If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.
Both Michigan and Michigan State have been playing football since its induction as a rugby-hybrid sport in the late 1800s. Since then the Wolverines and the Spartans have seen their share of tremendous athletes vying for the glory of yards gained, or players tackled. Michigan has produced three Heisman trophy winners in Tom Harmon (1940), Desmond Howard (’91), and Charles Woodson (’97), as well as 78 All-Americans and 11 national titles. And while Michigan State has yet to have a player crowned as the best in all of college football, they have had 28 All-Americans and won six national titles.
Today, I want to talk about the history of these two storied programs but, as with the rivalry, I’m keeping the discussion within the state lines. The following are players mostly born and raised in the great state of Michigan, but all graduating from high schools in our proud state. Here’s to a few of the touted home grown athletes that have meant so much to their respective team throughout the years.
Braylon Edwards personifies homegrown players who have dominated the rivalry
Braylon Edwards (2001-04)
High School: Martin Luther King, Bishop Gallagher
After choosing his father’s alma mater Edwards went on to have an illustrious career as a wide receiver. He set records for yards gained, receptions, and ran the third fastest 200 meters in school history as a part of Michigan’s track team. Upon leaving the Big House he had earned 252 receptions, 3,541 yards, and 39 touchdowns. His outstanding performance won him the Fred Biletnikoff trophy for year’s most prolific receiver. But he won Michigan fan’s hearts in the 2004 game against the Spartans, making spectacular catches to help ensure a Wolverine victory. Also a Big Ten Conference MVP, and an All-American pick, Braylon was drafted into the NFL by the Browns in the first round.
Gerald Ford (1932-34)
High School: Grand Rapids South
A highly skilled player, Ford played on the offensive line during Michigan’s 1932 and 1933 National Championship winning teams, and in 1934 was voted as the team’s most valuable player though that was likely as much for perseverance as anything, as the Wolverines only managed a single win that season. But Ford’s legacy should also be remembered because of his adherence to his own good conscious. When in his last season opponent Georgia Tech refused to play if Willis Ward, a black player, took the field Ford threatened to quit the team altogether. He was best friends with Ward, and played in the game because Ward encouraged him to do so. His number 48 jersey was later retired by the university.
John Maulbetsch (1914-16)
High School: Ann Arbor
Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan, John Maulbetsch led his team to state championships his junior and senior year of high school, and went on a few years later to play for the Wolverines at age 24. Nicknamed ‘the human bullet,’ Maulbetsch was a fearsome opponent though he stood only 5’7” and weighed but 155 pounds. It is said that in a 1914 matchup against Harvard that he rushed for 300 yards, though the figure is disputable. A writer covering the game said Michigan sent in Maulbetsch “as their battering ram,” another raves about the holes he punched into the Crimson line time and time again. He would go on to be named a first team All-American.
In two home games against MSU, Tyrone Wheatley rushed for 325 yards and four TDs
Tyrone Wheatley (1991-94)
High School: Hamilton J. Robichaud
A three time All Big Ten selection, he was not only a tremendous back but his name is littered throughout the record books of Michigan Football. He is in the top ten in such categories as career points, touchdowns scored, and career rushing yards. After his junior season he had already surpassed the most touchdowns scored by a Michigan running back. He also finished among the top ten in the Heisman trophy race in 1993.
Ron Kramer (1954-56)
High School: East Detroit
He was a three sport athlete playing in addition to football, basketball and track. A nine time varsity letter earner Kramer led both the basketball and football teams in scoring for two years. Not only a multiple sport player Ron also played on both sides of the ball, ranging in position from tight end to defensive end, from kicker to quarterback. In his later years he is remembered as the man who brought apples each week during the fall to various university offices.
T.J. Duckett rushed for 211 yards against Michigan in the infamous "Spartan Bob" game
Charles Rogers: (2000-02)
High School: Saginaw
While playing for the Spartans Rogers broke the record for consecutive games with a touchdown with 13. In 2001 he also broke every Michigan State single season receiving record. He was the first receiver to lead the Spartans in scoring since the mid 1960’s, and became the third member to have more than 1,000 yards receiving on the season. Rogers also lead the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns in both 2001 and 2002. In his final season he took home the coveted Fred Biletnikoff award for best receiver, as well as being a consensus All-American.
Brad Van Pelt: (1970-72)
High School: Owosso
A wonderful baseball player, Van Pelt was approached by the Detroit Tigers after graduating high school to play in the major league. He turned them down to attend Michigan State, and would eventually play professional football for ten years with the Giants, before playing short stints with the Raiders and Browns. While playing for the Spartans he became the first defensive back to win the Maxwell Award for best college football player. Van Pelt was also a pick making machine, he had 14 interceptions during his career, and managed to run a pair back for scores. He would become a 5 time Pro-Bowl selection.
Sid Wagner: (1934-36)
High School: Lansing Central
Part of the team to end the losing streak against Michigan that had begun in 1916 and had ended in losses in each season except two which culminated in ties (It is rumored that Monday classes were cancelled by the President of the university to extend the celebrations). A terrific tackler, Wagner tallied 23 in a matchup against Boston College. He was also a consensus All-American, but at the position of offensive guard. In the first draft of the NFL he was taken eighth overall by the Detroit Lions.
Flint's Don Coleman was MSU's first black All-American
T.J. Duckett: (1999-2001)
High School: Loy Norrix
Duckett was the Spartans leading rusher in the three seasons he played, and was at the receiving end of a game winning pass during his senior season that upset the Wolverines as the clock ran out. Running 100 yards or more six times, he also put up 248 yards in a game against the Hawkeyes. His 1,420 yard season cemented his senior year as the fourth best in school history, and he became the fifth leading rusher behind yet another Duckett, his brother. The Atlanta Falcons chose him as their first round pick in 2002.
Don Coleman: (1949-51)
High School: Flint Central
A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and the first in school history to have his number retired. Coleman was also the first black player to be named an All-American at Michigan State, and would go on to become the first black member of the Spartan coaching staff. Because his mother was worried about young Don sustaining an injury he didn’t play football until his senior year of high school, but he still earned the title of All-State guard. At State he played tackle despite being the lightest person on the team at just under 180 pounds, and the Chicago Daily Tribune even commented that Don “probably is packed with more football per pound than any man in the United States.” Coleman’s accolades number too many to count specifically, but his own words tell part of the story as to why he was such a dynamic player. He believed in a necessity of a good education, “I think it’s wonderful that football gave me a college education.”
If there is one thing that Michigan and Michigan State fans can agree on, it’s that they both want to keep the best athletes the state has to offer at home. Now, what school they chose is a different ball game, but something in me thinks that no matter what fans in Michigan love to watch home grown talent excel, no matter what color he dons. Although they are sure to be a little sore about it on the one day each year that they see a man in a uniform that they think would have looked so much better in theirs.
* There are 96 players currently on the two rosters that hail from the state of Michigan (43 on Michigan, 53 on Michigan State). Among them, home grown players that could make an impact on Saturday are:
Michigan: Devin Gardner, Raymon Taylor, Justice Hayes, Devin Funchess, Kenny Demens, Dennis Norfleet, Thomas Gordon, Thomas Rawls, Desmond Morgan, and Will Campbell.
Michigan State: Andrew Maxwell, Max Bullough, Aaron Burbridge, Bennie Fowler, William Gholston, Tony Lippett, Dion Sims, Chris Norman.