Dec. 21, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
When Trevor Nill came to Michigan State three years ago, he was already a community service veteran.
"My parents were involved with many charitable things throughout their whole lives. It just kind of rubbed off,'' said Nill, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior right wing and alternative captain from Novi.
"My mom was involved with coming to our school and helping out and I saw my dad doing great things while helping kids. And with being around the Red Wings organization, you see the great stuff they do, visiting hospitals being involved with so many charity groups.''
Trevor's father, Jim, is a former NHL player and a longtime assistant general manager for the Red Wings.
Jim and Becky Nill instilled in their three children - Jenna, Trevor and Kristin -- the importance of giving back to the community. Trevor jumped right in when he was a seventh grader at Plymouth Christian Academy in Canton and has never stopped.
At Michigan State, Nill, now 22, is one of the most involved athletes on campus. Last season, he was a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award and he won the CCHA's Mike and Marian Ilitch Award for community service, in addition to winning the team's Amo Bessone Award the last two years, which honors the combination of athletic and academic success and community involvement..
Nill still remembers how it all started.
"We had to do so many hours of hours of community service in seventh and eighth grade. So, a buddy and I decided to go ring the Salvation Army bell outside the Great Harvest Bread Company,'' Nill said. "We thought it would be great that we could ring the bell for a few hours, then go inside and get some bread samples and come back out and keep ringing.
"We had a great time, talking with people and just having fun.''
As a sophomore at Plymouth Christian Academy, Nill and his close friend, Andrew Wiersma, both with mothers who are cancer survivors, organized a "Bike Across Michigan" fundraiser to raise money to fight the disease.
When it came time to plan a senior trip, the Florida beaches and Disney World were considered, but then someone came up an idea that would have more impact.
"We thought that instead of Florida we could go to Costa Rica and help build sanitation pits,'' Nill said. "We could do that, put on a puppet show for the kids and just enjoy a different trip.''
When Nill arrived at MSU in the fall of 2008, he was eager to get involved right away. He was already an experienced multitasker from his high school days when he juggled playing hockey, academics, community involvement and just having fun with friends.
"The hockey program was already known for being very involved and I just followed and learned from guys like Dan Sturges, Kurt Kivisto, Jeff Lerg and A.J. Sturges,'' he said. "Those guys instilled in me who I've become. Without them, I don't know if it would have happened.
"I remember the times when Dan and Kurt would pick me up in the dorms when I was a freshman and we'd go to Sparrow Hospital to visit to visit Andrew Smith, a young cancer patient who the team had befriended and who was hospitalized at the time.''
Nill has taken an active role in numerous programs and projects at MSU. They include Spartan Buddies, which involves visiting children at Sparrow Hospital; Teams for Toys, in which MSU teams adopt a local family and shop for gifts for that family; Shoot for the Cure, which raises money for children's cancer research; Big Brothers and Big Sisters; Relay for Life, a fundraiser that also raises money for cancer research; Children's Miracle Network and March is Reading Month.
"We feel privileged to be Division I athletes at a school like Michigan State, and it's a platform for us to help other people,'' said Nill, a mechanical engineering major with a 3.4 cumulative grade-point average.
Nill is president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and vice president of the MSU chapter of Athletes in Action.
A devout Christian, Nill has spent several summers working with his father at camps for Hockey Ministries International.
"It's a typical camp for kids with a Christian theme. Christian players come together, teach the game and kids can see that it's OK to be Christian in the hockey world,'' he said. "It's kind of a band of brothers.''
As a senior, Nill is looking to set the foundation for another charitable cause that can remain in place after he graduates and begins life away from MSU.
"What I've been working on putting together is a "Random Act of Kindness" week for all MSU athletes and have it leading up to the Relay for Life weekend in April,'' he said. "It would be an opportunity to dedicate an act of kindness to someone or some group.
"Each day, we'd have MSU athletes come together and get involved. It could be as simple as helping an elderly person carry groceries to their car. A team in season, like baseball, could maybe invite kids from a local hospital to come to a game and make them guest coaches or honorary Spartans. There are lots of things we could do.
"I want something that is sustainable so each year there would be people willing to carry it on. I want it to be a clear and simple challenge for our athletes.''
Spartan coach Tom Anastos was familiar with Nill over the last three years as CCHA commissioner, well aware of his dedication to community service.
As his coach for the past nine months, Anastos has even more of an appreciation for the active senior and team leader.
"He's a 5-star kid. He cares about people and he just doesn't talk about doing things. He does things and he leads,'' Anastos said. "He inspires others to engage.
"What I've been so impressed with is how passionate he is about helping people. He's really driven, when you consider all the things he's involved with and the demands on his time.
"As a player, he's a hard-working kid, a blue-collar type of player. He's embraced change and accepted everything we've presented. He's looked upon by his peers as a leader - by what he says and what he does.''
Nill said his ability to multitask comes from his early days in school and in hockey.
"It's all about time management and I have to go back when I was playing hockey and going to school, and the values my parents instilled in me,'' he said. "When I came home from school, it was always homework before hockey practice, and I had to budget my time on any project because of the importance of getting the proper rest.
"I was really busy in high school with classes, homework, hockey and getting involved in community stuff that I had to learn to budget my time. It's about planning ahead.
"At MSU, at the beginning of the school year, when hockey is light, I try to get a jump on my classes so when the busy times hit, I'm two weeks ahead and can take some time off if I have to.''
Nill said he was honored to win the Ilitch Award and to be a Humanitarian Award finalist because of what they represent.
"It's great to see the Humanitarian Award on the same pedestal as the Hobey Baker Award. It's nice to see how that organization strives for excellence,'' he said. "I looked at all the finalists and it was great to see that there were so many people who were dedicating their time to the same types of things I've been doing. We each have our own story and it was special to be recognized amongst great people.''
There's a good chance Nill could be a Humanitarian Award finalist this season.
Nill says there's a strong bond among the nine Spartan seniors, who have had more than their share of ups and downs during their three-and-a-half seasons at MSU.
For Nill, Drew Palmisano, Brock Shelgren, Matt Crandell, A.J. Sturges, Tim Buttery, Brett Perlini, Mike Merrifield and Daultan Leveille, there's been CCHA finishes of 10th, 2nd, and 10th, no playoff victories and no trips to the CCHA Championship in Detroit. They've had to deal with controversies early on and a coaching change last spring.
A strong finish in the CCHA, a series win or two in the playoffs, a trip to Detroit and NCAA tourney berth would erase some of the frustrating memories of the past and send the seniors out with a splash.
"We really want to leave on a high note and a standard for the guys coming up,'' Nill said. "The guys I've been with for four years will be around for the rest of my life. We've done everything together. We're created a bond that will keep us connected.''
A strong 10-6-2 start has the Spartans eager for the second half and one with a rewarding ending.
"I've always loved coming to the rink and it's really fun when you're winning. This year we're working hard, playing well and having some success,'' Nill said. `'Our work ethic has been unbelievable, and so many guys have improved so much and are really contributing.
"But there's a long way to go. We have to focus right when get into the second half and not get too far ahead. We have to keep doing what we've been doing, get even better and see where it carries us.''
In May, Nill will graduate and then try to figure out what's next in his life. Will he continue to play hockey? Or begin a career in engineering? Nill may not know until the summer or early next fall.
But one thing is certain. He's going to miss his fellow seniors, teammates and tons of people he came in contact with during his four years as a Spartan. And wherever he is, he'll still be getting involved in the community.
"We'll see how it all plays out but it's definitely something I want to do and will do,'' he said. "I believe it is my responsibility to help people as much as possible.''