Diaspora

Junior Colson: From an orphanage in Haiti to Michigan’s top tackler – MLive.com

Michigan linebacker Junior Colson talks to the media at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz. on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022. Michigan plays TCU in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 31 at State Farm Stadium.Neil Blake | MLive.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Junior Colson calls Michigan teammate Mike Sainristil his Haitian brother, but Sainristil has been holding out on some home cooking. When Sainristil’s mom has visited Ann Arbor and cooked for him, Colson hasn’t been invited.
“It’s on him,” Colson said, unable to mask his ever-present smile. “Any time he brings food over, I’m like, ‘You’re not gonna share? You’re not the only Haitian here.’”
Colson, a sophomore linebacker, has been forced to feast on ball carriers this season. He’s Michigan’s leading tackler and a big reason why the Wolverines are 13-0 and playing for a spot in the national championship against TCU in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona (4:10 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Junior Colson was born with the last name Pierre-Charles on Dec. 6, 2002, in Mirebalais, Haiti, a Caribbean country with a population of a little more than 11 million.
“Life in Haiti was kind of like a dream,” he said. “It was awesome. It was great being in the homelands. You always had the water right next to you; great people. I miss life in Haiti. It was simple.”
Simple, but full of hardship.
His father died when Colson was a young child, and though his mother was still alive, he wound up in an orphanage owned by his uncle. (His mother has since passed away.) After two years there, on Jan. 12, 2010, a massive earthquake rocked the country.
As a result, many Americans flew to Haiti to help, including Melanie Colson and her daughter, Amanda. One of their stops was at an orphanage, where they met Junior. Melanie and her husband, Steve, had previously fostered children. Melanie and Amanda had an instant connection with Junior; the Colsons decided to adopt.
On May 24, 2012, Junior, who only spoke Haitian Creole, flew on a plane for the first time. He was headed to America, and a new life.
Living with his new family in Brentwood, Tennessee, a suburb of Nashville, Colson picked up English quickly, becoming fluent in about nine months, he said. It didn’t take him long to master football either, with guidance from his new older brother, Josh.
He was put on to the Wolverines by Melanie, a Michigan native. (Yes, Colson has seen “The Blind Side” and has heard the comparison many times; he sees his story as its own.) At the time of Colson’s recruitment, Michigan had an assistant coach with a Haitian background, Brian Jean-Mary. That connection helped, but the main reason Colson liked Michigan was because it felt like family.
Despite his aversion to the cold, Colson committed on May 24, 2020, the anniversary of his flight to the United States.
See also: Why Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy draws a smiley face on his hand before every game
Michigan Wolverines linebacker Junior Colson (25) tackles Colorado State Rams running back Avery Morrow (25) Michigan faces off against Colorado State at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. Jacob Hamilton | MLive.comJacob Hamilton | MLive.com
When Jesse Minter got the job as Michigan’s defensive coordinator this past winter, he connected with the man he was replacing, Mike Macdonald, to get the rundown on the players he’d be inheriting.
“Man, there’s this freshman linebacker…” Macdonald said.
Colson had worked his way into the starting lineup midway through the season, a key part of a dominant defense that propelled Michigan to a Big Ten title and a College Football Playoff appearance.
Minter would soon get to know Colson really well. Minter was coming from Vanderbilt, and would return to Nashville periodically to see his family before they eventually joined him in Ann Arbor. The Colsons lived just a few minutes away. Colson came to Minter’s house, swam in his pool, and played with his kids.
“My kids look up to Junior,” Minter said. “He’s a great young man; the type of the guy you’d want your family to end up with.”
Colson, No. 25, has tallied 95 tackles this season, including 15 in Michigan’s most recent game, the Big Ten championship over Purdue.
“I see it as fun,” Colson said of running full speed at someone else running full speed. “I like hitting people.”
Michigan defensive end Mike Morris said he and his fellow linemen know they just have to set the edge and contain their gaps and Colson and fellow linebacker Michael Barrett will take care of the rest.
“We ask him to do a whole lot as our (middle) linebacker,” Minter said. “A ton is on his plate. He’s a tremendous player. He’s got a really, really high ceiling. He’s going to be able to play football for a long, long time. He means the world to us in the middle of our defense.”
Defensive lineman Mazi Smith compared Colson to a robot for his determination to play through injury (Colson hasn’t missed a game so far in his college career). “The second he got on the field, you could see he was different and he made this defense different single-handedly.”
Off the field, it’s an entirely different story. Ask a teammate or coach about Colson and he’ll probably mention Colson’s smile and laugh. Sainristil called him “bright hearted.” Colson thanked this writer for taking the time to interview him. He says “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am” with sincerity. He does not seek attention, but still drew a crowd at Wednesday’s media session, and needed to be cajoled from his dais by a Michigan staffer. Colson wasn’t trying to soak up extra camera time; he just didn’t want to be rude to the reporter asking a final question.
Colson is a religious person who is grateful for his athletic gifts and life’s blessings. He’s thankful his path brought him to his adopted family, to the United States, to playing football at Michigan. He looks forward to the future, but remembers his past: A few of Colson’s many tattoos reference Haiti, including the national flag and an outline of the country.
He hasn’t returned to his birth country but would like to in the near future. Further down the line, he’d like to build an orphanage there.
Colson has dual citizenship and considers himself both Haitian and American. He outlined the biggest difference between the two cultures.
“In Haiti, people are happy with a simple life. Here, everybody’s trying to do better, trying to one-up each other. In Haiti, they’re content. Here you’ve always got to work harder.”
So where does leave Colson?
“I’m always happy with what the lord has given me,” he said. “I’m content. But I know he wants more from me so I always chase greatness. I feel there’s so much more left on the table. Every day, I try and go after it.”
Most teammates are aware of the basics of Colson’s story, but he doesn’t regularly discuss Haiti with them. The exception is Sainristil, a senior defensive back, who was also born there. Colson teases him because he moved to the United States at just 3 months old. Sainristil points out that he speaks better Creole much better than Colson. Said Colson: “I’ve told him, ‘Give me two months around Haitian people, I’ll be right back there with you.”
Oh, and the next time Sainristil’s mom cooks in Ann Arbor, he promises Colson will get a plate.
Michigan and TCU players prepare for the Fiesta Bowl
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