This next guy came in on a mission, with a determination to prove himself on the biggest staqe in college football. Like all of the men I’ve written about, there was a personal experience I shared with the guy that left an impression that sticks with me 30 years later. This particular guy made a career of out-punching his weight and out-working the competition. He was a cornerback of average size and speed from a high school not known for churning out D1 prospects (other than he and his brothers). To stack the odds even further against him, he was a walk-on trying to stake a claim in a defensive backfield that featured Vada Murray, Corwin Brown, Tripp Welbourne, and David Key just to name a few. Many people would doubt him – including yours truly – but he wouldn’t let that keep him from reaching his goals of earning a scholarship and leaving his mark at Michigan. Before it was all said and done, I wouldn’t be the only fool to dismiss #6.
Todd Plate grew up less than an hour west of Ann Arbor in Brooklyn, Michigan. He played for a team that only won one game his senior year. In spite of that, he earned Class B All-State honors and was recruited by Army and a few D2 schools who offered partial/non-athletic scholarships. It was nice to have those options, but he wanted a bigger challenge. He grew up a fan of Michigan and wanted to see what he could do in Ann Arbor. Without a scholarship offer however, he had to make a choice between accepting grant-in-aid at a smaller school or pay his own way as a walk on. His dad offered to pick up the tab if that’s what his oldest boy really wanted. There were no guarantees other than Lloyd telling him he’d get an opportunity to prove himself. That’s all he needed.
Nearly every player pays their dues on the demonstration team (demo squad – pronounced “dee-mo). As you’re probably aware, the demo squad’s job is to emulate the formations and plays of the coming week’s opponent. It’s grueling work, sometimes painful, oft times thankless, but important nonetheless. It’s also where players learn to play college football. You cut your teeth on the demo squad while getting your ass kicked by older players – many of them all-conference, some of them all-americans. It's a year of hell, and for some (usually walk ons) it can last longer. Sometimest two, three, and even four years. If you remember in John Bacon’s book “Endzone”, John Wangler tells a story of how 5th year senior Jim Hackett motivated the rest of his troops to “give 'em a good look, guys. We have to get them ready for Saturday.” He was a career demo player who CHOSE to play a 5th year, knowing he wouldn't crack the two-deep. As I've said before, it takes a special player.
When I was a junior, I was starting my 3rd year on demo. I thought this kid with the chip on his shoulder and scar on his face was a little too cocky and unaware of his place on the team. He once told me, “I’m won’t be on demo next year, I can promise you that.” I said, “look man, nobody wants to be on demo, but everyone has a role.” He was adamant that one day he would start for Michigan. Yea. Right. “Good luck, I hope you do” as I walked away shaking my head at the young kid who clearly had no clue what he was up against. From that day to this, I never forgave myself for doubting the guy.
Todd’s plan was to shadow DB coach Billy Harris during every practice. He learned every position in the backfield, knew all the assignments, and was glued to Harris’ hip. Whenever one of the starters screwed up, Plate was right there when Coach Harris looked for a replacement. By his sophomore year, he was getting noticed and even earned a few snaps in a couple blowouts, though he still didn’t make the travel team. He bided his time on demo one more year and by spring, he worked his way into the conversation as a legit contributor to the defense. Every time he got on the field, he was in the right place to make a big play.
By the time the 1988 season got under way, Plate had broken through the ceiling and earned his first career start, as well as that coveted scholarship. His days on the demonstration team were most decidedly over.
As a senior, in the biggest game of the year, #3 Michigan faced #20 Ohio State in Ann Arbor with the Big Ten Championship and trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. Plate had solidified his spot as a starter at cornerback and seemingly proved all of his doubters wrong. He was part of a unit that helped win the Big Ten the year before and beat USC in the Rose Bowl. He would earn all-conference honorable mention. And yet, some people just didn't get the message. John Cooper and the Buckeyes needed a little more convincing.
"Our plan was to go at number six (Plate) all day," freshman OSU wide receiver Greg Beatty said. "It wasn't that we thought he was a sorry defensive back, just that he wasn't quite as good as their other guys. We picked on him, and he had a great game. It turns out, he was one of their best.”
Plate would have a day. Already with one interception in the first half (his career first), Ohio State would challenge him again with just a few minutes left in the game and trailing by 3. John Cooper told his team that they "had them right where we want them."
With the ball at midfield and the Buckeyes on a possible game-winning drive, they decided to pick on 6 again.
"I saw him waving his hands before the snap because he wasn't sure what coverage he was supposed to play," Beatty said. "I thought I was going to make the catch. I thought it was a great throw. The next thing I knew, the ball was in his hands."
His second interception sealed the victory and sent the Wolverines back to the Rose Bowl for the 3rd time 4 years. He would finish his career with FOUR Big Ten Championship rings and a 33-6-1 conference record (including 4-1 vs OSU) in his 5 years at UofM.
Todd also had the unique opportunity to play against his brother Scott who was a DB for Iowa. Scott was a 4 year letter winner and 3 year starter for the Hawkeyes. Scott would go on to play in the Canadian Football League and then coach at the high school level. His oldest son is currently a freshman receiver at Ball State University.
Sadly, life after football was a struggle. Concussions from football, a head injury suffered in an altercation, substance abuse, and the effects of CTE led to his sudden and tragic death in 2013. It was a devastating loss for the Plate family. “I miss him dearly" said Todd.
Todd, Scott, and Erick Anderson
Todd’s other brother Rick was a cornerback for Central Michigan and was a member of both teams that defeated Michigan State. He has one son who is a starting DB for Grand Valley and another who is committed to play linebacker at his dad’s alma mater.
After graduation, Todd began a long and successful career in the steel industry. He went to work for Al Glick at Alro Steel in Jackson. Al taught Todd the industry from the bottom up, and became a great mentor and friend. As he learned the business and paid his dues, an opportunity at Ryerson became available that moved him up the organization and put him through the Kellogg School of Business Management at Northwestern University. From there his career took off and today he’s the President and CEO of Tricon Wear Solutions in Nashville, Tennessee.
He’s married to his wife Heidi whom he met at the Michigan-Notre Dame game in 2009. She’s a MSU grad and is a school teacher in Tennessee. He has two children, the oldest who graduated from Western Michigan and a son who is a junior at Grand Valley.
When Todd’s not running his business, or participating in church activities, he’s just out....you know....setting multiple world records in drag boat racing. No big deal.
“My dad used to race when we were kids. I started racing as a hobby for me, my dad, and brothers to have some fun and compete” he said.
Like everything he’s done, he started at the bottom level and worked himself to the top. His first boat was in the 9 second/118mph bracket, then to the Blown Gas Hydro class at 5.95seconds and 195mph. The next step was Top Alcohol Hydro at 5.35 seconds and 225mph, and finally the Top Fuel Class where he went TWO HUNDRED SIXTY-ONE MILES PER HOUR in 3.49 seconds!!!
As you can imagine, it’s an extraordinarily dangerous sport, and with his new job responsibilities, he’s had to dial it back this season. “I figured I have burned 8 of my 9 lives and dodged some close calls."
Since the first day he stepped on the football field, to the last day of racing, and throughout his rise up the business ladder, Todd Plate has proven time and time again that he is a Leader and Best.
Those who stay….
Todd played from 1986-1990 and wore #6
His favorite restaurant in Ann Arbor is The Chophouse
The best dish he makes is Beef Tenderloin done on his Big Green Egg.
Obviously he’d allow his son to play football but it has to be tough under the circumstances.