Hutchinson shaped by family, including a WWII veteran

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Aidan Joseph Bernardi Hutchinson is an impressive reflection of his parents and his middle names honor a great-grandfather who was part of the World War II jungle fighting unit known as “ Merrill’s Marauders.”

Jacksonville is expected to select Hutchinson, who appears to be the total package as a player and person, with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft next Thursday.

It’s easy to see why the Jaguars would want him after watching what Hutchinson did last year at Michigan, where he set a single-season school record with 14 sacks.

Scouts who searched for more about his background found out Chris and Melissa raised a well-rounded son, uniquely shaped by a close-knit family that includes two older sisters, Mia and Aria.

Few, though, seem to know Hutchinson can trace his lineage to the late Joseph Bernardi, an Army Ranger who was part of a secret mission in 1944 that began with 2,000 U.S. soldiers behind enemy lines in Japanese-occupied Burma and ended with approximately 200 Americans surviving.

Bernardi battled hunger, disease and enemy troops while trekking roughly 1,000 miles to capture a Japanese-held airfield and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

“He was one of the very few that made it out alive,” Hutchison said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And, that is just an insane story.”

Hutchinson wore his great-grandfather’s dog tag against Ohio State during his freshman year, but was afraid of losing it and didn’t wear them in a game again. His mother, meanwhile, had her grandfather’s dog tag with her at every Michigan game the past three seasons.

Bernardi, who was born in Medeglia, Switzerland, died 15 years ago at the age of 84.

Back then, Hutchinson dreamed of playing at Michigan as his father did as a captain and Big Ten defensive lineman of the year in 1992 after matching a then-school record with 11 sacks.

Hutchinson’s mother, Melissa, an artistic photographer and former model, treasures images she made of her young son wearing Chris’ battered maize winged helmet and a kid-sized jersey with No. 97, his father’s and his future number with the Wolverines.

Aidan Hutchinson, though, was not allowed to play football until he was in seventh grade.

Like a lot of kids, he played soccer and flag football. Unlike many future NFL players, he taught himself how to play the ukulele and spent two years as a competitive dancer.

In the fifth and sixth grades, he joined his sisters to train at a studio about six days a week and entered competitions in contemporary dance.

“It was normal to us because the three of us would make up dances and musicals and perform them for our parents at home,” said Mia Hutchinson, a photographer, who manages her brother’s social media accounts and creates content for him.

“When Aidan started playing football in the seventh grade, he was locked in on his dreams in football. To see him on the precipice of fulfilling his dream is the most beautiful thing.”

Hutchinson’s dream hit a snag during the pandemic-shortened, two-win 2020 season, when his right ankle broke early in the third game against Indiana.

Melissa Hutchinson is convinced the injury was a blessing.

“Breaking his ankle brought him out of the negative experience that year and into a healing environment at home,” she said. “He needed to train his mental with manifestation and positive energy, living as if he was pulling the future into the present. What he did with his mental was nuts by visualizing full mobility of his ankle, being in NFL games and much more.”

To bounce back from the injury and prepare for his senior seasons, a relentless strength and conditioning program whipped Hutchinson into the best shape of his life.

It paid off for him, and Michigan.

Hutchinson capped a productive season with a spectacular, three-sack performance against Ohio State to help bring an eight-game losing streak in the rivalry to an end. The Heisman Trophy runner-up led the Wolverines to their first Big Ten title since 2004 and into the College Football Playoff for the first time.

“Some of my former (teammates) would say, ‘He looks just like you only 4 inches taller,'” Chris Hutchinson recalled. “We started watching my old film and I could see what they’re talking about with how he walks, how he stands. All these little mannerisms, you don’t really appreciate that they’re you, but you have explicitly passed them on to your son.

“The way he mentally attacks things and gets himself mentally prepared, is totally my wife’s side. To his credit, he has absorbed those things.”

Hutchinson’s next step in life in the league will likely be his biggest, and yet he knows that counting on his family is a source of comfort in the chaos.

“With my parents, they’ve been my support system since Day 1 and having them at my back is so beneficial for me and my whole career,” Hutchinson told the AP. “I know this transition is going to be difficult for the NFL. But having them, my sisters and my parents, I know they have all my best interest at heart.”


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