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October 20, 2013

Salem's Phelps lived the dream playing for Michigan

Eric Phelps thought he’d end at UMass or perhaps Maine, UNH or UConn.

But then everything changed and the 1973 Salem High grad ended up at Michigan.

“Bill Knight was a Salem guy who had a connection,” said Phelps, who, for the last 16 years, has been an assistant coach at Bow High. “I didn’t know anything. I just knew UNH and UMass. Of course, at 17, I said I was interested.”

The Wolverines were coached by the legendary Bo Schembechler.

“I met Bo. It was jawdropping,” said. “It was an eye-opening experience for a New Hampshire kid. Your eyes are wide open.”

A knee injury curtailed his career. He contributed four career tackles for Michigan teams which went a combined 38-5-3 and all four years finished in the top eight nationally. Despite the limited playing time, he has no regrets.

“It was an experience I could never, ever match,” said Phelps, a 6-1, 215-pound running back/linebacker at Salem who put on about 30 pounds to play linebacker for the Maize and Blue. “Absolutely, absolutely I’m glad I went there.”

The original knee injury occurred sophomore year against Michigan State. Looking back, he wishes he had handled it differently.

“I thought it was a minor setback, but as time went by I’d get another injury and another,” he said. “I probably didn’t do everything (rehabilitating) I should have. You’re a young kid.”

His roommate, Mike Kenn, was a five-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman with the Atlanta Falcons.

He still has nothing but fond memories of playing for the Blue Devils. He was the oldest of three standout brothers. Kevin (SHS ‘74) and Brian (SHS ‘76) were captains who played in the Shrine Game while Brian’s twin, Brenda, played basketball and field hockey and was a majorette.

Phelps said, “To this day, coach Hugh Johnson, I look back and he was a mentor to me and my brothers. He was very demanding and hard working and taught us the game of football ... not just the Xs and Os. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

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