Michigan football players ready for former teammate Justin Boren
Nearly two years after his departure, Justin Boren remains a household name around Ann Arbor.
Drop the Ohio State offensive lineman's name in conversation to any of his former Michigan teammates and the emotions range from apathy to anger.
The fact Boren left the program isn't as big of a deal as where he landed to his ex-teammates. As they prepare to face Boren and his Buckeyes on Saturday (Noon, ABC), they have extra motivation knowing Boren will be part of this year's edition of the annual grudge match.
Their message to Boren: We'll be ready.
"We're not worried, we're just going to come," Michigan senior defensive end Brandon Graham said on Monday. "I trust and believe we've got a good front four that's going to get the job done and (Boren's) going to have to prove to me that he's still got it."
Boren contended that Michigan's "family values" had diminished under Rich Rodriguez when he left, but Graham thought that was only an excuse for him to leave. Although other players have departed Michigan's program since, Graham said the fact Boren's destination separated him from other transfers.
"He's just somebody that shouldn't have been here in the first place," Graham said. "He just didn't feel like he needed to be here anymore. He could have gone anywhere else, but he went to Ohio State.
"That was just a slap in the face."
On Monday, Rodriguez reiterated his belief the family atmosphere he's trying to build within his program has grown since he arrived. Although Boren suggested otherwise before he left, Rodriguez said the players that remain are as close as ever.
"They sense that family atmosphere that permeates throughout the program and I've always prided myself on that," Rodriguez said. "If anyone's been around Schembechler Hall when we've worked, when we've practiced will sense the same thing."
Yet, Boren's statements still resonate within Michigan's program. Graham wasn't alone in his feelings.
"I don't talk to him, I don't think about him, he doesn't come up in my daily life," senior center David Moosman said. "I don't have to play against him on defense but I wish I could."
For Michigan's defensive linemen, who will face Ohio State's offensive line, Boren's presence doesn't change their level of intensity. Defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen said while he can't "glance over and forget" about Boren and his history with Michigan, he won't allow any personal feelings to stop him from doing his job.
"He's only one guy and he'll only be controlling one gap so we have to prepare for everybody," Van Bergen said. "As far as physicality-wise, I don't think (Ohio State's offensive line) is going to be anything we haven't prepared for in the past. But it is a Michigan-Ohio State game and so we can expect them to be better prepared and better scouted and so we have to do the same thing on our side."
For his part, Boren has told his Buckeyes' teammates that Saturday's return to Michigan Stadium will "be nuts." Ohio State players told reporters Monday that they've seen text messages Boren has received that "weren't exactly friendly" as he prepares to face Michigan.
"I'm sure he'll be excited," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Monday in his weekly press conference. "I'm sure it will be difficult, in some ways, because he has great feelings for both teams that are going to be on the field and a lot of great memories up in the Big House with his dad and himself and all the rest, but his focus will be on what can he do to help his team."
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2554.