Whitmer graduate and Michigan football player Chris Wormley throws out the first pitch of Toledo Mud Hens home opener April 13, 2017, at Fifth Third Field in Toledo.
When you grow up in Toledo, you’re either a diehard Buckeyes or Wolverines fan.
It’s a 50/50 city, one that I was fortunate enough to grow up in. Toledo still means a lot to me — my family, some of my high school buddies, and my fianceé’s parents still live there. I can still name plenty of great restaurants around town, though my favorite is The Beirut, the mediterranean restaurant on Monroe Street. I was just in Toledo two weeks ago on a bye week. It will always be home.
But make no mistake: I decided on being a Michigan fan early in my childhood. My dad and I would go to “The Big House” and tailgate all the time. I had plenty of Michigan jerseys and hoodies, and I really looked up to players like LaMarr Woodley, Braylon Edwards, Chad Henne, and Mike Hart.
Michigan was the school I dreamed of going to, and Joe Palka and the other coaches at Whitmer really prepared me for the collegiate level. At the time, I think he was one of the few high school coaches who made his team watch film and review scouting reports — he got that idea from his assistant coaching gig at his alma mater, Eastern Michigan. He brought that college mentality to a high school, and it paid off for a lot of us who went on to play Division I. What he did on the practice field and in the meeting rooms helped us tremendously.
The results showed: By my senior season in 2011, we won the first ever Three Rivers Athletic Conference. We reached the state semifinals and were ranked No. 2 in the state.
Just a few months later, I tore my ACL in practice and had to redshirt in my first year as a Wolverine. It’s funny just how quickly things like that change.
Even with that rocky start, my time at Michigan was still well spent. Later that spring — after months of rehabbing and getting healthy for the next season — the team gave me an award for the freshman with desire, character, capacity for leadership, and future success both on and off the field. That award meant a ton to me.
There were plenty of great things that happened at Michigan: I got my degree, met lifelong friends, and the coaches made a big impact on my life. I was there when coach Jim Harbaugh was hired in 2014, and he really brought back that old Michigan culture of winning and hard work. We were looking for something to buy into, and we did with Coach Harbaugh. We went from 5-7 to 10-3 in his first year.
Still, looking back on it, my biggest regret is not beating Ohio State. The last time we beat OSU, I was still in high school and former coach Brady Hoke was in his first season. The thing is, when you beat the Buckeyes, you know you’re probably sitting pretty good to go to the Big Ten Championship, and once you’re in there, you know you’ve got as good a chance as any to make the College Football Playoff.
Say what you want about Coach Harbaugh — yes, he still hasn’t beaten Ohio State — but turning around a program takes time. And with his record against winning teams, a lot of those games could’ve been wins. Look at our game in 2015 against Michigan State: We had that fluke blocked punt that I’m not sure would’ve happened again if we tried.
Then, of course, there was last year’s game against the Buckeyes.
J.T. Barrett was short on that controversial 4th-down run in double overtime, 100 percent, not a doubt in my mind. There are a lot of things you can say about that game, not even just that play, but on that 4th and 1, our safety at the time Delano Hill initially hit him, and I was kind of that second guy to take him down.
You can look at plenty of pictures and, from what I saw on the field, he didn’t reach that first down marker. That should’ve been the game. Instead, Curtis Samuel ran for that touchdown and the Buckeyes went on to make the Playoff.
After the game, it was more anger than sadness. We had played a good enough game to win, but we also knew it wasn’t just two teams out there playing football. The referees were from Ohio, which I’m not sure that should’ve been allowed.
A year later, it is what it is. You can’t really change what happened, but J.T. was definitely short.
Since “The Game,” I’ve gone from one Harbaugh to another — I’m now coached by his brother John in Baltimore. They grew up in the same house, raised by the same parents, so their coaching styles and philosophies are very similar. They’re definitely different people, but there are more similarities than there are differences.
Even as an alumnus, “The Game” means a lot me. We have practice Saturday — we play Monday against Houston — so I think I’ll have to catch the second half. I think It was nice to relax a bit over Thanksgiving, and it’ll also be great to watch the game alone so nobody can hear me yelling at the TV. I’ve been texting some of the guys; I know they’ll be ready to play Saturday.
Chris Wormley is a Toledo Whitmer and University of Michigan graduate. He is now a rookie with the Baltimore Ravens.
Contact Jimmy Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6050, or on Twitter @miller_jimmy.
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