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ANN ARBOR — The linebacker from Cleveland made a conscious decision to tune out the clutter that comes with the Michigan football team’s final week of the regular season.
Jake Ryan has ignored the text messages from his close friends in northeast Ohio. He hasn’t logged in to Twitter or Facebook.
He’s laughed off any of the comments his family and friends with ties to the college in Columbus have made to him.
This is, after all, a matchup that Ryan and his teammates label as “the biggest rivalry in all of sports.”
In the days leading up to The Game, the static is inevitable. The noise is louder if you’ve crossed the border to don the maize and blue.
“I definitely hear it,” said Ryan, a redshirt junior. “Half the kids I went to school with went to Ohio State. I’ll hear things and whatnot, but you try to ignore it and try to tune it out.”
While Ohio State doesn’t have a player from Michigan on its roster — one would wonder if that has to do with Urban Meyer’s bias against “that team up north” — Michigan has 24 players from Ohio on its roster, and the Buckeye State has become proven to be recruiting ground for the Wolverines in Brady Hoke’s three seasons as head coach.
Of course, it’s also part of the interstate domain of one of college football’s more notable rivalries.
Growing up in Westlake, Ohio, Ryan admits he wasn’t a huge football fan. While he played at Cleveland’s St. Ignatius, he didn’t pay attention to college football or one its more notable and historic rivalries.
“I wasn’t an Ohio State fan, I wasn’t a football fan at all, and I kind of just started playing and watching it more,” Ryan said. “It wasn’t a big thing for me. I watched The Game, but I wasn’t rooting for one team or the other.”
Jibreel Black grew up in Cincinnati and admits he didn’t have much of an allegiance in The Game. He wasn’t actively recruited by the school the Wolverines call “Ohio,” either.
“I wasn’t too much of an Ohio fan,” the senior defensive tackle said. “I was more of a Cincinnati Bearcat fan.”
Even with no rooted interest in the grudge match prior to coming to Ann Arbor, Black characterizes the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, again, like many of his teammates do.
“It’s the biggest rivalry in all of sports,” Black said. “Being in Cincinnati you know that, because it’s in Ohio, and you’re fed to hate Michigan and love Ohio. In Ohio you only have two big schools, Ohio and Cincinnati. I just fell on the Cincinnati side.”
When Black arrived at Michigan, he and his out-of-state classmates learned more about the rivalry from both a football perspective and from a historic perspective.
In his first game against Ohio State, offensive tackle Mike Schofield also learned firsthand about the intensity of the rivalry — in the form of a walloping hit from Buckeyes defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
“My first game, my true freshman year, I started to realize what it was about,” said Schofield, an offensive lineman from suburban Chicago. “But I really understood what it was about the first time I played in it, my redshirt sophomore year.
“Once you play in that game, you know what it’s about.”
The Wolverines enter Saturday’s game as a 16½-point underdog to the Buckeyes, and begs the question: Does this team have a chance?
Ryan scoffs at the notion. He’s likely tuned out the chatter, which by the weekend will likely be deafening.
“It’s a game,” Ryan said. “It’s a rivalry. We’re going to play our butts off. We don’t have a thought in our mind that we’re going to lose.”