Hawkeyes from Michigan eager for lone shot to play in Big House
IOWA CITY, Ia. — There is a tight-knit Michigan contingent on the Iowa football team, and, yes, they’ve been envisioning Saturday’s game for a long time.
It’s their one chance to play in Michigan Stadium, the fabled 107,601-seat Big House. Family and friends will be interspersed in the vast crowd.
“In practicality, it would be good to treat it like any other game. But it’s not really just any other game. Going into that stadium, things can get personal,” Hawkeyes cornerback Michael Ojemudia said Tuesday. “But the thing is, during the game you just have to stay focused. They’re going to come with their best shot.”
Ojemudia, a fifth-year senior, grew up in Farmington Hills, Michigan. His older brother, Mario, was a defensive end for the Wolverines from 2012-15.
But Michigan did not offer Michael a scholarship.
“In hindsight, it was disappointing,” Ojemudia said. “But the way Iowa approached me, they had a lot to sell. So I wasn’t worried about not going there.”
Mario Ojemudia will be in the crowd Saturday, paying his brother back for the times Michael came to the Big House to cheer on the Wolverines. Michael said he’s not sure which jersey Mario will be sporting, but he knows family ties dictate who he’ll be cheering for.
No. 14 Iowa (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten Conference) faces No. 18 Michigan (3-1, 1-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday on Fox. It is the Wolverines’ homecoming.
But it’s also a homecoming for Ojemudia and six other Hawkeyes. Defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore, defensive ends Chauncey Golston and Zach VanValkenburg, offensive tackle Alaric Jackson, safety Kaevon Merriweather and cornerback Daraun McKinney are also from Michigan. Only Jackson was offered a chance to play for the Wolverines. Instead, he followed his childhood friend Lattimore to Iowa City.
“I told him this was a great offensive line school,” Lattimore said of his sales pitch to Jackson.
Both figure to be in the starting lineup Saturday, along with Golston and Ojemudia. Merriweather and VanValkenburg will play. McKinney is likely redshirting this season.
None of the Hawkeyes with Michigan roots will admit to any Wolverine fandom. At least not this week.
Lattimore said he was more invested in the Michigan State basketball team as a child.
He has only been to the Big House once, and that was a memorable occasion. It was the 2015 game in which Michigan State scored a game-winning touchdown on the final play after Michigan botched a punt attempt.
“It was crazy in there,” Lattimore said with a smile.
Lattimore is trying to secure 20 tickets for friends and relatives for his return trip to Ann Arbor. But he said he’s keeping relatively calm about the game.
“I won’t let it distract me,” he said. “I’ll see them after the game.”
Lattimore grew up with Jackson, went to the same high school as Golston, played on the same AAU basketball team as Merriweather and his father works with McKinney’s dad.
There are 670,000 people living in Detroit. Somehow, the ones who ended up playing football at Iowa all seem to have a deeper connection.
That makes Saturday’s game even more special, Lattimore said. They’re returning home together.
“Just to see the happy faces on guys when we get in that Michigan air,” he said.
The Hawkeyes have been pulling players out of the Detroit area frequently in recent years. Defensive tackle Carl Davis and cornerback Desmond King are examples. Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, a former Michigan State player, is the chief recruiter up there. He is an expert at finding athletes that are being overlooked by others.
“Usually the home state schools don't offer guys that we recruit out of state,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You've got to find something there that we think will mesh well with our program.”
Golston, who lives with Lattimore and Jackson, said he grew up rooting for the Oregon football team. The Ducks’ ever-changing uniforms caught his eye.
“I’ve never paid attention to Michigan. I wasn’t one of those, ‘Oh, my God, I’m from Michigan. I want to go to Michigan’ kids growing up,” Golston said, downplaying the significance of Saturday’s matchup.
“It’s a big deal because it’s the next game,” he said.
That’s the approach Ojemudia is trying to take as well, although it’s not easy.
“(I’m) just keeping that focus so I can have a good talk with them after the game,” Ojemudia said of the friends and family members he knows will be there for his one chance to compete in Michigan Stadium.
“Because we have a good opportunity as a team and myself.”
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.
No one covers the Hawkeyes like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines Register.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.