New England Patriots offensive lineman Michael Onwenu had a special teammate during his playing days at the University of Michigan.
Larry Prout Jr. "signed" with the Wolverines football program in the fall of 2016. He was 15 at the time, born with several medical disabilities that resulted in more than 90 surgeries to that point in his life. Though he couldn't physically suit up and play, Prout'is attitude despite adversity made him a perfect locker room addition, made possible by the non-profit Team Impact.
With how much the Boston-based organization has done for kids like Larry across the country, the work leaves a lasting impression on collegiate athletes as well.
"I decided to represent Team Impact because I was really familiar with it," Onwenu said, explaining his decision to highlight the non-profit through the NFL's My Cause My Cleats initiative.
"I remember being in college and being matched with one of the kids in the program. Our team was matched with Larry Prout, and I think they've had other kids there since I graduated, but I did one of the summer camps during my years there and it was just a good cause. This year I wanted to support them."
Coincidentally, support for Team Impact already exists in the Patriots' locker room.
Current teammate Josh Uche, who came to New England from the same draft class at Michigan, honored Prout last year for My Cause My Cleats and the two since reconnected at Team Impact's fundraising gala last spring.
But the ties run much deeper than that, going back to 2011 when Team Impact first launched. Dan Kraft, son of Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, was one of its co-founders.
Before either Onwenu or Uche made it to the NFL, they were giving back to a cause dear to the team that drafted them both. Years later, Onwenu continues to shine a light on Team Impact, and wore the non-profits' colors on his custom cleats during the Patriots game Sunday against the Chargers.
"It gave me a different perspective, meeting someone in a different circumstance with that set of challenges," Onwenu said. "But you see that kid, and how grateful they are for the experience and how happier they are to feel included by other people – especially these athletes and football players that got close to him. It's always one of those things where I think about kids, and even the simplest things can make a huge difference in their day, and that's what Team Impact does."
Learn more about Team Impact here.