Sport: Number of Ohio players in Ohio State vs Michigan football game are dwindling

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For Ohio State players who are native Ohioans, the importance of the Michigan rivalry didn’t need to be instilled once they became Buckeyes.

The Game is in their blood.

“Knowing it’s always going to be the team up north vs. Ohio State every single year at the end of the season with all the marbles on the table, that’s something I watched growing up,” said senior defensive end Zach Harrison, who played at Olentangy Orange. “Now being able to live it and play in it, it’s kind of surreal. But it’s also like I’ve got a duty to go out in front of the people I grew up with to get this win.”

It wasn’t long ago that most Buckeye players had a similar story. It also wasn’t that long ago that Michigan was largely fueled by players from Ohio who wanted nothing more than to stick it their home state.

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Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard and Rob Lytle are only a few of the players from Ohio who did exactly that for the Wolverines.

But on Saturday when No. 2 Ohio State plays No. 3 Michigan, the number of Ohioans playing in the game will be a far cry from what it used to be.

The 2006 game is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the rivalry. The top-ranked Buckeyes edged the No. 2 Wolverines 42-39. In that game, Ohio State had 78 players on its roster from inside its border, including 14 starters. Michigan had 11 Ohioans on that team, many of whom were key players.

Michigan defensive back Rod Moore, the Wolverines' only starter from Ohio, is played high school ball at Clayton Northmont. © Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press Michigan defensive back Rod Moore, the Wolverines' only starter from Ohio, is played high school ball at Clayton Northmont.

On their current rosters, Ohio State has 49 players from inside the state, including six starters, and Michigan has only six Ohioans. Defensive back Rod Moore is the only starter, though tight end Erick All was until a season-ending injury, and Westerville’s Brad Robbins is the punter.

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Several reasons account for the decline in the number of Ohio players in The Game. The country’s demographic shift toward the South is one. There are relatively fewer players from the Midwest.

Though Ohio State has recruited nationally for generations to supplement its roster, under Urban Meyer and Ryan Day that has become more rule than exception. Ohio State’s extended success has given it the cache to compete with anyone for top prospects. More recruits are also willing to leave their home state.

“That's just kind of where the game is going,” Ohio State tight end Cade Stover said. “With networking and social media, you can get your film out there more. I think (programs) are finding people in different places. With Ohio State being Ohio State, you can pull from just about anywhere in the country you want to pull from.”

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The Ohio State bench watches as Michigan's Charles Woodson returns a punt 78 yards for a touchdown in 1997. © The Associated Press The Ohio State bench watches as Michigan's Charles Woodson returns a punt 78 yards for a touchdown in 1997.

Stover, who was Ohio’s Mr. Football at Lexington High School, said he considered leaving the state to play in college. His close bond with his family and its farm kept him home. The chance to play in the rivalry didn’t hurt, either.

“You felt it from the time you're in kindergarten all the way through,” Stover said. “(Game week), there wasn't one kid not wearing a jersey of what team they liked. I graduated with a couple of kids who were team up north fans.  They'd be getting bombed (with insults) all day long in school.

“It’s been passed down from our parents and grandparents down to us. It’s very special. Every Saturday you're watching the Buckeyes, and when this game is on, it's a big deal. People are having parties, going to other people's houses. It’s a really big deal, and it really means a lot to everybody in the state of Ohio.”

That only adds intensity of the rivals for players from Ohio. OSU receiver Xavier Johnson, who's from Cincinnati, said last year’s 42-27 loss to Michigan still weighs on him.

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“We work that game so much,” Johnson said. “We work it every day, and so having come up short, it hurts. It's something where I feel the pain of not only the loss, I feel the pain of the state having to go through a year where we come up short.

“I think that kind of fuels us day in and day out. We’ve got a lot of Ohio kids on the team. Having the understanding of that rivalry, even pre-playing in it, I think that's something that has allowed us to take it so seriously.”

Buckeye players not from Ohio are indoctrinated quickly about the importance of the rivalry. But those born into have a special passion.

Don’t expect the trend toward fewer Ohioans in The Game to change, though. In Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class, only seven of 19 commits are in-state. In Michigan’s 38-player 2022 and ’23 recruiting classes, the Wolverines have pulled in recruits from 19 states and even from France.

None are from Ohio.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Number of Ohio players in Ohio State vs Michigan football game are dwindling

Penn State-Michigan State predictions are in; top Lions recruiting target commits to Oregon, and more .
Today’s Penn State football news headlines feature predictions for the Lions’ season finale against Michigan State, plus a top 2024 target who announced his commitment elsewhere. Penn State goes into Saturday’s matchup with the Spartans as a 19-point favorite to win its fourth straight game and close the regular season with a 10-2 record. The Lions have a number of advantages on paper and figure to make a good run at not just winning the game but covering the point spread. PennLive staffers see Penn State rolling, while a majority of pickers at Blue-White Illustrated see the Spartans challenging the spread. © JOE HERMITT/pennlive.

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