Ann Arbor, Mich. — On the edge of the Florida Everglades, the black soil of Muck City is known for producing two things: football players and sugarcane.
The small communities of Pahoki and Bel Glade are known for producing more NFL More players per capita than any other region in the country. The place has inspired books, documentaries, and the dreams of countless kids trying to be Muck City’s next All-American.
In that fertile soil, the seed took root. It started on Saturday as parents gathered to watch the next generation of Muck City soccer stars play youth league soccer. The coach, a former Florida State offensive lineman, had a son on the team. The field was full of promising young players, but the real show happened in the first half, when the kid picked up a soccer ball and ran onto the field.
As the crowd looked on in amazement, the kid began shooting passes to the coach: 10 yards at first, then 20, all the way to 50 or 60. Even when the ball stung his hands, the coach knew that, unlike his son and the other boys on the team, he wouldn’t get it. The player has the chance to become a soccer star. There would be no Friday Night Lights and no football shows, and one day he had to explain why.
The player was his daughter.
“At the time, there were no girls allowed,” said Mike Morris Sr. “She could have been on a team as a kicker, but for a young lady playing quarterback, that was unheard of. I didn’t want her to go through that kind of stress.”
One day last month, Mimi Bolden Morris slipped behind a desk inside Schembechler Hall, pausing for a few moments before her next staff meeting. She’s come a long way since the Saturdays in Muck City’s youth league courts. Although she surprisingly didn’t play high school or college, her football career is just getting started.
When she started at Michigan, Bolden Morris told the players they could call her Mimi, a nickname she had had since she was a child. Her mother prefers Milan, her first name. Around Schembechler Hall, you walk by something else.
“I don’t mind being called Mimi,” she said. “For me, it’s neat. Their response is always, ‘No, you’re my coach, so I’ll call you coach.'”
As a first-year graduate assistant, Bolden Morris is believed to be the first woman to hold the position in the Big Ten and second in Power 5 football, Following in the footsteps of Carol White of Georgia Tech. Her parents, Mike Sr. and Melanie Bolden Morris, have the rare privilege of rooting for a son and daughter on the same college football team: Milan as a GA, and Mike Jr. as the starting third defensive end. Wolverine.
The Morris family never imagined this kind of reunion when Mike, 21, and Mimi, 23, went off to college. Playing football in high school or college wasn’t an option for Mimi, so she got involved with basketball instead. She was awarded a scholarship to Boston College and spent three years there before finishing her career at Georgetown, where she averaged 12.8 points and started every game in the backcourt as a senior. All that time, I’ve been holding on to dreams growing up in one of the most affluent soccer regions in the country.
“That’s what sparked my love for her,” Bolden Morris said. “My dad being a soccer coach. I was his forever water girl. Soccer has been something that’s been in my life since I was a kid. It’s one of the first sports I was ever introduced to,” he added.
Although women have made inroads into staff positions, soccer is still a male-dominated sport. With her background in college basketball, Bolden Morris knew she faced long odds to break into a business famous for the competition. I thought about playing basketball outside or trying it out with WNBA, but her spherical roots continued to pull her back. During her time at Georgetown, she began coaching in a soccer league and decided to look for opportunities at the college level.
Bolden Morris reached out on social media to a pair of prominent NFL women, Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and Bills offensive assistant Sophia Lewin, and began sending her resume to college football programs. When her mother suggested reaching out to Michigan, Mimi’s response was, “No bullet.”
“First, it was a little fearful,” Mimi said. “Secondly, I didn’t want to be in the same environment as my brother. My brother and I are very close. I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable in his space.”
It took maternal intervention to get the wheels moving. As a high school principal, Melanie Bolden Morris understood the value of connection in getting her first big break. Mimi wasn’t looking for a shortcut, she was just an opportunity. Melanie decided to take matters into her own hands and reached out to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
“I said, ‘You know what, let me just call,’” Melanie said. “The worst thing that can happen is he can say no.”
Harbou said he will see what he can do. At first, Mimi thought she was coming to Michigan as an intern, but then Harbaugh called with some news: Michigan was promoting Grant Newsome to a full-time coaching position and had a shot at Offensive GA. Was Mimi interested?
That’s how Bolden Morris ended up sitting across from the harpo where he asked her about her knowledge of football. After their initial conversation, I started volunteering with Georgetown’s FCS soccer program, trying to soak up everything I could. The experience at Georgetown gave her a head start in learning how to split film, which is a big part of her responsibilities as a graduate assistant.
“I hired her, and without my knowledge, she was volunteering at Georgetown University’s football program to prepare herself for the job,” Harbou said. “I just thought that speaks volumes.”
There’s still one unanswered question: How would Mike feel about having his older sister on the sidelines? As it turns out, Mimi had no cause for concern.
“I knew her fear was that she was going to invade my space and overrun her,” Mike Jr. said. “I don’t really see it that way. I looked at her as my sister was entering a field, and I’m able to help her through it. I’m glad she chose this place as her first so I could be here and talk her through everything.”
Being Together in Michigan brings out the goofy side of a sibling relationship. When Mike, 292 pounds, sees Mimi before a workout, he loves to hop on her back and see how long she can hold him. However, most of the time they are so busy with their own jobs that they hardly know the other is around.
Congratulations Milan Bolden Morris!
– Patrick Waring (@WaringPatrick) September 3, 2022
Mimi’s week begins on Sunday as she breaks a movie of the upcoming opponent and studies the opposing coaching staff’s tendencies and influences. Early in the week, she was preparing cards for the scouting team to make sure Michigan was training in the right look. According to her father, she often opens the building at 5 am and does not leave until 11 pm or midnight.
Coming from the world of college basketball, Bolden Morris used to think of X and O in terms of five players on the basketball court. With 11 players on a soccer field, the range of possible schemes, variations and variations increases exponentially.
“In basketball, you play man or zone and most of it is the same,” said Bolden Morris. “In soccer, I can play man in many different ways. I can play an area in many different ways. There are many kinds of areas on top of all the different ways to run it.”
Mike Morris Sr. knows a lot about his daughter: If Mimi doesn’t understand something, she’ll work until she finds the answer. As the daughter of a high school principal and a law enforcement official, she was instilled with toughness and discipline at an early age.
Mike Sr. remembers watching Mimi at a basketball game on the court with a group of boys when she was little. After Mimi drives by for an easy throw, Mike stops the game and tells the boys in colorful phrases that anyone who takes it easy on his daughter will have to hit back. Mimi came home that day with bloody elbows, but lesson learned. She wasn’t going to back down on anyone.
“All I wanted was an even ground,” Mike Sr. said. “I’d put it up against anyone. If I said, ‘We’re going to rate this thing fairly,’ you’d beat most guys.”
With Mike and Mimi in Michigan, Mike Sr. and Melanie make regular trips from their home in Palm Beach, Florida, to spend their Saturdays in Ann Arbor. Melanie Bolden Morris is a team mom known for her cooking, including the Thanksgiving feast she prepares for the Michigan defensemen.
The family has a pre-game tradition that happens three hours before every home game, when Mike Jr. walks out of Schembechler Hall and finds his parents swinging in a nearby grassy area. They join hands, form a circle and pray. Then Mike takes the bus to the stadium while his parents cross the parking lot to Michigan Stadium, where one eye will be on Mike and the other on Mimi.
“It’s a dream come true for me to have my family together,” said Melanie Bolden-Morris. “It’s so ingrained in us that a family that prays together stays together. Now that they’re living it up, it means the world to me.”
Soon, Mike and Mimi will go their separate ways again. Mike’s breakout first season saw him climb the draft boards, being listed in the first round in some projections. It’s hard to predict where Mimi’s career will go, but no one would be surprised if she continues to move up the coaching ladder. Her goal is to become a coach for the job someday, whether in college or in the NFL, and there’s no reason for her to have to stop there.
“She was talking about working in football, being the first women’s coach in the NFL,” Mike Jr. said. “She wanted to do so much. I was glad her brother could see that my sister was so determined to do pioneering things.”
There was a time when Mimi wanted to be the first female quarterback in the NFL. For the little girl throwing passes at halftime of her brother’s youth soccer league games, it was hard for her to give up on the dream. But a seed was sown, and now it bears fruit.
The first time she stepped onto the field as a coach, Bolden Morris felt like she was back in Muck City, where she totally belonged.
“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “It was a whole moment, like, ‘Yeah, I really like this.'” “
(Top photo of Jim Harbaugh, Ron Bellamy and Mimi Bolden Morris: Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)