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Published: Thursday, 9/28/2006

UM's Oluigbo delivers hits from the other side

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

ANN ARBOR - Obi Oluigbo came to Michigan in 2002 with the expressed intention of hitting people. He had been an all-state linebacker in Virginia, and he envisioned himself excelling at that position on the Wolverines defense.

When Michigan coach Lloyd Carr suggested during the 2003 season that Oluigbo jump across the line of scrimmage and play fullback for the offense, he was less than enthusiastic. He liked being the hunter, and had no interest in being the hunted.

"I called him in at one point a couple years ago and told him, I'm moving you to fullback," Carr said. "Well, he didn't like it, so we didn't have a very good relationship there for a while. But I kept telling him I felt like it would give him a great opportunity to play if he would embrace the role, and I would guess now he's happy where he is because he's a heck of a player."

"I came in playing linebacker, and I had big aspirations to be one of the next great Michigan linebackers," said Oluigbo, now the starter at fullback for the 4-0 Wolverines. "He asked me to move to fullback, and it took me a while to want to make that move, but after a while I thought it might be best for my future. It's a different kind of game on offense, but every year it got better."

Michigan tailback Mike Hart goes into Saturday's game at Minnesota leading the Big Ten in rushing with 477 yards in 104 carries through four games. The guy leading the way in most cases is the 6-0, 230-pound Oluigbo.

"Obi is basically the eyes of Mike Hart, and he adds that element of another guard in there blocking," offensive lineman Ruben Riley said of Oluigbo. "He is a big physical guy. He does not care who he has to block, he will go do it. He is just a rugged guy that does not care about doing the dirty work. You can say nothing but good things about a guy like that."

Ten players have rushed the football for Michigan this season, but not Oluigbo. He has one pass reception for nine yards. But he excels in his role as lead blocker, and is also a part of the Michigan special teams. Carr considers him one of the Wolverines' most valuable members.

"He's forced a fumble down there on our kickoff. He's on our kickoff return, he's on our kickoff, and he's got a major role on our punt team," Carr said. "This is the kind of guy Oluigbo is. He blocks extremely well, he's got good hands, and he is a valuable, valuable guy."

OLDEST TROPHY: When Michigan plays at Minnesota Saturday night, the Wolverines will seek to claim possession of the "Little Brown Jug," the oldest trophy game in college football. The Wolverines have a 63-22-3 edge in the games, but Minnesota ended a 16-game UM winning streak with a 23-20 victory last season at Michigan Stadium.

JUG TALE: The Little Brown Jug traces its roots back to 1903, when Michigan put its 28-game winning streak on the line in Minnesota against the unbeaten Golden Gophers. UM coach Fielding Yost had his team manager purchase a jug to bring its own water to the game, since he did not trust the host team to provide it. Minnesota tied the game with less than two minutes left, and its fans stormed the field, forcing officials to call it. Michigan left in a hurry to catch the train to Chicago, leaving the five-gallon jug behind on the sidelines. When Michigan asked for the jug to be returned, Minnesota said the Wolverines would have to come back and win it, and the first trophy game in college football was started.

TURNOVER APPETITE: Michigan has feasted on opposition turnovers. It has taken 11 forced turnovers and cashed them into 51 points, including six touchdowns. The Wolverines defense took two turnovers back for scores in the Notre Dame game, part of the 24 points Michigan had off turnovers.

TOUGH TACKLING: Junior cornerback Morgan Trent has earned his starting position by showing he is a sure tackler. Trent has had five or more tackles in each of the past three games, including five solo tackles and one for loss against Wisconsin. He had a career-high six stops and one fumble recovery at Notre Dame. He is second on the team with 18 total tackles.

"I think he's competed hard, he's a wonderful athlete, and he has tackled extremely well thus far," Carr said. "I like where he is. I think a year ago he gained a lot of experience. He learned a lot of lessons. I think he's competed hard."

"I guess it's my time," Trent said. "Everybody has to know their role; we talk about that a lot. My number was called and I just wanted to go out there and do the best I could. It feels good to be out there and contribute to help the team."

Trent has a solid athletic pedigree. His dad, Phillip, played football at Nebraska, while his mother, Tina, was on the diving team for the Cornhuskers.

GRADUATION RATE: According to figures released yesterday by the NCAA, 71 percent of Michigan football players graduated in the last six years studied. Federal calculations placed the rate at 63 percent.

The study included 93,000 Division I athletes, almost all on scholarship, who entered college from 1996 to 1999.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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