Ohio natives to play against home school

David McCoy

When Minnesota’s football team (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) plays host to No. 12 Ohio State (5-2, 3-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Metrodome, many predictable things will happen.

An Ohio native will hand the ball off to an Ohio native. Later, that Ohio native will throw the ball to an Ohio native.

If they put together a good drive, an Ohio native will kick a field goal or an extra point.

If not, another Ohio native will punt it away, leaving the team to rely on four other Ohio natives to play tough defense.

No, this is not Ohio State.

This is Minnesota, a team with more buckeyes than a herd of deer.

“It definitely makes it bigger,” said Minnesota defensive back Dominic Jones, a Columbus, Ohio, native. “We obviously want to go out and play hard regardless of what we have against them.”

Saturday’s game gets all the more interesting given the fact that 16 Gophers players are from the Buckeye State, including quarterback Bryan Cupito, running back Gary Russell, punter Justin Kucek and place-kicker Jason Giannini – more than any other state except Minnesota.

In addition, four Gophers coaches have ties there as well, including assistants Moe Ankney, Mitch Browning and Vic Adamle. Coach Glen Mason played for the Buckeyes in college and coached at Ohio State from 1978-1985.

And Minnesota actually has more players from Columbus (nine), the center of the Mecca, than the Buckeyes do (four).

Jones said the Ohio natives on the team feel like they have a lot to prove.

“I would be lying to you if I didn’t say this game meant a lot to us,” Jones said. “We all made the right decision by coming here anyway. But just through all of the negative things that we received by not going there or for them not recruiting us or recruiting us too late, it really doesn’t matter now.

“Because they’re going to strap up their helmets just like we’re going to strap up our helmets.”

But the fact remains that they are still different helmets. And most young boys growing up in Ohio dream of earning buckeye leaves on those helmets, Gophers receiver Ernie Wheelwright said.

“It’s a real special week for the Ohio guys that are up here,” said Wheelwright, a Columbus native. “Growing up in Ohio and watching Ohio State, you either wanted to play with them or against them. Most kids wanted to play with them. But even playing against them is an honor.”

Playing against them is also a challenge. The winner of Saturday’s game, which features Minnesota’s top-ranked rushing offense against statistically the nation’s best rushing defense, will secure bowl eligibility.

Asked if he expects extra effort from his players given that many are playing against their home state, Mason said he certainly hopes not.

“You can’t all of a sudden say, Oh, this is so and so, let’s really pour it on,” Mason said. “I’d pour it on every week. We have to do that.”

Wheelwright and several other Ohio natives who spoke to media on Tuesday said they have “buddies” on the Ohio State team. Some were teammates, others rivals.

But above all, Jones said, Saturday’s game provides an opportunity.

“(Trumaine Banks, Wheelwright and I) came from the same city league,” Jones said.

“We played against each other in high school and were

from the same area, so it really hit all of us hard knowing that our own Buckeyes couldn’t recruit us as hard as someone outside the state could. That’s what makes this game more intriguing, just to go out there and prove ourselves that we have just as much talent as they do.”