Lehan makes tough calls on and off the field

Mike Lehan made the toughest telephone call of his life in the summer of 1999.
No, the sophomore cornerback on the Gophers football team wasn’t calling up a girl to ask her out on a date.
He wasn’t calling to order a pizza while trying to figure out if he wanted pepperoni or sausage as a topping.
Instead, for the first time in his life, Lehan was calling his birth mother.
Born in Texas and adopted at three months old by a family in Minnesota, Lehan had waited 19 years for the summer day when he finally had a number to dial with someone to talk to on the other line.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to say,” Lehan said. “Was I going to say, ‘Hi this is Mike? Or, hi this is your son?’ I didn’t know how she would react to that.”
The call was worth the wait.
“That first day I think I talked to everybody, it was pretty emotional,” Lehan said. “It was one of those things that I had been waiting to do for a lifetime and I couldn’t really believe it was happening.”
Most adopted children are curious to know who their birth parents are. Growing up, Lehan was no different.
Lehan, who is African-American, said it was evident he was adopted because his of his parents skin color, which was white.
“The big thing for me when I was younger was going to meet my teachers on family days,” Lehan said. “The other kids would look like their mom or dad, and I’d go and not look like anyone. That was hard for me.”
But more than wondering who his birth parents were, Lehan was also very curious about getting to know his siblings — all 11 of them down in Texas.
Along with his four siblings in Minnesota, Lehan said he’s now blessed with 15 brothers and sisters, though gifts can get expensive around the holidays.
“We have a little tribe going,” Lehan said. “You have to be thankful when Christmas comes around, but boy does it get in your pocket book.”
When Lehan first traveled to visit his newfound relatives, he couldn’t believe what was happening — until he stepped off the plane and saw his birth mother standing in the airport.
Since then, Lehan has made several trips to visit his family. A group of eight relatives saw Lehan play when the Gophers took on Baylor earlier in the season.
And although his trips down there might cause his family in Minnesota to worry, Lehan said they have stood behind every decision he’s made.
“My foster parents were very, very supportive of me,” Lehan said. “When I was down in Texas, I could start to sense a little bit of jealousy. But they knew it was something I wanted to do and they were behind me 110 percent.”
Lehan’s life in Minnesota began with his adoptive parents and continued until 8th grade, when Lehan moved in with foster parents and began his year’s at Hopkins High School.
In high school, Lehan was a standout running back. During his senior year, Lehan rushed for 1,490 yards and 25 touchdowns, and was an all-state selection.
But after redshirting one season at Minnesota, Lehan was switched to the defensive side of the ball.
Since then, he has thrived. Lehan is now the starting corner, opposite preseason all-Big Ten pick Willie Middlebrooks. This season, Lehan leads the team in pass break-ups with eight.
Lehan credits Middlebrooks, along with Gophers corner Trevis Graham and defensive coordinator David Gibbs for easing his move to arguably the toughest position in football.
“It was a big transition, I was used to running forward with the ball,” Lehan said. “But now I’m going backwards covering the wide receivers. I wouldn’t change the move for the world, it is a lot of fun back there.”
Gophers coach Glen Mason said the move was originally made as an experiment by Gibbs.
It’s paying off.
Gibbs said Lehan’s speed and size will make him a big-time cornerback at Minnesota.
“At the time, we had signed six running backs that year,” Gibbs said. “He looked like the best looking corner, so I took him. He’s going to be a good player around here.
And who is Lehan newest big fan?
Although Lehan calls his foster parents his mom and dad, he said his birth father in Texas cheers him on every game.
“He’ll call up after I miss a couple of interceptions and ask if I was waving at the ball,” Lehan said. “I take criticism from him too.”
Lehan will take whatever he can get.
“Before I felt there was a void, and now I feel it has been filled,” Lehan said. “I can move on. There was always a question in my mind those 19 years.”

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]