By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Michael Lois has moved far beyond the what-if scenarios and feeling sorry for himself.
He rarely thinks back to Sept. 16, 2018 because he’s too busy living and embracing his dreams and aspirations as a second-year student at the University of Iowa.
To dwell on what happened that day in his home state of Wisconsin is wasting energy, counterproductive and a distraction.
It was a horrible day, a day that changed the course of Lois’ life when he jumped from a trampoline head-first into four feet of water.
Lois missed the floating device and broke three vertebrae on impact. He immediately felt numb and was unable to move his arms or legs.
Lois didn’t realize it at the time, but his once-promising football career was over before his high school junior season had even started.
His dream of playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes also ended that day, even if Lois refused to believe it.
He held out hope during his final two years of high school that he would be cleared to play football again, but it never happened because every doctor who examined him felt it was too risky.
Lois has since come to terms with the sobering reality that he will never play football again.
“In high school I just couldn’t give it up,” Lois said Thursday in a telephone interview. “So, I was just trying to call all these doctors and trying to find somebody to clear me. But I don’t know if I just couldn’t give it up or I just wanted people to see I was going to bounce back from it.
“But after realizing how much of a risk it was and how dangerous it could be in my situation, I just thought it was pretty foolish of me to keep trying to push it. I had been denied by multiple doctors, and I think they’re just looking out for my best interest.”
To hear more from Lois, check out the most recent HawkFanatic podcast
Lois is about midway through the fall semester at Iowa, and while he still misses playing football dearly, he doesn’t play the what-if game anymore.
He was the second player to commit to Iowa’s 2020 recruiting class, and Lois believes that he could’ve been a “monster” at defensive end for the Hawkeyes, but the way Lois sees it, God had a different plan for him.
He tries not to think about those few moments before he made the mistake of diving into shallow water. Or about why he chose to do something that was so ill-advised and dangerous.
“That was more in high school when I was just like, ‘what was I doing?” Lois said. “It’s just going to waste energy for me to just keep thinking about it and doing the what-if scenarios. It’s not worth my time or energy. I got better things that I can be doing with that time.
“It’s a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect. I just try to put my trust into God and let him take the wheel. What if I would have played here and not had the accident, but I break my neck and die on the field because I was hit the wrong way? That’s how I try and look at it. What was God trying to protect me from?
Lois considers himself lucky and fortunate in so many ways, fortunate that he now leads mostly a normal life other than not being able to play contact sports, fortunate that Iowa offered him a scholarship as a high school sophomore, and fortunate that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz chose to honor that scholarship after the injury occurred.
“I guarantee if I would have chosen any other school in the Big Ten my situation would have had a different outcome,” Lois said. “I don’t think I would have had the same opportunities that I have at Iowa.
“Kirk Ferentz and the rest of the staff are just such great people, high class, they just wanted what’s best for me and to give me a chance still. They’re just such great people and I just really appreciate everything they’ve done for me and I want to still make an impact on the team, even though it might not be on the field, but in a positive way.”
Concerned about his scholarship
Lois had surgery after the injury occurred, and when the anesthesia wore off, he reached out to then Iowa assistant coach Tim Polasek because he was worried that he might lose his scholarship.
“I still was on heavy meds and I texted Tim Polasek who was my recruiting coach,” Lois said. “I texted him and I was like, ‘I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. I just told him, please don’t take away my scholarship. I’ll do anything and whatever it takes.
“And then he said, just worry about getting better and we’ll take care of you. It wasn’t really ever a question. I always felt like Iowa was just such great people that they were going to take care of me no matter what, and they did. And I guarantee if I would have chosen any other school that was recruiting me, that I would have had a different outcome and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today.”
Lois is currently attending class full time on scholarship, and he does volunteer work at Faith Academy in Iowa City as a representative of the Iowa football team, which is 4-0 and ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll heading into Friday’s game at 4-0 Maryland.
“Kind of share my story and just trying to give them hope and let them know like, hey, it doesn’t matter what you go through in life. It’s how you respond to it,” Lois said.
Lois was good enough in football to where Iowa offered him a scholarship as a high school sophomore, and then he committed prior to his junior year.
He grew to 6-foot-4, and weighed 260 pounds at his heaviest.
But now Lois only weighs 225 pounds, and he’s still getting used to his new shape.
“I notice it a lot, like a lot of t-shirts don’t fit anymore,” Lois said. “I notice it in my arms, just how skinny I am.”
From Badger to Hawkeye
Lois grew up as a Wisconsin fan and used to attend Wisconsin football games with his father. The hope was that Michael could play for Wisconsin, but the family’s loyalty shifted during the recruiting process.
Iowa made Lois and his parents feel more comfortable, and more wanted, compared to Wisconsin. There was just a better vibe in Iowa City during the recruiting process, and that has since been reaffirmed with how Iowa has treated Lois since the injury occurred.
Everything they promised during the recruiting process has been kept.
“It was just a homier feeling,” Lois’ father, Matt Lois said of Iowa. “I could gain trust in them initially right away, and just felt good about it. And, obviously, as time has gone on here, we had some pretty good family tragedy with Michael, it just completely confirms to me and my wife that it was the right choice, the right school. We weren’t being misled. That what we saw on our initial visits, and our initial contact with the coaches, was exactly what that program lived to be.”
Matt Lois remembers thinking Iowa City was kind of a long way from their home in Wisconsin before they had ever taken a visit. He still was loyal to the Badgers at the time and Madison, Wisconsin was closer to home.
But after their first visit to Iowa City, and how they were treated, Matt Lois felt differently about the 3 1/2 drive.
“On the way home, I remember looking back at Mike and said, ‘you know what? Iowa isn’t really that far away,” Matt Lois said.
The global pandemic has made it difficult for Michael Lois to be around the team on a regular basis, but his connection to Hawkeye football still is strong and constant.
He lives with three Iowa players: defensive end Ethan Hurkett, defensive tackle Logan Jones and kicker Aaron Blom.
He also knows that Kirk Ferentz’s door is always open, and that once a Hawkeye, always a Hawkeye.
“Not once have I ever felt like I wasn’t part of the team since I got here,” Lois said.
Matt Lois is proud of the volunteer work that his son now does on a regular basis.
But even doing charity work has been difficult due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic.
Michael reached out to several charities, and to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital during his freshman year about doing volunteer work, but there were no opportunities because of the shutdowns caused by the pandemic.
He finally found an opportunity at the Faith Academy and has embraced it.
“You do your best as a parent to raise them obviously the best as you possibly can,” Matt Lois. We really had some concerns going into his freshman year, and then obviously Covid came. I kind of figured that he’d have some sort of role (with football) and, obviously, it’s hard because of the Covid situation. We all get that, totally 100 percent.
“But I was more worried about depression and not being with the guys. I think he had some of those turn-around days, too, where it was ‘okay, well, I’m here. I’ve somewhat lost my purpose. I wanted to be that guy but now I’m just this guy.”
Matt Lois talked with Michael about trying to make an impact away from football.
“It was just trying to find him somewhere to put his motivation, his character, his caring, and hopefully, motivate some people that are struggling, or hurt, or going through a hard time to know that it’s going to be okay,” Matt Lois said. “And he’s found that by helping those who have their own struggles. It makes me feel good knowing that he’s helping to make a difference in peoples’ lives. It makes me feel proud knowing that he cares and has a big heart.”
Probably could have been a monster
Of, course, Lois misses football, the game that changed his life. He misses the competition, and the daily quest to get better. He misses being around teammates and coaches. He even misses the blood, sweat and tears.
And he truly believes that Iowa would’ve built him into a star player.
He watches the home games from the stands in Kinnick Stadium and sometimes pictures himself making a play. Iowa has used nine defensive linemen on a somewhat regular basis this season, and Lois knows he could’ve been an important piece to the puzzle.
“I think if I would have come here and kept lifting in high school and things like that and just continued to grow, I probably could have been a monster,” Lois said proudly, and with confidence. “I don’t know if that’s my ego.”
Sure, it’s his ego, and understandably so.
But Lois is also realistic.
Even if he were miraculously cleared to play, it would be a long shot because three years away from the game is an eternity.
“I think about it this way, if I was cleared right now, I would have a hard time getting back into the swing of things just because of how much weight I’ve lost,” Lois said. “So I think if I would have gotten cleared it would have just been so hard. This isn’t high school ball anymore. These guys know how to hit.”
Matt Lois seems to have struggled more than his son to move beyond the what-if scenarios. He and Michael had invested so much time and energy in football, and it was starting to pay huge dividends when the injury occurred.
“It’s really hard to watch games,” Matt Lois said. “Iowa is probably the only game on a Saturday, it’s the only thing that I can honestly find the strength and heart to want to watch and support them in that way.”
Michael Lois, on the other hand, has moved so far past the depression and anger stage that he sometimes feels sorry for his three roommates when they go to bed at 8:30 every night and then leave for morning practice at 5 a.m.
“When I hear the garage door open I just feel horrible for them. It’s kind of like survivor’s guilt,” Lois said
Michael Lois also sympathizes with college students who aren’t on scholarship, and who have to work long hours, in addition to taking classes, just to makes ends meet.
“Why do I get this opportunity and I see other kids eating ramen noodles every night because they’re trying to pay for college and they have to work,” Lois said. “And I just get such a great opportunity. I definitely want to take advantage of that, and that’s why I’m giving back to the community.”
Lois also tries to help his roommates cope with whatever problems they might face as Iowa football players, including injuries, which Hurkett and Jones both are dealing with right now.
“One thing I try to tell them is do it for the people that can’t play like me,” Lois said. “You guys haven’t been playing for six months, a year, whatever. I haven’t been playing for three years. When you go out there, just cherish every moment out on that field because there are people that would die to say they played on that field.”
Lois has very little to complain about these days.
The injury will always be in the back of Lois’ mind, but it doesn’t haunt him.
He can play basketball, ride dirt bikes and go snowboarding. He also can climb that wall at the University of Iowa Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, and often does for exercise.
He just can’t play contact sports like football, wrestling or hockey.
Some people aren’t aware of Lois’ situation and wonder why he isn’t playing for Iowa, while others know about the injury and just assume that he is now healthy because he shows no signs of the injury besides weight loss.”
“I feel kind of stupid walking past the student section and all of my friends are like, ‘oh, you say you’re on the football team’ and things like that.” Lois said. “Why aren’t you out there? People will text me from high school, and be like, ‘oh, what number are you? And I’m like, ‘well, I still haven’t been able to play yet. I’m still not cleared.
“I mean it’s hard on me. But I’ve made peace with it. I’m not going to let it make me lose sleep.”
One door closes, but another door opens is sort of how Michael Lois sees it.
“I’m just trying to find different avenues in life, and God just uses people in such weird ways,” Lois said. “When the accident first happened it didn’t make any sense to me. I had all these things going for me and now this.
“But I think I can use this in a good positive way and work with the children’s hospital and work with the kids at Faith Academy and share my story and inspire others. So I think this whole thing did have a purpose and there’s a reason why I’m here, still.”
Even though he can’t play football anymore, his ability as a football player is what led him to Iowa.
“It’s so weird how my football skills got me here, and once I’m here, those skills are no longer needed,” Lois said. “I haven’t used football skills since I’ve been here once.”
Michael Lois loves living in Iowa City and could see himself settling down here.
“I wish everyone could experience college life in Iowa City,” Lois said. “There is just nothing else like it in the world. I definitely could call Iowa City my home for the rest of my life and I would love to try to stay here and have a family some day and raise them in Iowa City.
“There’s just nothing else like it in the world, how friendly everyone is and how caring. It’s hard to find that nowadays. It’s just an amazing town with great people, and it’s fun, too. There’s always things to do.”
Matt Lois feels the same about Iowa City.
“It’s enlightening to see a culture with those values and care,” Matt Lois said. “It’s a great place. I’d love to pack up and move some day.”