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.”
His favorite Salem memory?
“The guys I played with. They made football very fun. Guy Trammell, Todd Lyons, Peter Hagen, Billy Hagen, Mark Caesar, Daryl Vartanian.”
He tries to see his Pop Warner coach, Jim Lawlor, every Christmas.
“He was a mentor to me and a lot of kids,” said Phelps.
His most memorable game?
“It was against Methuen in the mud at Tenney,” he said. “It was the first time we played Methuen in years. They were making fun of us. We were supposed to be Cow Hampshire. We beat them.”
He assisted Johnson for a year and then Mike Cassano at Timberlane for two. He’s had the long run at Bow, where one of his biggest victories came off the field. He convinced the head coach to switch to Michigan-style helmets!
His original plan was to go into teaching but he soon opted for law enforcement. That has taken him near and far.
Phelps said he was a Concord police officer for 21 years, working with the SWAT team and undercover narcotics. Then he did four years with the pre-trial diversion program in Merrimack County and for the last six years he has worked security for the federal court in Concord.
He said he had some fascinating and dangerous jobs as well.
“I was in Iraq training SWAT teams for the Iraqi police for a year (2005-06),” he said. “I was in Mosul working for Dyncorp. The war was going on. We’d train them then they would go on missions with me. I got a concussion from an IED. You had to get used to it or you wouldn’t survive.
“Then I was in Rwanda in 2002. That was after the 1996 genocide. We were training police officers for a couple months.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.