BRADENTON -- People can always find a reason to watch football.
That self-evident truth was on display Friday when the University of Michigan football team wrapped up a week of spring practice in Florida,
Close to 5,000 fans watched at IMG Academy with the vast majority fans of the Big Blue.
But there were others in attendance who had their own agenda -- even if it meant glowing about how SEC coaches complained that the week gave Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh an unfair recruiting advantage.
Edgard Theliar, a former Manatee High standout receiver, who finished his career in 2006, brought a contingent of youth football players he coaches to provide inspiration. He mentors kids through a youth football organization the New Manatee Broncos and Living Proof, which also was created to help local youth.
"We brought some of our kids from the Broncos here to show them how it's really done in college with practices and how hard everyone works," Theliar said. "The hustle and hard work are things they need to see, but don't get to see every day. Harbaugh is doing good things by coming here. I think he is on to something."
Joe Sturdivant, head coach of Trinity Catholic High in Ocala, brought his staff to watch the practice.
"We came here because we got a chance to watch college football and some great coaches," Sturdivant said. "Offensively and defensively, Michigan is very similar to what we do. They just do it at a higher level and much quicker. I also wanted to come back home and show these guys where I am from."
Sturdivant was defensive coordinator at IMG before taking over the Trinity Catholic program prior to last season. He played at SMU, where he was an assistant coach. He said the chance to watch Harbaugh coach in person was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
"I know he is the type of guy that coaches gravitate to and a guy who I have been a fan of for a long time since he was at Stanford," Sturdivant said. "He has a similar attitude to what I would like to be as a coach. I want
to mimic and espouse what he has done. We run similar drills, but he does it so fast. I like the speed and efficiency of his practice."
Brian Joseph, 56, born and raised in Michigan, has been a Big Blue season-ticket holder for 22 years and runs a Facebook page devoted to the University of Michigan athletics.
He seemed to enjoy the consternation many SEC coaches are experiencing over Harbaugh being allowed to run this week of practice in Florida.
"Coach Harbaugh is just getting started and who cares about the SEC. This has been a great week for our fans," Joseph said.
Mike Matthews, 40, said he came to the practice because of the generosity of Harbaugh.
"Coach Harbaugh is a very gracious man and a great signer. We get autographs and do charity auctions with our proceeds going to the vets at MacDill Air Force Base," Matthews said. "Those are our real heroes and coach Harbaugh has been very helpful with helping them."
Alan Dell, Herald sports columnist/writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports