Duo will team up again at Hope

BIG RAPIDS — The brotherhood Tony Byrne and Levi Mehl forged on the football field at Big Rapids High School will continue at the collegiate level.

Byrne and Mehl signed their national letters of intent with Hope College on Thursday, both claiming that they had found the right fit both in a football program and from an academic standpoint.

SIGN HERE: Big Rapids' Tony Byrne (left) and Levi Mehl sign their national letter of intent with Hope College. (Pioneer photo/Martin Slagter)

Hope College is a private Christian liberal arts college located in Holland and participates in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

“Apart from the fantastic athletic department that they have, they have a wide range of majors on the academic side,” said Byrne, who will play middle linebacker for the Flying Dutchmen. “I’m undecided, but all of my interests as far as a major goes are there.”

Mehl, who plans on majoring in biomedical technology, had been looking at between six to eight schools, narrowing his list down to Saginaw Valley State and Hope. It was the closeness of the football program that put the Flying Dutchmen over the top.

“Coach (Mitch Cumings) pushed me to attend camp there as a sophomore,” he said. “When I was there, it just felt like everyone was close-knit and together. They knew what their goals were: To win and become closer as a football family.”

Cumings, an alumni and former football player for Hope, encouraged both players to look at the school based on a few factors including the small school atmosphere, its academic standards and the family environment within the football program.

“(One thing) that set Hope apart from other colleges is that family atmosphere,” he said. “It’s a smaller school, but it’s a little larger than some of the other MIAA schools with about 3,000 students. The bigger the program, sometimes it seems that you’re more of a number.

“Coach (Dean) Kreps still sends me birthday and Christmas cards,” he added. “I enjoy going back to help at some of their camps because they’ve had a profound effect on my life.”

In addition to playing football together, Mehl and Byrne will be roommates this fall.

Being able to share the experience of playing college football together was too hard to pass up, said Mehl, who will be a longsnapper and defensive end at Hope. After receiving mail from Hope expressing their interest on a consistent basis, the decision to attend school there became apparent.

“It’s easier to go into this situation with someone that you know and that you’re comfortable with,” he said. “We’re going to be in practice together, study time, everything like that. I think it will help us both.”

Byrne, who was the first to offer a verbal commitment to Hope, said he kept tabs on his teammate throughout the recruiting process, but didn’t pressure Mehl to join him.

“I kept up with (Mehl) on what he was doing and what schools he was talking to,” he said. “It kind of came to a surprise to me when he said it came down to Hope or Saginaw Valley State. It might have pushed him a little bit, but I wasn’t trying to make the decision for him.”

In front of family and members of the Big Rapids football team, Cumings remarked that both Mehl and Byrne are good examples of what hard work can do for a student-athlete.

“Their commitment to their teammates, themselves and their future is what sets them apart,” he said. “The average GPA for a Hope student is 3.8, so it’s not for everybody.”



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