By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - You probably could count on one hand, or definitely on two hands, the number of players on the Iowa football team that also had a scholarship offer from Michigan.
Of course, there is junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa and sophomore receiver Oliver Martin, but after them, you really have to think.
Junior left tackle Alaric Jackson reportedly received a late offer from the Wolverines, which makes sense since he is from Detroit.
Junior cornerback and Texas native Matt Hankins also reportedly had Michigan among his more than 20 scholarship offers, while freshman defensive lineman Logan Lee had a Michigan offer.
Iowa recruits Elijah Yelvertson, a high school senior tight end from Texas, and Connor Colby, a junior offensive lineman from Cedar Rapids Kennedy, also have Michigan listed among their scholarship offers.
But that's only seven players, and two of them still are in high school.
Junior offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs didn't have an offer from Michigan despite having been a U.S. Army All-American, but the Mount Vernon native also committed to the Hawkeyes as a high school sophomore.
Sophomore defensive back Julius Brents had at least four scholarship offers from Big Ten schools, including Michigan State, but not from Michigan.
Redshirt freshman defensive back D.J. Johnson had multiple power five offers, including Notre Dame and Louisiana State, but Michigan didn't offer the Indianapolis native.
Iowa has four players from Michigan who are expected to start on either offense or defense in Saturday’s game against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Mich., but Jackson is the only one who had a scholarship offer from Michigan.
Iowa’s other three starters from Michigan are senior defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore, senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia and junior defensive end Chauncey Golston.
“It’s a little motivation,” Lattimore said of not being offered by Michigan. “A lot of guys here play with a chip on their shoulder.”
Sophomore free safety and Michigan native Kaevon Merriweather started in the season opener against Miami of Ohio before missing the last three games because of a foot injury that he sustained in practice.
Merriweather is expected to be healthy enough to play on Saturday, and he also might have a chip on his shoulder since he wasn’t offered a scholarship from Michigan.
Ojemudia’s older brother, Mario Ojemudia, played linebacker for the Wolverines, but Iowa was the only power five school to offer Michael Ojemudia a scholarship.
“Especially for me, it’s a little personal, but we’ve just got to keep that focus during the game,” Michael Ojemudia said Tuesday.
It would be easy to assume that Michael Ojemudia grew up as a Michigan fan since his brother played football there and since he is from the Detroit area.
But that isn’t the case.
“Not really, not that much,” Michael Ojemudia said when asked if he grew up as a Michigan fan. “I was a fan of my brother going to Michigan. But I wasn’t the biggest fan of them.
“It was a good atmosphere to be there on Saturdays and just growing up and watching it. It’s definitely a good opportunity to go and play there.”
Former Iowa All-America cornerback and current NFL star Desmond King, who is from Detroit, also didn’t have an offer from Michigan, or from any other Big Ten school besides Iowa. The Iowa coaches saw something in King that the coaches at Michigan apparently didn’t see, and were rewarded for their vision and trust.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was asked at his weekly press conference on Tuesday to comment on his staff’s success with recruiting in the state of Michigan.
Ferentz gave credit to defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who recruits in Michigan and is a former All-Big safety from Michigan State in the 1980s.
Parker has a knack for seeing talent in players from Michigan when other coaches apparently don’t see it.
“We have to see diamonds in the rough typically -- not 100 percent, but usually the home state schools don't offer guys that we recruit out of state,” Ferentz said. “You've got to find something there that we think will mesh well with our program.
“You think about guys like Desmond or Chauncey and Cedrick on this team, those guys, they've really grown in the program. They weren't quite ready to go. Although Desmond jumped in there and did a heck of a job as a young player. And part of it's luck. You have to know what you're looking for, but a little bit of luck helps, too.”
Michigan’s roster, on the other hand, is loaded with former elite recruits who had their pick of schools during the recruiting process.
That’s why expectations are always so high at Michigan, and why current head coach Jim Harbaugh is starting to feel some heat for not meeting those expectations in year five.
Michigan has finished 10-3 under Harbaugh three times, but is winless against Ohio State and has just one win against Michigan State.
The Iowa players did their best on Tuesday to say that playing at Michigan is just another game, but it isn’t.
Ferentz was reminded on Tuesday that most of Iowa’s best seasons over the past 40 years have included a victory over Michigan.
Ferentz was in his first season as the Iowa offensive line coach in 1981 when the Hawkeyes won 9-7 in Ann Arbor, Mich. That milestone win helped to propel Iowa to the first of three Rose Bowls under former head coach Hayden Fry.
“They are a premier program in the history of college football,” Ferentz said of Michigan, which is the all-time winningest college football program with 956 victories. “I mean, it's in the numbers. It documents it.
“There are a very small, maybe handful plus, teams that can say that, and they're one of them. It's on paper, and more importantly it's on the field. When you look at their teams, it's hard to find a team that's struggled. It's just really hard to find one.”
It’s also hard to earn a scholarship to play football at Michigan as evidenced by Iowa’s current roster.
The Wolverines have a 41-15-4 advantage in the series with Iowa, although, Iowa has won five of the last six games against Michigan, including a 14-13 thriller in 2016 at Kinnick Stadium when Desmond King was a senior.
It just shows that having a chip on your shoulder can sometimes work to your advantage.