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ANN ARBOR - For most high school seniors, signing day marks a day of celebration for four years of hard work and dedication to the game of football.
For Wauseon senior Elliott Mealer, signing his national letter of intent yesterday to play for the University of Michigan was all of that, but it also signified a "bittersweet" moment that was just one of many steps in the healing process he and his family are going through.
Mealer lost his father, David, and girlfriend, Hollis Richer, in a car accident that also left one of his brothers, 23-year-old Brock, with a crushed lower vertebra while the family was traveling to church this past Christmas Eve.
Mealer and his mother, Shelly, were able to walk away from the crash.
"It's a bittersweet day," Shelly Mealer said shortly after Elliott signed his letter of intent in front of a few dozen family and friends in the Michigan Room of Damon's in Ann Arbor.
"I'm very proud of Elliott and his accomplishments. This has been his dream since the fourth grade."
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez even took a moment to tell the Mealers' tragic story during his press conference to announce the team's 22 incoming recruits.
"This is a family that's been through an awful lot," Rodriguez said. "I'm really proud of Elliott and what he's gone through and the way he's hanging in there."
Rodriguez and several members of his coaching staff have stopped by to visit with Brock Mealer and the Mealer family, now that he is undergoing rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
Brock Mealer said yesterday that he has regained feeling down to his knees and even moved his legs for the first time on Jan. 16. Doctors initially put the odds at 70 percent that he would never walk again after the accident.
"That's been the happiest moment I've had, just to see that I can move them," said Brock Mealer, seated next to Elliott and his older brother, Blake, while a handful of cameras captured the moment. "It's going to take a lot more work and a few more miracles to get where I want to go."
Brock and Elliott Mealer referred to the other as his hero and an inspiration, and both agreed their family has pulled together even tighter since the tragedy.
"All I can really look forward to is the future," Elliott Mealer said. "This day is monumental to me because I kind of want to put everything that's happened in the past. I'm just ready to move on to the future, and this is something that kind of shows I'm moving on to the future.
"It's something for me, it's something for my family, my friends, my brother, I think it's something that is kind of an inspiration for them that I'm moving on, and they can move on right with me."
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