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Posts Tagged ‘Gerald Ford’

November 17 remains bittersweet, ten years after Bo passed

Thursday, November 17th, 2016


UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1986: Head Coach Bo Schembechler of the Michigan Wolverines talks with an official while his team warms up before the start of an NCAA football game circa 1986. Schembechler coached the Wolverines from 1969-89. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)(Getty Images)

While it didn’t have the same national and international impact of September 11, 2001, November 17, 2006 will always be a day of remembrance. Like 9/11, it’s a day in which I’ll always remember where I was when I heard the news that the great Bo Schembechler had passed away.

You see, November 17 is my birthday. All my life, it has brought a day of joy leading up to the annual Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. In 1982, I was born in Phoenix, Ariz. Three days later, my parents — mom, a Michigan grad, and dad, an Ohio State fan — convinced the doctor, who also happened to be a Michigan grad, to let them stay in the hospital an extra day so they could watch The Game. In those days, watching any game you want wasn’t easy, and in Arizona, that was their best bet.

Each year that followed, I would receive Michigan gear for my birthday and then have a chance to wear it a couple days later as Michigan and Ohio State battled on the gridiron. I was fortunate to spend my teenage years — an hour west of Columbus — in the 1990s when Michigan dominated the rivalry. In high school, other students would deck out my locker in scarlet and grey the week leading up to The Game. When the following Monday came around and Michigan had won yet again, I would get the last laugh by having the principal play The Victors on the school intercom.

Every fall through high school, my parents would take me, my brother, and my two sisters to Ann Arbor for a weekend. We would stay at Weber’s Inn, eat at Cottage Inn, and spend the weekend walking around campus, shopping at The M Den, and, in those days, running around the field in the Big House. On one of those trips, I think I was in middle school, I was fortunate enough to meet Bo as we came across him in between Michigan Stadium and Crisler Arena. I talked to him for a few minutes and got his autograph. That autograph now hangs on the wall of my home office, right next to the ‘Remembering Bo’ front page of the Ann Arbor news from the public memorial service that followed a few days after Bo’s death.

I remember vividly the 1995 Michigan-Ohio State game. As a birthday present, my dad took me, along with my grandfather, a 1951 Michigan law grad, who was as instrumental as anyone in my Michigan fandom, to the game where we watched Tshimanga Biakabutuka rush for 313 yards in a 31-23 upset of the second-ranked Buckeyes. I think he’s still going.

And so, November 17, 2006 was supposed to be another joyous occasion. No. 2 Michigan would be playing No. 1 Ohio State the following day in what was being dubbed “the game of the century.” At 24 years young, I had bought a pair of tickets to the game for $400 apiece. When I couldn’t find a friend who would pay that much to go with me, I sold the second one and made my money back. I was going to that game with or without someone by my side.

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That morning, I was on my way to Columbus to meet with friends on the Ohio State campus. I heard the news of Bo’s death on the radio and it sucked all the air out of what was supposed to be a highly anticipated weekend. We tried to have fun that night, but reminders were everywhere.

Walking down High Street, the marquee outside the Newport Music Hall read “Beat Michigan rally, God bless Bo.” It had been changed earlier that day from “Hate Michigan rally, Dead Schembechlers,” where the punk rock band, the Dead Schembechlers, were set to perform. When the name of their band was no longer funny, they decided to donate all proceeds from that night’s show — over $10,000 — to the charity of the Schembechler family’s choosing.

The next day, my friends and I tailgated outside the Horseshoe and then parted ways just before game time. I ventured into the snake pit alone, but not before convincing a fellow Michigan fan to pass his student ticket back to me so I could get into the student section and sit among friendly faces right above the visiting team’s tunnel. I, like every other person wearing maize and blue that day, thought Michigan was destined to win that one. “Win it for Bo” we all cried. And they almost did.

When the dust settled, little did we know then that it would mark the turning point of a decade-long skid for the Michigan football program. Michigan would go on to lose the Rose Bowl to USC, then drop the first two games of the following season to Appalachian State and Oregon, a four-game slide. Following that season, Lloyd Carr would retire and the program would flail for seven seasons under Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke while athletic director Dave Brandon alienated virtually the entire Michigan family outside of the student athletes themselves. It’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have happened under Bo’s watch.

Now, on November 17, 2016, 10 years after Bo left us for the pearly gates above, Michigan is as good as it has been since the day he departed. Ranked third, one spot behind Ohio State, with nine days standing in between a matchup that will decide the Big Ten East division and likely sent one or the other to the College Football Playoff, it’s fitting that Michigan now has Bo’s favorite son patrolling the sidelines.

My mom always says that Michigan lost three great Michigan men in the fall of 2006. My grandpa, attorney William Bush, passed away in October. Bo followed in November. And Gerald Ford died the day after Christmas.

This year has been a year of rebirth, in a sense. With Michigan back at the top of the Big Ten, challenging for a conference title — which has eluded them since Bo’s death — and my third daughter, Everly, born a month ago, it’s an exciting time. For most Michigan fans, real life and Michigan football are intertwined. They’re one and the same. And as I turn 34 years old today, I pause to remember the patriarch of Michigan football, 10 years after he left us.

M&GB Roundtable discusses Michigan Football Legends jerseys

Friday, July 11th, 2014


Roundtable-Legends jerseys

Gardner legends jersey(USATSI)

Two weeks ago we debuted our M&GB Roundtable series that will run every couple weeks throughout the summer. Each of these roundtables will discuss a hot topic related to the upcoming season. Last time, we discussed the status of Brady Hoke’s hot seat and the consensus seemed to be that unless Michigan goes downhill once again this season, Hoke is safe heading into 2015. Today, we continue the series, this time giving our thoughts on the “Michigan Football Legends” jerseys. Here’s the question:

What’s your take on the “Michigan Football Legends” jerseys? Do you like or dislike them? Are they a good way to tie in tradition or are they too gimicky? Do you think they should be given out every year? If so, who should get numbers 11 and 21 this season? Finally, are there any other numbers you feel should be given legends status?

Justin banner

I really like the Legends jersey program because, even though it was started just a few years ago, it is unique to Michigan and it is a great way to tie in the glorious history of Michigan football. The majority of the numbers that have been given legends status thus far are great players from long ago that most Michigan fans today weren’t alive to see play. Sure, we have read about them and have maybe seen a few photos or video clips, but by and large, Tom Harmon, the Wistert brothers, and Gerald Ford were relics locked away in a time capsule. By bringing their numbers out of retirement, giving their families a pre-game ceremony, and designating the jerseys with their numbers on them with a patch, it’s a great way to both honor those legends and educate the younger generation of Michigan fans.

In addition to honoring the legends and their families and educating Michigan fans that weren’t around to see them play, the program is special and unique for current and future Michigan football players.

“It was an amazing feeling when I was awarded this number,” said Jeremy Gallon when he was given Desmond Howard’s No.21.

“I got it when I was a redshirt sophomore,” recalled Jake Ryan, who wears Bennie Oosterbaan’s No.47. “It was after the Alabama game and coach Hoke brought me in and it was a huge honor knowing that I was wearing the same jerseys as one of the legends who played for Michigan. I had to study up on him, to see what he did to represent this university. It was cool. I learned a lot.”

The current and future players that earn the numbers see it as an honor to get to wear a number that was made famous by a legend before them. Desmond Morgan got to meet Gerald Ford’s family and learn more about him when he was awarded No.48.

That said, I’m conflicted about when each number should be awarded. On one hand, it seems silly to switch a player’s number after he’s already made a name for himself in his current number. For example, Jordan Kovacs, who was No.32 for more than three seasons before switching to 11 for a handful of games. But then again, I like the way No.21 has been given to a top receiver each of the past three seasons, first Junior Hemingway, then Roy Roundtree, then Gallon. I feel like all three guys earned it and looked great in it. Unfortunately, the only receiver who fits that mold this season is Devin Funchess, but he already has Ron Kramer’s No.87. This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I would switch Funchess to 21 and award 87 to Jake Butt. Funchess is a star receiver who could very well make the jump to the NFL following this season, which would open up 21 again next season for another star receiver should Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh or Freddy Canteen break out this fall.

No.11 is a tough one. Since the Wistert brothers were offensive tackles, but the number can’t be used for offensive linemen in modern college football, I like the idea of awarding it to a player on the defensive line. But so far it has been given to a safety (Kovacs) and a linebacker (Courtney Avery). I would bring it to the line this fall and give it to Frank Clark. Yes, he has an off-the-field issue from a couple years ago that could keep him from being awarded a legends number, but if Brady Hoke feels Clark has learned and grown from it, I’d be okay with him getting it. If he can’t get No.11 because of that, the only other player I’d give it to this fall would be linebacker James Ross.

Finally, I would give Charles Woodson’s No.2 legends status, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that happened this fall. The staff already gave Blake Countess the number, and Woodson is in likely his final season of an outstanding NFL career. He has always given back to Michigan and represented himself and the university well. As Michigan’s latest Heisman Trophy winner, he would be a great player to honor.

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When it was announced prior to the 2011 season that Michigan planned to implement the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, I thought it was a fantastic idea. Most college football programs honor their legends by retiring their numbers in perpetuity. This is a grand gesture, but then fans are unable to see the numbers of their favorite players on the field. Over time, the stories and memories of these legends become lost. Heck, in some cases, even the names are forgotten. According to Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, “99 percent of [Michigan] fans couldn’t name the jerseys that were retired—either the numbers of the people.”

With the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, you get the best of both worlds. The legends still are honored. Each Michigan legend is the subject of a pre-game ceremony that commemorates their time at Michigan and showcases the debut of their Legends patch, which will forever be stitched upon the jersey of the number they wore so long ago. And the numbers those legends wore are reinserted into circulation for current and future players to don. For many Michigan fans that have been alive for decades, they had never seen a Wolverine wear Tom Harmon’s No. 98 or President Gerald Ford’s No. 48. Now? They can see those legendary numbers each week in the fall  and recall what made No. 98 and No. 48 so special. It is a great tie to Michigan football’s tradition and to the players that made the program so prestigious.

However, rarely is anything—no matter how great—flawless. I still have a positive view towards the Michigan Football Legends Jersey program, but it has problems that must be addressed. The biggest problem I have is when Michigan’s best players switch to a Legends jersey when they are juniors or seniors. By then, those players have begun creating a legacy for the number they first wore as freshmen. But, by switching, their legacy instantly becomes overshadowed by the legend whose number they now wear. It prevents current players from establishing their own legacy. How can a player who wears a Legends jersey become a Michigan Football Legend on his own in the future? The answer: he cannot.

A great example is former safety Jordan Kovacs. In all likelihood, Kovacs will never be honored as a Michigan Football Legend. And that is okay. But I was frustrated when Kovacs switched from No. 32 to No. 11—one of the Legends jerseys—for the final three games of the 2012 season and his career. Before then, Kovacs had blazed his own trail as the unheralded walk-on everyone initially scoffed at that became one of Michigan’s most beloved players and its best safety in over a decade. And he did all of this as No. 32. This is the number with which he should have finished his career, not No. 11—no disrespect to the Wistert brothers. No. 32 was Kovacs’ legacy. He never should have worn another number.

Therefore, I propose that Legends jerseys only be offered to players prior to their freshman and sophomore seasons. Then those players can decide what number with which they want their legacy to be associated. It does not matter to me if the Legends jerseys are handed out every year. If they are, great. It would be a tribute to those Michigan Football Legends each season. If they are not, that works for me, too. It would make the offering of a Legends jersey more special in the eyes of the players and the fans. The only other number that deserves Legends status is No. 2. All three of Michigan’s Heisman Trophy winners then would be represented. I also would like No. 1 to receive Legends status, but, alas, that number essentially has gone into retirement thanks to Braylon Edwards. And it does not matter to me which players are offered available Legends jerseys this season. As long as they are freshmen or sophomores.

Josh banner

I really like the concept of the legends jerseys. It is not realistic to retire numbers in college and this allows the legends to still be honored without taking away all the numbers. However, I have not been a fan of how they’ve been given out. I’d like to see guys ‘earn’ these jerseys, the same way Hoke said Jabrill Peppers needs to ‘earn’ the coveted No.2 (even though it’s not a legends jersey). Jake Ryan earned his No.47 but other than that I haven’t seen much rhyme or reason with handing them out.

While I feel they deserve their legends jerseys now, Gardner and Funchess got them without making much noise in the previous season. If the Devin’s got their legends jerseys AFTER the 2013 season, rather than before, I’d have no problems with it. The fact that Courtney Avery got one upset me a bit, he was an average player at best and even that is being generous.

That said, I’m sure you can guess that I don’t think No.11 or No.21 should be given out this year. There are too many young and unproven guys on this roster to do so. This is not to say there isn’t anyone who could earn them, but no one has done anything to ‘earn’ the right yet. I’d like to see No.1 and No.2 be brought into legends status as well. No.1 for Anthony Carter and No.2 for Charles Woodson, as soon as he retires.

If we’re going to honor the legends of the past I’d prefer to see their numbers bestowed upon guys who have ‘earned’ it on and off the field, but mostly on it. If it has little to do with on-field performance, and middle of the road guys like Courtney Avery can get them, then I’d rather see the players vote on who gets them.

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The legends jerseys have a chance to be a great tradition, but only if the players are forced to earn the honor of wearing them. If Michigan insists on giving out the numbers each year and the players wearing them aren’t stars, then the value of the legends jersey is lost. So far Michigan has given the jerseys to some players with lesser roles, and it has tainted the idea behind honoring these football legends.

With a young team taking the field in 2014, and a group of returning starters that largely underachieved in last year’s 7-6 effort, the Nos. 11 and 21 should be kept off the field until players earn them. If a wide receiver or cornerback steps up and leads the team to a great first half of the season, then a jersey should be awarded to that player.

If the program makes it clear that the numbers are earned, not given, then the legends jerseys will be a great tradition for Michigan football. If not, then it will represent just another gimmick put on by the athletic department.

Sam banner
While the NCAA is in turmoil right now and the future of college sports paints a somewhat murky picture, I think everyone can still rest assured that America loves watching our college athletes play far too much for these games to disappear completely. And in these beloved college sports, tradition reigns supreme. Every university tries to hold up their own traditions higher than any other institution’s. Alumni of the University of Michigan will be quick to defend the Maize and Blue in any battle, pointing out that we are the most winningest college football program in history, that Ann Arbor is the best college town God has ever created, that the Victors is the best fight song known to man, and that, quite simply, Michigan is unlike any other school out there.

One of the many ways Michigan has now decided to honor this glorious history is by assigning Legends numbers to a select few football players each year. I, for one, am a big fan. I don’t know of any other program in the country that reminisces over star players of the past in such a way, and though a small patch and a special plaque in the locker room might not seem like much, I really do think these legendary players and their families take great pride in seeing their legacies live on in the Big House. I also think it can’t hurt on the recruiting trail.

With that being said, there are a few “rules and regulations” that I would put into play if I oversaw the program. First, there needs to be some cap on the number of Legends numbers issued. There is no problem with designating a few players with the status every single year, but if the number of Legends jerseys continues to grow to 15, 20, 25 different players, it will lose its luster. I would cap the total number of jerseys in circulation at 10. In order to honor future Legends, however, there needs to be some room to make more though, right? Right. So every 50 years, every Legends number is officially put in the vault (or Schembechler Hall) and is available for re-circulation as a “regular” number. After those 50 years have passed, up to 10 more Legends, preferably representing as many different positions as possible, can be selected and issued with patches, plaques, and pictures and the cycle repeats. This way every Michigan football player will have the chance to earn this incredible honor; if it so happens that a player wearing a Legends jersey becomes a legend himself, that number will remain in issue but the patch will be replaced to honor the more recent standout.

I also think there needs to be some sort of regulation on when the jerseys are issued in relation to a player’s career. As it stands now, it seems that any player can earn the right to wear a Legends number at any point during his four years. Devin Gardner changed from No.12 to No.98 (Tom Harmon) early in his junior year. Jordan Kovacs mysteriously changed from No.32 to No.11 (Francis, Albert, and Alvin Wistert) well into his senior year. Going forward, I think the Legends jerseys should be designated to rising sophomores or redshirt freshmen. With this policy in place, the coaches have a full year to decide who is worthy of the honor based on their play on the field and their actions off it and the player will not have already established himself fully while wearing another number.

As far as the current available Legends jerseys go, I would like to see No.11 stay on the defensive side of the field and No.21 as a wide receiver for at least the near future. Sticking to my own rules, I will give No.11 to either Henry Poggi or Maurice Hurst, Jr., who apparently both impressed on the practice squad last year and will look to make an impact as redshirt freshmen this season, and No.21 to Jaron Dukes, an Ohioan just like Desmond Howard with great potential. When thinking of other potential Legends going forward, I can only think of one obvious one – No.2 for Charles Woodson.
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Now that we’ve all given our answers, we’d like to hear from you. Do you like the legends jerseys? Do you agree or disagree with us? Give us your answer to the question in the comments below.

The battle for Bunyan comes from within

Thursday, October 18th, 2012


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.

Michigan

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.

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Michigan State

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.”

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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.

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* 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.

Michigan vs Illinois game preview

Friday, October 12th, 2012


For the past few years, Ron Zook recruited well but his teams were perennial underperformers. He stockpiled talent but never did much with it. After starting 6-0 last season, making it as high as 16th in the country, the Illini lost the next six games before winning the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl over UCLA. It was enough for Zook to get the hook and Illini faithful were hoping for a big name to replace him. But Toledo’s Tim Beckman was an underwhelming choice.

Michigan Stadium  –  Ann Arbor, Mich.
3:30pm EST  –  ABC
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Illinois Head Coach: Tim Beckman (1st season)
Coaching Record: 2-4 (at Illinois), 23-20 (Overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Billy Gonzales & Chris Beatty
Defensive Coordinator: Tim Banks
Returning Starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 7-6 (2-6)
Last Meeting: Michigan 31 – Illinois 13 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 68-23-2
In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 32-11-1
In Michigan Stadium: Michigan leads 29-10-1
Current Streak: Michigan 2

His hiring didn’t do much to inspire the fan base, and the way the team has started has even furthered that notion. Illinois enters Ann Arbor with a 2-4 record with wins over Western Michigan and a 1-4 FCS school, Charleston Southern. It’s a team that has a bunch of talent, at least defensively, and is pretty upperclassman-loaded, which means it’s not likely to get much better for some time.

Michigan, on the other hand, quieted any doubters last week with a dominant win at Purdue and can seize control of the Legends division with a win over Michigan State next week and Nebraska the following. But there remains this game in between that must be played. Is Michigan in for a trap game? Does Illinois have a chance of pulling off the upset? Let’s look at the matchups.

When Illinois has the ball

Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O’Toole have shared time at quarterback this season, though O’Toole hasn’t played in the past two games. Scheelhaase was slowed by injuries to start the season, but has completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 659 yards, three touchdowns, and five interceptions. He’s dangerous both through the air and on the ground, though not to the extent of Denard Robinson. Against Penn State two weeks ago, Scheelhaase threw it 46 times, completing 28 for 270 yards. Last week against Wisconsin, he ran the ball 22 times for 84 yards and a touchdown.

In the backfield, sophomore Donovonn Young and freshman Josh Ferguson have done most of the work, though the pair has seen its carries diminish the past couple of weeks as Scheelhaase has taken the burden. Young has double-digit carries in just three of the six games, though he’s a threat to catch passes out of the backfield. Ferguson had a 100-yard rushing game against Arizona State, but has averaged just 2.7 yards per carry in the other four games he has played in. But like Young, he can catch and even had a 10-catch, 84-yard performance against Louisiana Tech.

The leading receiver is junior Ryan Lankford with 25 receptions for 362 yards and five touchdowns. Against Penn State, he caught seven passes for 104 yards, but last week he was held to just two catches for 15. Illinois does have four other receivers who have caught 10 or more passes, so they do spread the ball around, though two of those are the aforementioned running backs who are second and third on the team in receptions. Junior Spencer Harris is tall at 6’3″ and has caught a pair of touchdowns, but hasn’t caught more than four catches in a game all season.

Michigan bottled up Nathan Scheelhaase last season (photo by Seth Perlman, AP)

The offensive line is getting back center Graham Pocic and tackle Hugh Thornton from knee injuries, and they’re much needed. The line has paved the way for the Big Ten’s worst rushing attack, averaging just 126.5 yards per game, and has allowed a conference-worse 20 sacks.

Illinois hasn’t been able to put up many points against FBS competition – averaging just 16.6 points per in those five games – and Michigan’s defense has been stout, holding its last three opponents to just 13 points apiece. Last year, Michigan held Illinois to 14 points, all late in the game, and held the Illini rushing attack to 1.1 yards per carry. More of the same can be expected.

When Michigan has the ball

As mentioned in the onset, Illinois has some talent on its defense, but it hasn’t amounted to much so far. The Illini rank 80th nationally, and last in the Big Ten, in scoring defense, allowing 28.3 points per game. Aside from a shutout of Charleston Southern – which has scored a total of 54 points in five games – Illinois has allowed at least 24 in its other five games, and more than 35 in three of those.

Sackmaster Whitney Mercilus is on to the NFL, but the Illini did return end Michael Buchanan and tackles Akeem Spence and Glenn Foster. Linebackers Ashante Williams and Jonathan Brown lead the team with 41 and 38 tackles, respectively. The group had the makings of what should have been one of the Big Ten’s best front sevens. But Illinois has tallied just nine sacks, surrendered 227 yards per game through the air, and has been average at stopping the run.

It’s no secret that Michigan will employ a very similar game plan as last week: run the ball. Purdue made its emphasis to stop Fitz Toussaint, so Denard enjoyed a phenomenal day. Illinois will likely look to stop Denard, but Toussaint racked up 192 yards on 7.1 yards per carry against the Illini a year ago. So what will Illinois do to try to slow down the Michigan offense? Buchanan gives it a shot.

“One thing Denard does do is he puts the ball up in the air, and he gives you a chance to make plays on it,” Buchanan said. “Their running backs, they run hard, but sometimes I think that hurts them. It gives defensive guys an opportunity to get the ball back and try to strip them. That’s something we’re going to go into this game doing, trying to get the ball back to the offense.”

Rushing Yards: 274 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 4th in career rushing yards. With 208, he could pass Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick (2007-10) for 3rd in NCAA FBS history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Chris Perry for 4th in career rushing touchdowns. With 3 he will pass Mike Hart for 3rd.
100 rushing yards: Denard will tie Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Passing Attempts: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady and Todd Collins for 4th in career passing attempts.
Pass Completions: 44 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Passing Touchdowns: 2 – Denard will pass Rick Leach for 4th in career passing touchdowns.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will tie Mike Lantry and K.C. Lopata for 8th in career field goals made.

So there you have it. Illinois will try to force turnovers. But Denard won’t be passing as much as he did against Notre Dame, so those jump balls that Buchanan has been seeing in his dreams this week won’t be there for the taking. So they’ll try to strip the ball loose from the Michigan runners. Good luck with that.

The other third

Kickers Nik Immekus and Taylor Zalewski have combined to hit three of six attempts with a long of 47. Punter Justin DuVernois is averaging 41.6 yards per punt, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten. Ferguson handles the kick return duties, but he’s averaging 16.2 yards per return – good for ninth in the conference. Senior defensive back Tommy Davis returns the punts, averaging 2.9 yards per.

Prediction

It will be a happy homecoming for Michigan fans and alums alike and should be very reminiscent of last week’s game. Michigan will look to assert the run until Illinois can stop it. When he does throw, Denard will use a more controlled, short passing game like we saw in his 16 attempts last week. It will be over by mid-third quarter and either Denard or Toussaint will have a big game…maybe both. Illinois won’t be able to get much going offensively and Michigan will move to 2-0 in the Big Ten, setting up an important battle with Michigan State.

Michigan 48 – Illinois 10

Notes

If you’re going to the game, make sure to get there early for the Legends jersey ceremony honoring former Michigan center Gerald Ford. It will be just like the previous two this season, but this one has the added value of being not just a former player but a former President. His number 48 will be awarded to a current player and I’m not even going to try to guess which one will receive it. Jake Ryan got Bennie Oosterbaan’s number 47 and senior tight end Brandon Moore was awarded Ron Kramer’s 87 prior to the previous two home games.

The Michigan Medley is sold on Treadwell

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012


He’s as good as advertised

Last Friday night I had the chance to go see the nation’s top receiver, and one of Michigan’s top remaining targets, LaQuon Treadwell, play in person. His Crete Monee Warriors played previously unbeaten Glenbard South and came away with a dominating 45-7 win. Treadwell racked up 181 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches through three quarters of play. With such a big lead, he didn’t play the fourth.

Treadwell, center, being watched by Florida's receivers coach (Photo by....should have brought an actual camera)

Treadwell’s team is loaded with talent, most notably linebacker Nyles Morgan, fellow receiver Lance Lenoir, and defensive back Jaylen Dunlap, but it was ever apparent that the offensive game plan could have simply been to throw it to Treadwell on every single play. And it would be just as effective. But in a team sport on a squad with other Division 1 prospects, they have to spread the wealth.

For a high school senior, he has perfect size, good hands, and enough shiftiness to turn a crossing route into a 75-yard touchdown. I was skeptical prior to the game. After all, how good can this kid be? But I was impressed. I guess that’s why the kid has offers from nearly every school in the country. Florida receivers coach Bush Hamdan (far right in photo) was on hand and Oklahoma State will be there this week. Treadwell visited Ole Miss on Saturday and would be a huge pick up if Brady Hoke is able to land him.

Treadwell also plays safety and kicker for the Warriors. At safety, he seemed to shy away from contact, and the one time he tried to make a big hit, he whiffed on the receiver who then ran untouched for an 84-yard touchdown. But that doesn’t take away from Treadwell’s receiving skills as he’s clearly a receiver first and foremost.

His teammate, Morgan, may have been the most impressive player on the field that night. He has offers from Michigan State, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Illinois, and Purdue, with interest from several others, including Michigan and Alabama. He’s currently just a junior, so he’ll be one to watch next season. He visited MSU last weekend. Please don’t end up there.

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#EATING

I’ve been meaning to pump the #Eating fundraiser for some time now, but it kept slipping my mind. Now that I’ve remembered, it has already reached its goal. But that doesn’t have to stop you from donating to this great cause.

If you’re not aware of it yet, it’s a project by former Michigan receiver Martavious Odoms. He’s trying to start a community garden in his hometown of Pahokee, Florida to “create jobs and provide job training, as well as provide positive activities for the youth.”

If you don’t know much about Pahokee, it’s a relatively poor town in south Florida with higher than average crime rates, but has produced an astonishing number of big time athletes. Unemployment rates are currently around nine percent and the percentage of college graduates is very low as well. Regardless of political affiliation, this is a cause to get behind since it involves one of our very own Wolverines serving and giving back to his community.

While the goal has already been met, there’s nothing that says Hope for Pahokee doesn’t need more. If you’re leery about where the funds will go, you can read about it on the Kickstarter page. Hope for Pahokee is using Urban Greenworks of Miami, which has successfully installed five urban gardens in Miami, to facilitate the project.

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Legends jerseys

Jake Ryan proved that a Legends number doesn't have to go to an upperclassman (Photo by the Ann Arbor News)

We’ve talked previously about the Legends jerseys that will be awarded this season and our view on them. I, like many others, thought Craig Roh was the logical choice to get Ron Kramer’s No. 87, but it was awarded to senior tight end Brandon Moore on Saturday afternoon. The previous week, Bennie Oosterbaan’s No. 47 was awarded to sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan. This clears up a couple of things. First, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an upperclassman. Secondly, with Moore, it doesn’t have to be a star or a player who has made major contributions on the field.

It appears that the jerseys will be sought after by the players who get the distinction of wearing a jersey that commemorates a Michigan football legend and a special locker in the locker room. That means Desmond Howard’s No. 21, which was worn by Junior Hemingway last season and Roy Roundtree this year will likely be given to someone else next year, as will Kramer’s 87 that Moore will done for the remainder of 2012.

The next question is, who will be awarded Gerald Ford’s No. 48 and the Wistert brothers’ No. 11? Since it appears that each of them will, in fact, be awarded, my vote for 48 now goes to senior center Elliott Mealer. Unfortunately, unless Michigan can get the rules changed, which is highly unlikely, it has to go to a quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive back, or linebacker. So how about Desmond Morgan? Like Ryan, he’s a young starting linebacker and plays the type of hard-nosed defense that would make ford, the former center, proud.

No. 11 also falls into the same number classification under NCAA guidelines, so my vote goes to Devin Funchess. Would the coaching staff give it to a freshman? Would they give it to another tight end? I’d say at this point it’s probably unlikely, but given the potential star ability of Funchess, it would be great to see. If not, how about sophomore quarterback Russell Bellomy? He’s likely to be the starting quarterback next season and according to Sports Illustrated, the best player to ever wear No. 11 in the NFL was Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. But watching the Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald pull down touchdown passes in No. 11, I can’t help but think how great it would look on Funchess before he makes a name for himself in 19.

The Michigan Medley talks Denard’s character and legends jerseys

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012


Denard’s speech

From his first snap in a winged helmet, Denard Robinson has provided one highlight-reel play, record breaking performance, and thrilling moment after another. He has amassed a career that will go down as one of the greatest ever by a Michigan player and perhaps the best by a dual-threat quarterback in the history of college football. But what typically gets lost in the hype surrounding his speed and his shoelaces is his humility.

Earlier in the spring, he approached Michigan sports information director Justin Dickens about giving the keynote speech at the Big Ten luncheon. He wanted to conquer his fear of public speaking. Dickens set up a practice run in front of a few hundred school children in New York City and Robinson poured his heart into it.

He delivered the keynote speech at the luncheon last week opened up more than ever before. You can read the full transcript here, but below is a selection quotes that reveal the character of Michigan’s signal-caller.

“What you may not know is I was so self-conscious about the area I grew up in that I used to hold recruiting visits at my grandparents’ house. What you may not know is that I was not even the best athlete in my neighborhood, but I was one of the ones who made it out. Why? Choices.”
“Where I came from, it was easy to do the wrong thing, quit school, do drugs, live the street life. It’s tough to do the right things. You may not know my freshman year of high school I was ineligible to play spring football because of my grades. It would have been easy for me to give up and fall into what all the other students were doing. But it was my choice to be different. To be uncommon.”
“When Coach [Brady] Hoke came in, he didn’t guarantee me anything. All I had was the opportunity to continue to play quarterback. For that, I want to say thank you, Coach.”
“Character is who you are when no one else is watching. It’s easy when you know the camera is on us to do the right thing but it may be tougher at other times. This year, because of that, I became aware of how big our platform can be. I met the President of the United States and I met LeBron James and they both knew who I was.”
“My motto is: It’s my goal to make somebody’s day every day. With this platform, we have that opportunity, an opportunity to make a difference. Tough choices don’t stop. Trust me, I’m not perfect. Just ask Coach Hoke. I drive you crazy way too often, right Coach?”
“I mentioned earlier that I lost my brother. I promised him that one day I would provide for our family so that they wouldn’t struggle anymore. I have a feeling that I’m on my way, but I’m not there yet. Like I said, I was so self-conscious of where I came from, but today I realized I’m blessed and I embrace it. Where I came from helped me become who I am today. And it shows it doesn’t matter where you come from, anything is possible. That is the message I want to carry over.”

It seems that every day we are inundated with offseason stories about players getting in trouble with the law. The growth by Denard that is beginning to be made known is refreshing. For an athlete of his talent and popularity to come from where he did and be mature enough to talk about making the right choices, using his platform for good, and making people’s day, it certainly makes one happy to have him representing the Maize and Blue.

If you missed it, you can watch the full speech here.

Legends jerseys

Last season, the football program kicked off a new tradition of honoring Michigan football greats with legends jerseys, which will not be retired, but will feature a patch. Junior Hemingway got to wear the first one, Desmond Howard’s number 21.

This spring, Michigan announced that it will honor Gerald Ford’s 48, Ron Kramer’s 87, and Bennie Oosterbaan’s 47. The question that remains is which current players, if any, will don these numbers this season? Roy Roundtree switched from his 12 to the 21 that was left behind by Hemingway’s departure, but when Hoke was asked when he will decide who will wear the other three, he simply replied, “Sometime, in the future. We’ll see.”

There are several schools of thought on determining which players get to wear the jerseys. Do only seniors get to wear one or can a player who has a great freshman season wear it for his final three seasons? Do they have to play the same position as the legend? What happens if a player is becoming a legend of his own, but wants to wear a designated legends jersey? What number will he ultimately be remembered for?

One thing is for sure: the numbers won’t just be handed out on a whim. Hoke will talk with each player who is worthy of wearing a legends jersey and make sure they understand what it means and the responsibility that comes with it.

Ron Kramer's number will be designated a legends jersey during the UMass game on Sept. 15 (photo from Bentley Historical Library)

My take: it should be an upperclassman. I’m okay with a junior wearing a legends jersey for two years as long as he has done enough to earn it in his first two seasons. There should also be an off the field aspect to it – if he does anything that will disgrace the jersey, he either can’t earn it or can lose it. I also think  it should remain at the same position as the legend. The problem with that is Ford’s 48. Under current NCAA rules, an offensive lineman – the position Ford played – cannot wear 48. In that instance, I think it would be okay to give it to another deserving player.

As for this season, there’s only one that I think should be given out, and it’s not the one you think. Many feel that Jordan Kovacs should wear either Oosterbaan’s 47 or Ford’s 48, but I disagree. Kovacs has made a name for himself in the number 32. His story is well known by now, from walk-on to all-Big Ten. If he has another all-Big Ten season this year or even makes All-American, he could someday have a legends jersey of his own. Switching numbers at this point seems counterproductive. Keep 47 and 48 in the bag this season and give Kramer’s 87 to Craig Roh.

Kramer was a two-time All-American at Michigan and played several positions including defensive end. He was most known for his play as a tight end, which he played in the NFL, but with no current Michigan tight ends fitting the mold for the jersey this season, Roh makes the most sense. He hasn’t achieved nearly the success of Kramer, but to wear the number, he doesn’t have to. He has started 38 consecutive games, was named All-Big Ten honorable mention last season, and was named Academic All-Big Ten a year ago. He has also stayed out of trouble off the field. He hasn’t made a name for the number 88 like Kovacs has with his, so switching to Kramer’s 87 won’t cause any confusion. Oosterbaan’s 47 could work as well, since he also played defensive end, but it can’t be worn by a defensive end under current NCAA rules.

So if 47 and 48 aren’t given out this season, is anybody on the current team in contention for them next season? Both would have to be either backs or kickers to be within the rules. Prior to Fitz Toussaint’s DUI last week, I would have said he should be in the running for 48 next season if he has another strong season this year, but now that should be out the window. The only one that could be a possibility is Brendan Gibbons if he has a big season. A year ago, that would have been unthinkable, but his clutch performance in the Sugar Bowl should at least put him in the conversation to earn one his senior season.

Are there any players on the current team that could receive legend status? Aside from Kovacs if he has a huge season, the obvious choice is Denard Robinson. If he leads Michigan to a Big Ten title and wins the Heisman, it should be a no-brainer. Number 16 should be give the legend treatment for Michigan quarterbacks. Should it still be deemed so if he doesn’t win the Heisman? I’m still iffy on that, but I lean towards yes if he has another great season. He’ll likely finish in the top five in all passing and rushing categories in Michigan history. He’ll also be the Big Ten’s all-time leading rushing quarterback and possibly the nation’s as well.

Michigan Gets it Right With Retro Jerseys

Saturday, June 11th, 2011


Tonight’s unveiling of Michigan’s retro jersey for the Under the Lights Game against Notre Dame on Sept. 10 should excite the Michiagn fanbase as we move on from the past three seasons and into what is shaping up to be an exciting season.

Previously released renderings of the jerseys, even from earlier today, were met with a great deal of angst and disparagement from much of the maize and blue faithful, but the final versions modeled by Denard Robinson and Ryan Van Bergen at tonight’s ceremony should be celebrated.

The uniforms that Michigan unveiled live on MGoBlue.com are certainly differant than Michigan’s traditional solid blue top, but by no means should that be a bad thing.

Michigan’s uniforms are defined by tradition. Similar to Penn State and perhaps Texas, simplicity has made them one of the most iconic in college football.

Other schools that don’t have the history and tradition of the nation’s winningest program, such as Oregon or TCU have gone the gimmicky route full time, even changing styles and designs every few seasons. The addition of Nike’s Pro Combat took it a step further, eschewing tradition for snazzy, money-making get-ups like Florida’s, Arizona State’s, and a bunch of others.

While those uniform designs likely appeal to younger fans, Michigan’s night game duds should encompass the whole spectrum of Michigan fans by tying in the entire history of the Michigan uniform.

“Michigan’s maize and blue jersey is one of the most iconic in all of sports and this new vintage-inspired uniform highlights design cues from throughout Michigan’s rich football tradition honoring 132 years of championship football,” said Jon Yuska, Adidas’ director of sports licensing design.

Because of the lack of significant uniform changes over the course of the 132-year history of Michigan football, especially in the modern era, there weren’t many options to choose from when designing throwbacks to commemorate the game. Aside from changing from Adidas to whoever made the jerseys back in the day, and some minor number or font tweaks, actual throwbacks would look basically the same as what Michigan always wears on Saturdays.

Michigan's 1895 team uniforms

Since creating a true throwback was not really an option, Michigan AD Dave Brandon and the Adidas design team chose to take elements and concepts from the past 132 years and develop a unique uniform that personifies the program’s rich history.

From Michigan’s first captain, David N. DeTar, in 1879, to Bennie Oosterbaan in the 20s to Gerald Ford and Tom Harmon in the 30s, all the way to the stars of the modern era who never got to play under the lights in Ann Arbor, these uniforms represent 132 years of Michigan football.

September 10 deserves to be celebrated, not just for the 85 who get to suit up that day, but for the thousands whose combined efforts have made Michigan football the nation’s best. Tweaking the uniforms ever so slightly to honor one team from the 40s is great, but if that’s to be done, there will be a time and a place for that. This game is about more than one team or one era since it’s carving history out of what is already the sport’s most historic program.

These retro uniforms involve elements from the very beginnings of Michigan football in the late 1800s that wore the block M on the front as well as the striping on the sleeves (if you don’t like that, at least it’s not the full uniform like the Where’s Waldo uniforms some players wore in 1888). It also features the number on the sides of the winged helmets, as Michigan wore in the 1950s and 60s, as well as grey facemasks. Aside from those elements, Michigan’s uniforms really haven’t changed in the modern era.

I commend Brandon and the Adidas design team for integrating several elements of Michigan’s uniform history to create a compelling uniform for this historical occasion. It’s not something I would buy to wear, but I’d probably buy one to hang in a Michigan-themed man cave.

Most importantly, the team seems to love them and they’re only for one game,  so we don’t have to worry about Michigan’s history being thrown out the window. There’s nothing wrong with a little marketing gimick now and then, especially when it gets everybody talking about Michigan football again in a positive light while we watch that school in Ohio’s world crumble more and more each day.

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