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Published: Saturday, 11/17/2012

Michigan seniors have had roller-coaster career playing Wolverines football

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Michigan defensive end Craig Roh hugs coach Brady Hoke. Roh, a fifth-year senior, has seen his share of turmoil and celebration. The UM senior class has gone 33-27 overall, 17-21 in the Big Ten with two different coaches at the helm. Michigan defensive end Craig Roh hugs coach Brady Hoke. Roh, a fifth-year senior, has seen his share of turmoil and celebration. The UM senior class has gone 33-27 overall, 17-21 in the Big Ten with two different coaches at the helm.
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ANN ARBOR — A few days before his final home game as a member of the Michigan football team, Craig Roh was asked if he would do anything out of the ordinary or something sentimental after the conclusion of Saturday’s game.

The defensive end briefly pondered the question, and even smirked. Roh admitted he had no crazy plans to mark the end of his time at Michigan Stadium.

He wouldn’t snag a few blades of the artificial green grass at his feet.

He probably wouldn’t leap into the stands and attempt to crowd-surf among some of the 110,000 fans in attendance, either.

“I don’t know,” said Roh, a senior for the No. 23 Wolverines. “I’ll look around and smile a little bit. All the great memories. It’s just really been something, that, it’s been a great journey.”

Roh is one of a group of Michigan’s true and fifth-year seniors who will be recognized prior to today’s noon kickoff against Iowa.

It will be the day of a few “lasts” for the seniors, including the last time to run through the tunnel and onto the field at Michigan Stadium, as well as the last time to sing “The Victors” in front of a crowd that’s bigger than some towns in the surrounding region. (Potentially — Iowa has defeated Michigan in each of the last three seasons.)

And it will be the last time the seniors will have a chance to win a game on their home turf.

Consider where these seniors have come from.

Some joined the program in the fall of 2008 as four- and five-star recruits. Others, like tight end Mike Kwiatkowski, went from being a walk-on — who didn’t try out until the fall of 2010 — to earning a scholarship. Ditto for Jordan Kovacs, who has become a poster child for walk-ons, going from a player who was cut from tryouts in 2008 to becoming one of the integral parts of Michigan’s defensive secondary.

There are common threads within in this class. Since 2008, they are 33-27, though 17-21 in the Big Ten. They helped the Wolverines win the Sugar Bowl in January, but a year earlier, got trounced by Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.

They went through two losing seasons and a third in which the Wolverines lost six of their last eight games in 2010, followed by a time of transition — going from the Rich Rodriguez years to their second season under current coach Brady Hoke.

They played and practiced through the scrutiny of a an NCAA investigation, which determined in 2010 that the program violated four rules in relation to impermissible practices under Rodriguez, who is now at Arizona.

A few of their original classmates left — some on their own accord, some who were asked to leave. Those who stayed — will they be champions? Legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler would concur.

“Our fifth-year seniors have been through a lot more than anybody else,” said Will Campbell, a defensive tackle. “But we’re a lot closer than we were years ago, and we’ve turned into a brotherhood, a family.”

The road, Campbell said, wasn’t easy for him or for his fellow seniors. Campbell, in particular, came to Michigan in 2009 as a highly touted prospect, but spent his first three seasons falling short of expectations placed upon him.

“It’s been bumpy,” Campbell said. “It’s been up and down. Like I’ve said before, I wish I was under this coaching staff for four years. But I wasn’t. So the opportunities they gave me, I just tried to capitalize on them and make the best out of them."

Patrick Omameh, an offensive guard and a fifth-year senior, considers what walking down the tunnel onto the field that last time will be like.

“You can try to anticipate what it’s going to feel like,” Omameh said. “We’ve all known what was coming. But you probably won’t really realize what it will be like until you’re in the moment. It’s not something that you’ve been hoping for. It’s something you almost want to prolong. It’s coming. It’s inevitable.”

Will the finality hit hard, or has it slowly crept up on this year’s seniors?

“When you’re in the thick of it, you can’t appreciate it as much,” Roh said.

“But now that I’m at my last few games here, I can reminisce a little bit more. I can stop for a second and think, ‘I’ve been really blessed.’ ”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.



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