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Football: Former Michigan recruits, now key Buckeyes

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OSU redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley picks off Michigan State's quarterback Tyler O'Connor to seal the team's 17-16 win at Spartan Stadium.. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

OSU redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley picks off Michigan State’s quarterback Tyler O’Connor to seal the team’s 17-16 win at Spartan Stadium.. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

It’s no secret that this coming Saturday’s game between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan has a lot of implications behind it. It is not just college football’s annual matchup between the two teams, but it is also a game that will potentially decide which of the two teams will make the College Football Playoff.

But the rivalry goes beyond just “The Game” itself. It ranges all the way down to recruiting.

For years, young football players have looked at both universities as potential options to continue their playing careers, while both programs have pushed to obtain the next best recruit. On the OSU roster, there is no shortage of connections with “That Team Up North,” as a few of its current players have decommitted from Michigan only to commit to OSU.

This was the case for redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley and redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber.

“I was a young-minded person, and really, (Michigan) was my first big offer,” Conley said. “But I wanted to explore my options, and when I came (to OSU) it just felt like going from the same program to a better program of what I already experienced, and it felt like home.”

As a four-star prospect out of Massillon Washington High School in Ohio, Conley was a Michigan commit for eight months before he decided to join Urban Meyer’s 2013 class. Meyer said on Monday that he went to watch Conley play basketball when recruiting the cornerback, and that the team thought highly of him during the process.

“I went and watched him actually practice basketball, and that’s when I was like, ‘this is a crazy athlete,’” Meyer said. “Then you get to meet him and his family. Major impact. He’s not just a great player, but a great leader as well.”

Conley, who made the game-ending interception last Saturday against Michigan State, said that his initial commitment to be a Wolverine was “real fast.” He had only gone to Ann Arbor once to visit and didn’t talk to a lot of people, causing him to make the decision to switch schools.

“It was a magnificent decision because, obviously, two years ago we won a championship and last year we had a good season,” Conley said. “Overall, the teams I’ve been a part of (at OSU) and the brotherhood I have experienced — it’s great.”

Now one of the Ohio State team captains, Conley was the first player that Meyer would convert from Wolverine to Buckeye in his OSU coaching tenure. Conley wouldn’t be the last player to recommit to OSU, as Weber would do the same just two years later.

Unlike Conley, Weber grew up in Michigan as a native of Detroit. After playing football for Cass Technical High School, Weber committed to the Wolverines. However, after Michigan fired then-head coach Brady Hoke, the four-star recruit decommitted from the university, and eventually ended up at Ohio State.

Weber said that former Cass Tech teammate and current Ohio State teammate Damon Webb, a junior cornerback, helped him with his decision to join the Buckeyes.

“Having people here that I know of, that I can talk to, and that relate to me is always good,” Weber said. “I used to talk to (Webb) in high school about the program, about what to expect, and he always gave me good feedback.”

Weber said that with Webb already in Columbus and with redshirt freshman defensive tackle Joshua Alabi, also one of Weber’s Cass Tech teammates, committed to OSU, he was comfortable with his decision.

“It feels good to play with guys you grew up with,” Weber said.

However, Weber, who joins Maurice Clarett and Robert Smith as the only Ohio State freshman to rush for 1,000 yards, will be playing several of his high school teammates when the Buckeyes and Wolverines take the field on Saturday.

“Now it is really personal. A lot of people I played with — Jourdan Lewis, Delano Hill, Mike Onwenu, Lavert Hill — all those guys I played with in high school and won championships with are on the team,” Weber said. “It’s going to be fun playing against all those guys and I’m looking forward to it.”

Along with Conley, Weber, Alabi and Webb, true freshman offensive lineman Michael Jordan is also a native of Michigan and will be playing for his home-state rival on Saturday.

With each of these players deciding to play for Meyer and the Buckeyes, there is no denying that both teams could look very different for Saturday’s game had Conley and Weber not recommitted to OSU and stayed at Michigan.

Conley said that he is looking forward to the game on Saturday, and that he is happy with the decision he made three years ago.

“It’s an honor to play in this game. It’s an honor to be a Buckeye in this game,” Conley said. “This is one of the most tradition-rich programs in tradition games, and it’s going to be a great challenge. I’m just glad to be here with my team.”

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