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Derrick Summers was reared in a family that cheered for the University of Michigan. Growing up in Southfield, Mich., Summers played high school football against future Wolverines Brandon Graham and Morgan Trent.
Despite earning some high school accolades, Summers didn't get the scholarship offer he had hoped for from UM. Now as a junior at the University of Toledo and the Rockets' starting defensive end, he gets a chance to take the field at Michigan Stadium.
"I used to always picture myself playing for them," Summers said. "Playing against them will be even better."
Other Rockets feel the same way. UT has 13 players on its roster from the state of Michigan. Other UT starters from Michigan are senior defensive tackle Sean Williamson (White Lake) and freshman offensive tackle Mike VanDerMeulen (Marshall). Two other Michigan natives, safety Chris Faison (Bloomfield Hills) and receiver Shane Hubbard (Petersburg), are backups on the depth chart.
"Just being able to play at the Big House will be a great experience," Williamson said.
Williamson actually grew up a Michigan State fan. He used Saturday's game against the Wolverines as motivation last season when he was rehabbing after two knee surgeries.
"Coming back from the injury, one reason was I wanted to play Michigan," Williamson said. "This one's a little more special."
One challenge Williamson and Summers have been dealing with this week is finding enough tickets for their families and friends. Both players were given four, but they consider that just a starting point. Williamson has been asking his teammates since the beginning of the season for their extras for this game. Summers has already procured eight additional tickets but is still trying for more.
"It's hard because everyone wants to go to it," Williamson said. "That's the biggest thing about playing at Michigan, people asking for tickets. They don't want tickets to home games, they want to go to the Michigan game."
The game is special for UT coach Tom Amstutz too. He's lived a stone's throw from Michigan for all but three years of his life, so it's natural he has some friends at UM. One long-time acquaintance is running backs coach Fred Jackson.
Amstutz and Jackson coached together on two occasions, at UT from 1979-81 and at Navy in 1987. Amstutz said he used to work at the UM football camp for several years so he has been able to keep in touch with Jackson, who is the lone holdover from Lloyd Carr's staff and has coached there since 1992.
"I definitely consider him a very close friend," Amstutz said. "At the Naval Academy we had date night on Thursday nights. He'd take his wife and I'd take my wife, and we'd meet and go out to eat."
At UT, Jackson was an offensive assistant under Chuck Stobart from 1979-81. He also knows UT running backs coach Doug Downing from when both coached at Purdue in the late 1980s.
"When we're not playing Toledo, I'm pulling for them," Jackson said. "It's not extra special or significant to be playing against them. When you left the place with good memories like I did, you're just honored to be able to participate in this game."
Even Ohio native quarterback Aaron Opelt followed UM a little when he was growing up. That started when former Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, from Opelt's hometown of Fremont, signed with the Wolverines 13 years ago. He has no sentimental feelings, though.
"I didn't really have a whole lot of interest in Michigan, but I wanted to see Charles Woodson do well," Opelt said. "But that was then and now is now."
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