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Published: Friday, 9/5/2008

Extra special for Michigan special teams trio

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
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When Michigan's Zach Johnson or Miami University's Nate Parseghian and Peris Edwards take the field tomorrow, it will be special.

In more ways than one.

Johnson, a redshirt freshman from Morenci High in Morenci, Mich., is on the Wolverines' kickoff, punt, and punt return units. Parseghian, a senior from Sylvania, is the RedHawks' kicker, and Edwards is a Rogers High grad and sophomore on Miami's kickoff and punt teams.

All three will try to make an impact on special teams during tomorrow's Michigan-Miami (Ohio) game at the Big House, and with many of their family and friends watching.

For Parseghian and Edwards, it's a homecoming of sorts. In Johnson's case, it's like all of Morenci is wearing that Wolverines No. 19 jersey with him.

"Doing what he's doing is really great for our community," said Kyle Griffith, superintendent for Morenci Area Schools, where just 250 students attend the high school.

It was Griffith who helped Johnson catch on with UM's program. The two met in Griffith's office when Johnson was a sophomore, and the young football player sitting across from Griffith said he wanted to go to UM and play football one day.

Griffith contacted then-Wolverines offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, and Johnson attended UM summer camps and eventually went on a recruiting visit there.

A 4.0 student in high school, Johnson told then-head coach Lloyd Carr when they finally met that he wanted to go into architecture and engineering. Johnson was later offered an opportunity to walk on UM's team as a defensive back and awarded an academic scholarship.

"No one offered me an athletic scholarship, but other schools were offering academic scholarships [and opportunities to walk on]," Johnson recalled. "Once Michigan gave me a spot, that was it."

Griffith said that Johnson is the first to play NCAA Div. I football from Morenci in at least 50 years. He said Johnson returned to Morenci last spring wearing his UM Capital One Bowl jersey and spoke to students.

"His No. 1 message was that he wouldn't be here if not for academics," Griffith said.

Griffith said his eyes welled up with tears last week when Johnson, playing his first game for the Wolverines, made a tackle on a kickoff.

UM's current coach, Rich Rodriguez, who himself was a walk-on at West Virginia, admires Johnson's work.

"Zach, for one, is a good athlete, but he's also got a great attitude," Rodriguez said. "He's involved in most of the special teams. He's a tough guy. We're proud of him. He comes to play every day."

Local family and friends will have at least two more chances to see Parseghian and Edwards play in person at a venue near them, as the RedHawks have games at Bowling Green and Toledo this season.

Those scheduled dates have not lessened the demand for tickets placed on the two, perhaps because of the lure of UM, its history, and its rather large stadium.

Edwards, who had one tackle last week, said he was "scrambling" to find tickets for 25 to 30 relatives and friends for tomorrow's contest.

"I'm very excited because I've never played that close to my family in college," Edwards said. "I'm looking forward to the experience, but the game shouldn't be any different than any other game."

Shoulder surgery caused Edwards to miss all of spring practice and a hamstring injury during fall camp further buried him at safety. He said he is watching extra film and otherwise working to gain playing time on defense, but in the meantime is happy to contribute on special teams.

Parseghian, a three-year letter-winner at St. John's, drilled two field goals in a loss to Vanderbilt last week. The great-grandnephew of former Miami and Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian entered this season a perfect 24 of 24 in career PATs and 15 of 23 in field goals.

Parseghian has been to the Big House to see both Notre Dame and Ohio State play UM, and was there in 2004 when Miami lost 43-10. He said about 15 family members and friends are angling for tickets to watch him play against a team he rooted against while growing up.

"Michigan broke my heart as a Notre Dame fan and as a Miami fan," said Parseghian, whose brother Jared kicked for the RedHawks against the Wolverines in '04. "When I was younger, I might've said 'oh, I don't like Michigan' or something like that, but now I have a lot of respect for Michigan."

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-410-5055.



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