ANN ARBOR — The final college football weekend in November might as well be a venerated date in the state of Ohio.
For Elliott Mealer, there was another pressing matter in the hours preceding the annual Michigan-Ohio State game: High school basketball.
“Playing basketball, the biggest memory I have about the rivalry is that I’d always have a scrimmage Saturday morning,” said Mealer, an offensive lineman for the Wolverines who also played basketball at Wauseon High School.
Mealer made sure he and his teammates missed a minimal amount of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
“Growing up in Ohio, especially right along the border of Michigan, I remember going to play Northview in Toledo and everybody, the refs, or whoever it was, they’d tell us, ‘OK, let’s get this going, we’ve got to get back to watch the game,’ ” Mealer said. “We’d all hop back on the bus and get back home to watch the game. I’d always be the guy with the portable TV, and we’d try to get in the pre-game stuff.”
Mealer is one of a legion of Buckeye State products who have chosen to head north year after year — and take the opposite side of one of the nation’s most notable football rivalries.
When the No. 4 Buckeyes host the No. 20 Wolverines at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium, Michigan’s roster will include 25 Ohio products, including Mealer, Clay graduate Jordan Kovacs, and linebacker Jake Ryan, a Cleveland St. Ignatius graduate.
“Being from the state and coming here, there’s definitely going to be a lot of hate from people from Ohio,” said Ryan, who leads Michigan with 75 tackles, including 13 for a loss. “Getting that vibe from them, it intensifies the rivalry.”
Conversely, Ohio State has two Michigan products on its roster — offensive lineman Reid Fragel of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., and defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins of Dearborn Heights, Mich.
“I was raised with this rivalry,” Mealer said. “So to me, it’s another dream I’ve had since I was in the third grade, and I can remember going to my first college football game down in Ohio Stadium. Ever since then, that’s when I’ve wanted to play college football. It has a special place to me.”
After Mealer — who grew up an Ohio State fan — committed to Michigan in spring 2007, did the rivalry heighten from his perspective?
“Michigan changed sides for me, obviously,” Mealer said. “But it didn’t really change much for me. It’s still such a huge game for me, in my mind. It’s just that, all the sudden, I was on the other side of it. A different aspect, I guess.”
Mealer took a more tempered approach to the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
Nearly 30 years ago, when Tony Gant left Fremont Ross for greener — or more maize and blue — pastures, he was given a less-than-warm sendoff. “I was called a traitor!” Gant recalled, laughing at the memory. “But to be a part of the rivalry, it’s almost indescribable.
“If you’re from Ohio, you’ve grown up watching that game, and you were born to be in it. It’s such an electric environment, and if you win it, you’ve got lifetime bragging rights.”
Gant is now a minority partner and the director of sales and operations for TMI/MRI, a diagnostic medical imaging center in Sylvania. Gant’s son, Allen, is a Southview graduate and a freshman safety for the Wolverines, and the elder Gant took part in a handful Michigan-Ohio State games.
The most memorable of those games? A 26-24 win against the Buckeyes in 1986, a game famously preceded by Wolverines quarterback Jim Harbaugh guaranteeing his team would defeat the Buckeyes and play in the Rose Bowl.
“Regardless of what the coaches say, regardless of what the boilerplate answer is, you go to Michigan and from Day One, your mission is to beat Ohio State,” Gant said. “When you’re working out and running that extra mile in the summer, you’re running to prepare for Ohio State. It’s usually the last game of the season, and you always open against someone else, but there’s an emphasis on Ohio State, from the start.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.