ANN ARBOR - Like most of the current Wolverines and Buckeyes who grew up in Michigan or Ohio, Kevin Koger always watched Ohio State-Michigan, a series that he'll become a part of for the first time tomorrow.
"You'd sit down on Saturday afternoon and watch this game and think about what it would be like to play in it," said Koger, a Whitmer graduate and freshman tight end at Michigan. "I know it's going to be a lot different than what you see on TV."
In this a season of firsts for Koger, he's about to learn another nuance of playing for the Wolverines. Because he is an Ohio native playing for UM, his date with the Buckeyes could draw out some added hecklers around Toledo when he returns home for Thanksgiving.
"I hear all the time from people that they're Ohio State fans, but they're also Kevin Koger fans," he said. "They say they want Ohio State to win, but they want me to play well. Hopefully a few of them are rooting for us."
Mike Massey, a Wolverines fifth-year senior tight end from Brecksville, Ohio, near Cleveland, actually talked about this very topic recently with Koger. The last four years have sent UM's players home for Thanksgiving as losers to the Buckeyes.
"I've seen a lot of my family," Massey said of his trips home. "I don't really leave the house that much, especially the past four years. It's all in good fun, but [friends] give me a hard time. I hear a lot about it, so I usually stick close to the home front."
When Massey speaks, Koger tends to listen. Koger said Massey took him under his wing when Koger arrived on campus this summer, and the two struggled together as they tried to pick up coach Rich Rodriguez's spread-option offense.
Carson Butler began the year as UM's starting tight end, but Koger worked his way onto the field and was starting by the Wolverines' fifth game.
Massey also earned more playing time and started along with Koger in UM's final home contest last week against Northwestern.
Rodriguez said he will use Koger and Massey against Ohio State. They work well together, anyway.
"When I first came here I didn't know anybody or anything about the offense, but neither did he because he was hurt in the spring," Koger said. "We learned at the same time. He's been like a mentor to me."
Koger has played in eight games and caught six passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. His last catch was Oct. 25 against Michigan State, but Rodriguez said that doesn't mean Koger has played poorly lately.
"Kevin's doing fine," Rodriguez said. "He had some big plays earlier in the season and has had some other opportunities, but [with] some of the ways people are defending us and some of the plays we're calling, he hasn't had as many opportunities for catches."
Rodriguez said he didn't anticipate playing Koger this much when the season started, but
Koger has represented himself well and "certainly has a tremendous future here."
Koger said he appreciates all that's happened to him this season despite the team's 3-8 record and well-documented struggles.
"Yeah, we've lost a few games, but it's still been fun," he said, hoping his entire team has some fun tomorrow against the Buckeyes.
Especially those Ohio-born Wolverines headed home for the holidays.
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