[Ed-S: Bumped to remind you this diary is basically a front page feature]
So we’re back for another year of Michigan football, and with it another year of Best and Worst columns. For a number of reasons, chief amongst them increased work responsibilities and two kids under 3, I’m not sure how deep some of these columns will be this year. In years past I usually tried to knock out 5-6k words even during a bad game, since I felt like there were always storylines and discussion points. But now, if UM crushes Hawaii by 30 and we don’t see much, I’m (probably) not going to write 500 words comparing the win to the time the Rockers beat the Hart Foundation for the WWF tag titles but were never officially recognized because it was at a live show. Sorry.
As for this column, I’m going to attack the general themes of the offseason and the expectations for the year without necessarily diving into each position group. This is mostly due to the fact that (1) the vast majority of my information is from this site anyway, and I assume Brian and co. will have MUCH deeper articles in the coming weeks, and (2) I already read most of the recent HTTV and it would devolve to cribbing notes. As always, I welcome any and all comments (including ones that point out a much better writer at another site created the conceit of this diary series).
Best: Everybody’s Back*
I never know how to start these pre-season diaries, especially when it hasn’t been a particularly momentous off-season (and yes, I know that saying 2015 was “momentous” is like asking Mary Todd how the play was). But after almost a decade of upheaval and uncertainty, of a displaced legend, a dismissed vanguard, and a depressing totem of halcyon days, UM (seems) to be on a trajectory back to the top of college football with Harbaugh at the helm.
And in many ways, it shouldn’t be surprising; the last three coaches all embodied different characteristics of what fans hope makes Michigan “Michigan”. With Carr, you had a model of consistent, sustainable if-not-excellence-at-least-really-goodness. He led the team to their first title in half a century, mostly fought OSU to a draw, and held it all together with class and dignity. He had his flaws strategically (I think he still views mobile QBs as a fad) and definitely valued loyalty over competency with a lot of his staff, but he kept UM in the upper tier of college football when lots of other programs suffered various degrees of downfalls.
[After the JUMP: The story goes...]
Been looking at the schedules for various Big Ten teams over the past few days and have noticed that Week 3, the last week of the vast majority of non-conference games (besides MSU’s weird mid-October game against BYU), is a huge week for the Big Ten. There is the potential for a very big blow to the conference's reputation and Michigan's strength of schedule.
Since we are exactly one month away from September 17th and the offseason is painfully slow, figured I’d do a write up on what’s at stake in Week 3, by far the most important week of the non-conference schedule.
Michigan looks to have a relatively lowkey week hosting Colorado at home (3:30 PM EST, BTN). Although I think the Buffaloes will be better than last year and won't be as easy to walk over as Hawaii and UCF, we still should win with relative ease; on the other hand, almost the entirety of the conference, and especially the conference teams key to our strength of schedule, face big tests or treacherous trap games. I think this is especially important for our Wolverines in 2016 as this is the first year in a while (and for the forseeable future) that we have zero non-conference opponents of note; thus, our intra-conference strength of schedule becomes even more important than usual in the eyes of Bowl committees, including the CFP.
I go through and categorize the Big Ten's 11 games in Week 3 as follows:
National, High-Profile Games:
• Ohio State at Oklahoma (7:30PM EST, FOX)
• Michigan State at Notre Dame (7:30PM EST, NBC)
• Oregon at Nebraska (3:30PM EST, ABC)
Oregon, Notre Dame and Oklahoma are all big time programs nationally and all of the games will be televised on major cable networks, two of which will be in primetime. I think that the Big Ten teams will almost certainly all be underdogs in these matchups. For MSU and OSU, the fact that they have to reload so much and have lots of inexperience means they likely will be much better teams in November than in September and these are two early road tests that are tough for young teams.
While I don't think anyone on here would necessarily be upset to see both our rivals fall in the same week, it unquestionably wouldn't be good for the conference's image and, more importantly, Michigan's strength of schedule. Nebraska is less important here, but it's obviously better for us if the Big Ten team prevails. While I'm hopeful the Big Ten goes 1-2 in this stretch, 0-3 is certainly very possible.
WATCH OUT, IOWA:
• North Dakota State at Iowa (12:00PM EST, ESPN/ESPN2)
North Dakota State has won 5 FCS National Championships in a row and has beaten SIX Power 5 teams in a row, including Minnesota and Iowa State, the Hawkeyes' two closest Power 5 neighbors/rivals. This game will be broadcast nationally and the Bison will be sure to want to impress. They are the Alabama of the FCS and Iowa is known for having massive screw ups immediately following impressive seasons.
This has "National Media mocks the Big Ten for weeks for having one of its division frontrunners lose to an FCS team" written all over it. Iowa is the third best team on Michigan's schedule. A Hawkeye loss here does significant damage to Michigan's SOS.
Mediocre Big Ten Teams vs. 2015 Bowl Teams
• Temple at Penn State (12:00PM EST, BTN)
• New Mexico at Rutgers (12:00PM EST, ESPNNEWS)
• Western Michigan at Illinois (4:00PM EST, ESPNNEWS)
• Maryland at UCF (7:00PM EST, CBSSN)*****
Here we have games that the Big Ten team *should* win, but there is a significant possiblity they will not.
Rutgers is Rutgers and New Mexico is decent. Illinois is Illinois and WMU is a strong MAC team with perhaps the best coach in the MAC who will no doubt be fired up on the B1G stage. Temple does lose a lot, but they creamed the Nittany Lions last season and it's very possible that Penn State is reeling coming off a loss to rival Pittsburgh in Week 2.
Even going 3-1 in this grouping would be "not great, Bob" for the Big Ten's image, but going 2-2 or 1-3 would be very damaging. Michigan plays all four of these teams this year as well. We need this group to hold serve in Week 3 so that when Harbaugh creams them all later on our detractors cannot validly say "but they are basically MAC level teams, who cares!"
*****Obviously UCF was not a 2015 Bowl Team, and I think Maryland has the highest chance of winning of this group. However, a loss is possible on the road and I didn't have a better category to place them in.
Tossup: Midlevel Power 5 Opponent vs. Midlevel B1G Team
• Duke at Northwestern (8:00PM EST, BTN)
While a conference loss here is not necessarily embarassing by itself, if we are already having a bad (or very bad) conference day this would be the icing on the cake as it will likely be the last game of the day to finish given its 8PM start. Northwestern was better than Duke last year, has home field advantage and the ACC is not supposed to be better than the Big Ten, so Northwestern should be expected to win.
We're probably safe on these fronts
• Colorado at Michigan (3:30PM EST, BTN)
• Georgia State at Wisconsin (12:00PM EST, BTN)
PURDUE HAS A BYE THANK GOD
- That should save us some embarassement
- Minnesota and Indiana also have byes
Overall, the possibility is there for the Big Ten to use this day to boost the conference's image as 2nd best in the nation. However, I'm much more worried of the opposite happening. The high profile games are not good matchups for us and there are a lot of losable games to non-Power 5 teams that kill a conference's perception.
Will definitely be important to see what happens in Week 3. More than any other week of the season, this could be the week that's pivotal as to whether or a not a 1 loss Big Ten Champion makes or misses the playoff. Of particular importance to Michigan, it’s possible that all three of our toughest opponents lose in Week 3. That would really not be good for us.
Overall, the Big Ten has 9 games that have greater than negligible chances of a loss for the conference team. In my opinion, going 6-3 or 7-2 in this stretch would be satisfactory for the conference's image/hold serve. 8-1 or 9-0 would improve the conference's national image and solidify us as second best in the nation for now. Going 5-4 or 4-5 would definitely hurt the B1G, but probably not in a massive way. If we go 3-6 or worse in this stretch, it would be incredibly damaging for the conference and could easily keep a 1 loss Big Ten championship out of the playoff.
I was only planning to make the Mike McCray diary a one-off. But Bodogblog suggested I take a look at Devin Bush Jr. as well, so why not? Again, I used the MGoVideo every-snap videos from the spring game. Bush was on the blue team, so I used the Wilton Speight footage this time.
As you might expect of a guy who’d been wearing the winged helmet for only a few weeks, he looked a bit tentative and had some issues with getting overpowered—especially by some of the juniors and seniors. But he also looked like a guy who knew what he was doing out there; he did make a couple really nice plays and demonstrated the kind of potential that shows why Harbaugh made him such a big priority in the recruiting class. Here’s how I saw it:
Play #1: White running something resembling Power-O to the left, but with the LT kicking the EMLOS (Charlton). Bush makes a good read and gets to the point-of-attack quickly, but Khalid Hill comes through and clamps onto Bush, sealing him inside for the duration. No harm because Charlton won his block and white ran this into a corner blitz. Grade -1; Hill dominated Bush on this play.
Play #2: Play-action pass from an offset I-form. Bush reads and drops into underneath coverage. Ball thrown deep and Bush irrelevant.
Play #3: Shotgun formation with pocket moving right at the snap. Bush in man coverage on the RB, who stays in to protect. Bush attacks the QB late but is irrelevant as Speight releases the pass well before Bush arrives.
Play #4: White running some kind of trap or counter play that Wormely annihilates from the backside. Bush is charging downhill at the snap; he impacts Newsome, sheds, and works to the point-of-attack to assist on the tackle. Grade: =
Play #5: White fakes an iso to Isaac then tosses to Perry on the end-around, coming to Bush’s side. Blue wants to spill this to the sideline; Newsome gets out on him and shoves Bush ten yards downfield, but Bush does keep an outside arm free and doesn’t allow a cutback lane. Grade: =; made the right read, gave up a lot of ground to Newsome but the play was always going outside.
Play #6: Passing play; Bush covering the short middle zone and gets good depth; Isaac leaks out late but irrelevant as Speight throws to a WR on an out cut.
Play #7: Bush blitzing B-gap. It’s a running play. Jake Butt had come in motion behind the formation and set up as an H-back at the snap; Butt picks up Bush and stones him. Isaac has a huge hole to the backside on what looks like a designed counter, he hits it for a big gainer. Grade: -0.5; another play where Bush got his ass kicked but it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Play #8: Play-action pass; white runs a mesh concept with TWJ and Mitchell coming from the left and Butt coming from the right; Blue busts and Butt winds up all alone in the left flat for a TD. I think this is on Watson, who followed Mitchell inside instead of passing him off to a safety. Bush was fine, I guess.
Play #9: White runs the banana-type play with the QB faking a pitch left, then rolling right and throwing to the fullback on a shallow cross—except in this case, the “fullback” is Khalid Hill, who started the play flexed out in the slot on the opposite side of the formation. Bush was off-camera for most of the play but is the LB chasing down Hill after the reception, FWIW. Grade: ??
Play #10: Inside run to the opposite side of the formation from Bush. He checks his gap, then pursues; Bush is not relevant as the tackle is made well before he arrives, but Bush does nicely shed an offensive lineman who tries to delay him.
Play #11: Quick-hitter to the fullback on Bush’s side. Bush and the fullback disappear into the same pile at the LOS. Not the most difficult play but I’ll give Bush credit here for a fast accurate read and for sticking his nose into the melee. Grade: +0.5.
Play #12: Bush’s best play so far. White does the same thing as on Play #7, where a TE (Sean McKeon) comes in motion behind the offensive line and sets up as an H-back right in Bush’s gap. This time, they run right at him. McKeon comes out and hits Bush, but Bush keeps his outside arm free, sheds, and fills to force a bounce. Good play, and I really like how he dealt with this the second time after seeing it earlier. Grade: +1
Play #13: This is either a bust by walk-on Mike Wroblewski or Blue got seriously RPSed by the alignment. White has three receivers in a bunch to the right side of the formation. The lead receiver, TWJ, runs a hook route; Wroblewski is lined up over him and follows TWJ the whole way. I think when TWJ released to the left, Wroblewski was supposed to have stayed home let Bush pick TWJ up—but since Wroblewski stayed on TWJ, Bush is covering air and Perry comes open in the area Wroblewski vacated. Both Bush and a deep safety head over there to bracket Perry. There is no way they can make it in time. Speight steps up in the pocket and could easily have Perry, but Bush has opened up a huge running lane, which Speight takes. Hard to ding Bush too much on the play, since neither of his choices were good—but if he’d stayed home, then Speight couldn’t have scrambled and the safety would probably have done more about Perry than Bush anyway. Grade: -0.5
Play #14: White runs a counter to the left side, away from Bush. An OL comes out on him and seals Bush away for the duration. Grade: -1.
Play #15: Another counter, with two OL pulling to Bush’s side this time. Godin, Mone, and Kemp destroy the blocking, however and Isaac is trapped in the backfield. Bush comes down and tackles for loss. Grade: =; competent play but not worthy of a plus.
Play #16: Bush times a blitz well and is quickly into the backfield; Gentry (seriously, did Blue draft ANY of the tight ends?) whiffs on him, then breaks Brian’s cardinal rule by going upfield and trying to still block him; Bush then knocks the mystery fullback (#33?) off his pins for a 2-for-1. Grade: +1; it was a good play by Bush, but mostly the function of the blitz call and the fact he was going against Gentry and an obscure walk-on fullback.
Play #17: Passing play, Bush comes on an outside blitz, isn’t going to get home. Speight throws in the opposite direction so Bush irrelevant.
Play #18: Power-O to the right side of the formation. Bush is aligned to the left; he can’t get off the downblock and is sealed the entire play. Grade: -1.
Play #19: The Wilton Speight bootleg touchdown. Bush not particularly relevant to the play, shoots his gap and gets hung up inside; Speight rolls outside and has clear sailing to the end zone.
Overall grade: -1.5. Felt worse than it was, I suppose, as Bush got pushed around pretty good by the upper classmen. But he usually seemed to be in the right spot, which is pretty impressive for an early-enrolled freshman in his first spring game. With more reps and some college S&C, looks like Bush will be a real factor down the road.
Surrounded by walls of cornfield and amidst deteriorating roadways and stop signs, are four one-hundred foot light poles rising from the ground. They're cracked and weathered, probably one good thunderstorm away from collapsing to the very field they were built for. The grass of this gridiron is withered and brown, as the ole, trusty sprinkler system hasn't really been "trusty" in years. There once was a rubber track around this field, only now, it is barren dirt and rock which is overlooked by a white, sad-looking press box that can be seen hovering above the rusted stands errected years ago. Positioned unevenly across the press box are the words "Mississiniwa Valley Blackhawks", with the school logo printed underneith.
I was sitting on their old, beat up couch, visiting my parents in the summer of 2014 when my step-dad came into the living room and asked if I wanted to help him coach the junior high football team at Mississiniwa. I didn't know too much about the school at the time, only that he had graduated there and played with the local legend, Curtis Enis. It didn't take much convincing on his part, however, as I've always wanted to coach football; the greatest damn game on the planet. After agreeing and receiving my one-year contract, I quickly found myself on the field, overseeing a bunch of young men on their path for self-fulfilment or the fulfilment of their father's wishes as I would come to find out. 17 kids total, outfitted with outdated equipment and old, filthy white jerseys. A rag-tag group if I've ever seen one. I was a little apprehnsive when camp started my first year. I didn't know what to expect or how to convince young kids to take my word for anything. I didn't know how to be stern without being harsh or calm without being too lax. In fact, I still struggle with finding the right balance. Some kids need guidence on the field. How to throw a ball, make a cut, force a block. Others ask for advice for complicated situations at home. Coaching, as I came to realize, is a job within a job within a job.
The first game was one to remember. With only two seconds left in the fourth, down by six in the red zone, our 7th grade QB threw a perfect fade in the corner of the end zone. One two point conversion later, we were walk-off winners. The FIRST WIN the junior high program has seen in 3 years. Brimming with confidence, that quickly faded, we went on to lose every single game afterwards. It crushed the kids, and me as well. I almost spent more time playing psychologist than I did playing with actual X's and O's. I felt that, somehow, it was my fault. I let the kids down. But despite my relative ignorance in a few essential elements of coaching, my dad and I somehow did well enough to earn another contract --- and a few more athletes --- the following year.
I walked into the lockerroom for the first day of 2015 camp to be greeted by 28(!) kids. The now 8th graders from last year were bigger, stronger, faster. Practices had more energy, I had more experience. Everything just, well, fit together. My optimistic feelings about the overall outlook of the team in the pre-season came into fruition as we started 5-0. A school first. Our extremely athletic tailback, coupled with a talented quarterback, strong line and recieving corps spearheaded this historic charge. The high school hadn't even accomplished this feat, even with Enis. Parents and fans noticed and became more active. Tuesday evenings on the field started looking and feeling like Friday nights. I've never seen so many fans at a Junior High game.
Then, like most stories, a turn for the worse.
Sitting on the same old, beat up couch, we were discussing football when my dad got a phone call. A few seconds later, he dropped his phone on the ground and fast-walked outside. Concerned, I followed, and found him on his knees in the front lawn, sobbing.
"My brother's dead, my brother's dead!", he managed to say between horrific outbursts of screams.
I still hear those words in my head. Seeing my 300 pound, bearded manly-man of a father so hurt. He NEVER cries. Never. As it turns out, my uncle had commited suicide. A move no one saw coming.
We had a game the following Tuesday, which we both still coached. This game in particular was a big one, not only because of a death in the family, but because in the history of MV athletics, no team has ever beat Miami East at anything. We rode the bus to their expensive, better equipped stadium. The kids were silent on the way there, something of a rare occurance to not hear twenty-eight 14 and 15 year-old boys. During warm-ups, they did not speak. A fire was lit behind each one of their eyes. In 32 minutes, these boys did something for my father that can never be paid back. All the times my dad had personally took in a kid for dinner because he had no food at home, or the uplifting, hour long conversations with a few kids about their struggles with family, or just giving each kid the opprotunity to vent and ask for advice was re-paid in full. This game, a junior high football game, defined a legacy that still hangs in the school and in the local bowling alley as a picture with the score of Miami East- 8 Visitor- 20. These kids won the game, but more importantly, each wore the color purple for suicide awareness. They broke out of each huddle with "for Ronnie!", my uncle's name. They've never met this man. In fact, the pure brutality of suicide is a topic that most young teens can't fully grasp. Yet, here they were, to pick up my dad when he needed it most. I don't think he could have found joy in any other way at that time.
You could see it in his eyes. His dark and hazy eyes bared all. My dad, whom never cries, cried the day he heard the news, and he cried again after that game.
We finished the season 6-2. An all-time high for the sport of football in this school which sits in the middle of nowhere. So many things can happen in those places, in the middle of nowhere, that can be missed. It is here, off the beaten path, that winning found its way. Winning in life, in death, and in football.
New season, new wallpaper! In my previous Diary entry I talked about recreating Michigan's new font for use in wallpapers. Now, it's time to show off some of the fruits of my labor.
To start things off I have two schedule wallpapers. One is in the theme of the away uniforms and the other is in the theme of the home uniforms. The away games are highlighted in white, since that is the color of our awesome away pants.
The graphics at the top of both wallpapers are based off of designs from the new Jordan gear. The away design is from the 2016 student tee. The home design is from this football tee. I really dig some of the new designs that have been introduced by Nike and co, so I thought they would look great as wallpaper.
I have a lot more wallpapers to share before the start of the season. I'm aiming to share a few every week leading up to the first game. Stay tuned and Go Blue!
I'll continue with the TBT series as long as the mods are ok with it and I have subjects to write about. I have a response for next week's subject, but it's also that time of year to get the kids back off to college so I might have to miss a week.
This next guy was someone I considered the most consistent guy on the team. Like all the other subjects I've written about, I have a tremendous amount of respect for them because they were really good football players but even better students. He was one of those guys that earned the complete and unwavering confidence of all his teammates and every coach because of the way he carried himself and went about his business . He was Mr. Reliable - steady, solid, smart, and unshakeable. He wasn’t the biggest receiver, and he’ll be the first to tell you he wasn’t the fastest but damn, he showed up for work every single day.
Ken “Pinky” Higgins comes from a long line of Michigan Wolverines: his grandfather, his mom, his dad, an uncle, an aunt, and two of his three brothers all attended the University of Michigan. It seemed liked the least surprising decision in the history of recruiting when he ultimately chose the Wolverines, but it wasn’t as cut and dried as you might think.
He played high school football for Coach Jim Ritter at Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, Michigan. He was lightly recruited as a junior and considered a MAC-level talent by his own coaches. However, one of his dad’s friends, Hugh Wright – a former golfer at Michigan – believed Kenny was the caliber of student-athlete that would excel at UofM. It was Mr. Wright who sent Bo his high school game film. Bo must have liked what he saw because he sent assistant coach Paul Schudel out to his next game. And what a game he had: 9 receptions for almost 250 yards in the first half alone. Coach Schudel had seen enough. His performance sealed the deal. A short time later, a scholarship offer was extended.
Although Michigan was his favorite team, Bo’s grind it out offense wasn’t exactly a wide receiver’s dream scenario. The other schools recruiting him – Purdue (with QB Chris/Jim Everett, Michigan State (Dave Yarema), Boston College (Doug Flutie), and Stanford (some really smart guy, probably)– liked to throw the ball around the field a hell of a lot more than the old man. There was also a pretty big stable of receivers on the roster: Vince Bean, Paul Jokisch, Gilvanni Johnson, Triando Markray, and Steve Johnson to name a few. In the end though, the choice came down to winning a lot of wins, continuing the family legacy, and maybe catch a few passes from some guy named Harbaugh.
Ironically, the very first pass thrown to Mr. Reliable, he dropped. It was against Michigan State in 1983 and the true freshmen found himself forced into action a lot sooner than he anticipated (two upperclassmen served disciplinary action for violations the week before). “I was pretty nervous, and looking back, entirely unprepared to play.” But everything went pretty well, and in the 4th quarter with the game well in hand, backup QB Dave Hall threw a pass to Higgins on an “I” route. As freshman receivers tend to do, he waited for the ball to come to him rather coming back to meet it. As the ball arrived, so did the State’s DB and the ball fell incomplete. To this day, Hall doesn’t let Kenny forget his first pass.
Things would get better and Ken would settle into his role as a clutch receiver who only rarely got yelled at by Bo and Jerry Hanlon. He had his best game in 1986 in a night game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall. He was sick all day with a fever and nausea, but with Paul Jokisch out with an injury, Ken was the next man up and he damn sure wasn't going to call in sick. That turned out to be a good decision as he caught 8 passes from Harbs for 150 yards in the Wolverines victory – Bo’s 200th career win.
In his 4 years at Michigan, Ken would be a part of 36 wins, a Big 10 Championship and Rose Bowl, and go a combined 6-2 against MSU and OSU. He caught 36 passes for 621 yards his senior year, including 1 touchdown and an 18.8 yards per catch average. The touchdown was memorable for me personlly because it was the first game I made the travel squad. Pinky’s touchdown gave us a 35-0 nothing lead going into the half. As we walked to the locker room, Coach Moeller told me to be ready to go in the second half. I wasn’t 2nd string, but with a 35 point lead, even the 3rd (or 4th) stringers would get some significant playing time. Something, something, something about the best laid plans and, well... The 2nd stringers played like ass and Moeller saw it as a teaching moment, so he kept them in the game. I totally understood. I wasn’t owed anything and if the backups needed work, so be it. The Hoosier fans, on the other hand, weren’t quite as understanding. You won’t live through a more humbling experience than when INDIANA FANS (!) start busting your balls about playing time. From the fan in the stands, “Sooooo, how many points do you have to be up before they put you in?” So yea, I vividly remember Ken’s first and only TD that year.
You might have asked yourself where Ken got the nickname “Pinky.” Bo called him that almost from the first day he stepped on campus. Ken would askn who Pinky Higgins was but Bo would just smirk and walk away. In his four years on campus, he never got an answer. It would be decades later before the answer revealed itself. Ken’s brother was at a baseball game, thumbing through the program and what do you know – there’s a former player/coach/general manager named Frank “Pinky” Higgins whose career in baseball spanned the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. Bo was a huge baseball fan and loved pulling obscure names from the distant past. I am fairly certain Bo nicknamed backup QB Wilbur Odom “Blue Moon” long before UM Alum James Earl Jones mentioned that name in “A Field of Dreams”.
In one particularly memorable game his junior year in 1985, we were playing South Carolina at their place in the second game of the season. We had just beat Notre Dame the week before but South Carolina was ranked #11 and the favorite to win this game. If you recall, 1985 was Bo’s best defense and we put the clamps on the Gamecocks that day. Up to this point, Ken was playing sparingly and mostly when the games were out of hand. Anyway, Bo called a pass play and Jim threw to Kenny who hauled in his first career reception. He trotted off the field wearing a huge smile while resuming his place next to Bo, waiting for the next time he’d get called in. After a minute or so, Bo finally noticed the enormous grin on Pinky’s face, and asked, “was that your first catch?” Ken replied in the affirmative. Bo smiled, turned around, and resumed calling plays. As the drive matriculated down the field and we entered the red zone, Bo put Kenny back in the game and called a fade route. If you’re young or aren’t familiar with Bo’s penchant for running the ball, a fade route was literally the last play on the last page of his play sheet. But he called it nonetheless. It was incomplete (underthrown according to Ken. I’m still waiting for Harbaugh to confirm), but that moment stood out for Ken. Bo didn’t make a big production out of it. He didn’t announce it or set it up. He called it matter-of-factly as sort of salute to a player he had tremendous respect for. That’s the kind of thing he’d do reward a player for his hard work and dedication. It’s one of Bo’s many attributes that player’s carried with them for the rest of their lives.
While at Michigan, Ken roomed with defensive tackle Dave Folkersma and the Schulte brothers – Todd and Tim. He lived in a fraternity his junior year, and then across the street from the Blue Front (“may it rest in peace”) his senior year.
Despite playing his freshman year, he was redshirted his sophomore season and therefore eligible for a 5th year in 1987. Ken faced an almost identical decision that Tim Williams recounted in his story: return for a final season or head off to law school. In Ken’s case, professional football wasn’t a realistic opportunity but playing for Bo and his teammates was tough to leave behind. He talked with Bo and also consulted with the admissions people at UM Law about the possibility of starting school in the summer, then taking a lighter load during the season. In the end, Ken felt the best choice was to hang up the cleats and move onto the next stage of his life. Only, it wouldn’t be in Ann Arbor, but rather on the famed campus in Cambridge Massachusetts. Ken earned his JD from Harvard and entered private practice upon graduation. After 5 years, he joined a private equity firm and ultimately became a partner at Greene Holcomb Fisher in Minneapolis, a boutique investment bank focused on Mergers and Acquisitions and advisory work specializing in the healthcare industry. Recently, his company was purchased by BMO Financial Group, a large financial institution out of Canada. Ken will remain with the new company and continue leading M&As.
He’s been married to his wife Laura – also a Michigan alum – for 26 years. They have two daughters, the oldest of which starts her first year at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and the youngest begins her senior year at Penn. She’s also the captain of swim team and sports editor of the school newspaper. (Are you reading this, Brian?). Ken tried his best to get his girls to go to Michigan, but they wanted to blaze their own paths. Despite shunning the Maize and Blue, the girls are still big Michigan fans and will probably do just fine.
Ken still stays in touch with some of his older teammates: Phil Logas, a wide receiver who is now an attorney in Florida. Russ Rein, QB that took over for Harbaugh when he broke his arm in the ’84 MSU game and is now an executive at the Mayo Clinic. John Balourdos, a lineman who is a commercial real estate in Chicago. Clay Miller and also the Schulte brothers who were originally from Kentucky. Also, punter Monty Robbins who runs a mortgage bank back home in Kansas.
When he’s not busy with work or taking care of his girls, Ken and Laura devote their time and resources to Wilderness inquiry, a program that sponsors inner city youth and individuals with disabilities on camping, hiking, canoeing and other shared outdoor activities. They’re also active donors to the University of Michigan, endowing a scholarship for the swim team in honor of Ken’s parents who put so much emphasis on education and willingly funded Ken and his 3 brother’s education. Ken and Laura chose swimming because they appreciate how hard the swimmers work, and as a small tribute to their girls who are both participated in the sport. And, true to his character, he wanted to recognize a sport at Michigan that doesn’t have the highest profile but has been tremendously successful. Sounds an awful lot like Mr. Reliable.
Those who stay…
Ken played from 1983-1986 and wore #31
His favorite restaurant in Ann Arbor is Zingerman’s
The best dish he cooks is his mom Spaghetti Sauce recipe.
If he had a son he would allow him to play football. Like a lot of former players, football teaches young men a lot of valuable lessons: hard work, dedication, and the sense of being part of something bigger than yourself.
Ken's memorable TD catch against Indiana in 1985. Yours truly was on the sidelines...the entire game. Did I mention it was 35-0 at the half?