Tales from the rivalry: When linebacker Obi Ezeh gave the shirt off his back for Michigan
Obi Ezeh still remembers the day he swore off wearing green and white as a color combination.
Six years ago, as a budding 15-year-old linebacker at Grand Rapids Catholic Central High, Ezeh was attending his first Michigan football camp when then-coach Lloyd Carr came over and introduced himself during the night's seven-on-seven play.
As Carr and Ezeh were shaking hands, Carr’s eyes drifted south to the cut-off shirt Ezeh wore inside out. Carr didn’t say a word, but “there was a lot being spoken non-verbally,” Ezeh said.
“His eyes were just kind of staring at my shirt, like putting a hole through me,” he said. “I was like, ‘What is he looking at?’ And then I remembered and I was just like, ‘Oh man.’”
Ezeh had on an old Michigan State engineering shirt that he quickly took off - on the field - and later tossed in the trash can in his dorm room. He hasn’t worn a piece of Spartan gear since.
“There’s no need to support them like that,” Ezeh said.
Now Michigan’s starting middle linebacker, Ezeh said he sees enough people supporting his archrival when he returns home for weekend visits.
“I probably got five Michigan State fans living right around me,” Ezeh said. “They always got their flags up and when I get back from my two-hour drive, that’s the first thing I see right by my house is a Michigan State flag flying proudly, obviously, because they won last year.”
MSU beat Michigan last year, 35-21, for the first time since Ezeh was in eighth grade. The Spartans (1-3) will try for their first back-to-back wins over Michigan since 1966-67 this Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
“You don’t want to give them more fuel to the fire,” Ezeh said. “You want them to think that last year was a fluke almost. And obviously it’s behind us. We’ve learned from the game and we’re focused on what we’re doing this year, but that’s a big game for us and we want to go out and perform well.”
As the center of Michigan’s defense, Ezeh will have a big hand in how the Wolverines perform.
Michigan State leads the Big Ten in passing offense (320.8 ypg), and Ezeh said Michigan (4-0) is “still waiting for that one good defensive game.”
“We want it this week,” he said.
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.