take you all there.’ We’re all really excited.”