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ANN ARBOR - Kevin Koger, a junior tight end at Ohio State? Came close to happening. Jordan Kovacs, a sophomore safety for the Buckeyes? Never a chance.
Two Michigan Wolverines by way of northwest Ohio have interesting and diverse takes on their program's rivalry with Ohio State, which will resume Saturday in Columbus.
City League seniors in 2008, Koger (Whitmer) and Kovacs (Clay) took different paths to Ann Arbor, both at times looking like they'd never get there. For Koger, ranked as one of the country's top tight ends in his graduating class, a lengthy list of scholarship offers dwindled to two - Michigan and Ohio State. For Kovacs, there was no scholarship offers. Zero. He'd have to persevere against overwhelming odds to make a lifelong goal come true.
What the two had in common however is an old man with an affinity for UM football. In the case of Kovacs, his father Louis was a walk-on under Bo Schembechler in the early 1980s. Jordan has been attending The Game, both in Ann Arbor and in Columbus, for many years. Carl Koger also was a Wolverine fan.
"I know he wanted me to come here," Kevin said. "That was big on me."
Although to many, especially those in the Toledo area, Koger's commitment to UM over OSU in July 2007 came as a surprise.
Koger said this week that UM and OSU "were even" through most of the recruiting process. UM's coaching staff headed by Lloyd Carr, who retired before Koger's freshman year, wanted Koger as a tight end. OSU viewed him as a defensive end before backing away from that stance and telling Koger a decision would be made during his freshman year. In the end Koger chose the school that felt most comfortable, and as an added bonus, the one that was closer to home but "far enough away my parents can't pop up."
Playing a fair amount as a freshman, Koger has pieced together a solid career, catching 33 passes for five touchdowns and 467 yards.
"Me and [teammate Roy Roundtree] talk about it all the time," Koger said. "He wholeheartedly thought I was going to Ohio State. I definitely gave them a serious look, it just didn't work out. It felt right up here. It was the perfect fit for me, and I'm loving it."
Section 27 of the Michigan Stadium, on the north side of the press box, is where the Kovacs family used to spend their fall Saturdays, including watching the 35-21 win over Ohio State in 2003 - UM's most recent win in the series - when Jordan was 13.
"That was a big win for us," he said.
Now the family sits underneath the scoreboard, a perk of having a son on the team. Jordan, the Wolverines' second leading tackler, recorded nine stops in last year's 21-10 loss to the Buckeyes.
"It's an exciting rivalry," he said. "It's surreal to finally be a part of it."
Everything about Jordan's experience as a UM football player has been surreal. As a freshman two years ago, Kovacs attempted to walk on the team but was turned away because of a prior knee injury that had yet to fully heal. A year later, he tried again, and was handed a jersey and a locker. In the second game of the season against Notre Dame, Kovacs was on the field playing meaningful snaps.
"[Kovacs and Koger] will be two of the leaders on next year's team," UM coach Rich Rodriguez said, then pausing briefly. "And they already are now."
Kovacs has successfully converted some of his closest friends who previously cheered for Ohio State to the other side. Koger, though, hasn't had as much success. "I hear all the time, I'm an Ohio State fan but I'm also a Kevin Koger fan. I don't think they've jumped over but they do support me."
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Kevin Koger, a junior tight end at Ohio State? Came close to happening. Jordan Kovacs, a sophomore safety for the Buckeyes? Never a chance.