Senior Retrospective: Justin Boren

There haven't been many stories like Justin Boren's in the storied history of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Once a Michigan starter, Boren transferred to OSU and in the process changed the loyalties of his family. He was also an All-Big Ten choice and All-American, and BuckeyeSports.com looks back at his career in this Senior Retrospective.

When Justin Boren was being recruited, the first scholarship offer he received came during the spring of his sophomore year at Pickerington (Ohio) North.

It was from Ohio State.

That was big news for the legacy recruit – Boren's dad, Mike, was an excellent linebacker at Michigan – and it put OSU in the lead for Justin's services for a while.

But in the end, Boren couldn't turn down the influence of his father – and legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler – as he picked the Wolverines in May 2005.

"There are some things that would have made it easier for me to commit to Ohio State," Boren told GoBlueWolverine at the time. "But in the end, I just wanted to go to Michigan. It's a huge relief and I'm glad to get it over with. I've been a fan all my life and I belong at Michigan."

Little did Boren know how much would change in the next half-decade. By the time November 2010 rolled around, Boren was sitting in the home interview room at Ohio Stadium after helping the Buckeyes defeat the Maize and Blue for the seventh straight time.

Looking back on his long, strange journey, Boren couldn't help but be pleased by everything he'd been able to take part in – including the record-setting win against the Maize and Blue.

"It's huge," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything better. When I transferred, being able to beat them three times and be a part of two of them, it's awesome."

The Boren family also came along for the ride. Once someone who couldn't be caught dead in scarlet and gray, Mike became the patriarch of a family that included now included three Buckeyes – Justin, sophomore fullback Zach and recruit Jacoby – thanks to the move made by his eldest son.

"He's converted," Justin said of Mike. "He's 100 percent Ohio State. He's rooting for his sons. I don't think there's any ounce of him, especially with the new coaching staff, that wants Michigan to do well. I think he's pretty much rooting against Michigan all year."

That wasn't the way things were, though, when Justin was going through his recruitment. Anecdotes about the late Schembechler telling Mike Boren to simply tell his son where to go to school have been told, but the elder Boren made sure the choice was up to Justin.

"With my dad playing at Michigan, I grew up pretty much on Michigan football," Boren told BSB while being recruited. "But I've lived in central Ohio for practically my whole life, so I know all about Ohio State, too. And to be honest, my dad won't push me one way or another. He has told me many times that he wants me to go where I'm most comfortable whether that's Ohio State, Michigan or wherever."

For much of Boren's recruitment, then, that meant Mike was looking at a situation in which it appeared Justin would stay close and attend OSU.

"Ohio State is definitely on top, and the rest are in no particular order," Justin said in March 2005.

But after a visit to Michigan, Boren said things had tightened up, and by the time he made his choice he was all maize and blue.

That decision looked like a good one during his first two years playing for the Wolverines. In his first season of 2006, Michigan was undefeated until the final regular-season game – the historic 1 vs. 2 showdown against OSU – and Boren played in five games, starting one. He was just the fourth true freshman in modern times to make a start as an offensive lineman at Michigan.

After getting his feet wet in 2006, Boren really jumped into the pool in 2007, starting all 13 games. After making eight starts at center and five more at left guard, Boren was named an honorable mention All-Big Ten choice playing alongside top NFL draft pick Jake Long.

Boren looked primed to take on a leadership role for the Wolverines in 2008, but things changed when U-M head coach Lloyd Carr announced his retirement shortly after the '07 campaign. Rich Rodriguez came in, but Boren didn't last through spring before joining an exodus of players from Ann Arbor.

Boren's exit was among the most bitter, though, thanks to the statement he released upon his exit.

"Michigan football was a family, built on mutual respect and support for each other from Coach Carr on down," he said. "We knew it took the entire family, a team effort, and we all worked together.

"I have great trouble accepting that those family values have eroded in just a few months."

That certainly didn't go over well in Ann Arbor, and neither did Boren's choice of schools when finalizing his transfer. In choosing Ohio State, Boren became one of a very select club of players who have suited up for both squads in what is known as the most heated rivalry in college sports.

He took the field for the first time in the summer of 2008 as fall camp began. Sporting No. 56, Boren put on a scarlet and gray uniform for the first time during those drills.

"I'm happy as heck to be here," he said at the time. "It feels natural to me. It doesn't feel weird. It feels 100 percent natural."

Still, he admitted it was a bit odd trading in his maize and blue for a spot on the Ohio State offensive line.

"The first day of walking into the Woody Hayes from when I left Michigan, that was a little bit (strange) because I hadn't been there since I was being recruited in high school," Boren said. "But after that, once I started working out everything was great. I was more nervous coming here than I was when I first went up to Michigan as a freshman just because I didn't know how the guys were going to react to everything.

"Nobody ever gave me a hard time. They welcomed me with open arms," Boren later said. "I was more scared coming in here after transferring than I was going to Michigan as a freshman. I played Ohio State in November and came here in June, so it was only a couple months. I was a little nervous but everyone was awesome."

Unfortunately for Boren, he was forced to sit out the 2008 season because of NCAA transfer rules. In addition, he was forced to pay his own way at Ohio State because players are not allowed, per Big Ten rules, to receive a scholarship at one school after transferring from being a scholarship player at another league school.

Even with that in mind, Boren took to OSU like a duck to water. It helped that Zach Boren put pen to paper in February 2009 to join his older brother at Ohio State.

"It all started when Justin was getting recruited," Zach said on signing day. "He was thinking hard about Ohio State – really, really hard. For a second we thought that was where he was going, and then we all kind of had a family talk and he kind of put stuff off. Then Bo talked to him and he went to Michigan.

"It could have happened three years ago, but for it to happen now, it's a blessing to be in Columbus where we grew up and to be playing for Ohio State, such a prestigious college like that. It's definitely come full circle and I know everyone in the Boren family is just excited to wear and the scarlet and gray now."

Zach joined Justin at Ohio State in the spring of 2009, and before season's end the two were starting on the Buckeye offense. As OSU rolled its way to a Rose Bowl berth behind a punishing running game, the two Borens were among those leading the way. At the season's conclusion, Justin was first-team All-Big Ten despite missing one game with a foot injury.

Still, Justin's first contest against Navy was clearly more than just a game after all that had happened in the previous year and a half.

"I waited a long time and it was awesome," he said. "There were some butterflies and I was nervous because I haven't been out there in a game situation but it was awesome."

Justin also was able to return to Michigan to play against the Wolverines that season. Blocking out barbs from the Maize and Blue faithful – including a constant verbal barrage in the corner of the field during pregame warmups – Boren helped OSU to a 21-10 victory.

"I wasn't really looking up in the stands," he said. "I was trying to look straight ahead but I heard some things. You just zone out, laugh in the back of your head."

"He was the bigger man by not turning around and giving it to the people who were taking shots at him," center Michael Brewster said.

Despite not being named a team captain in 2010, Boren was among those saying there were no excuses for the Buckeye offense not to excel from the start. The team did just that behind Boren, who again earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and added Scout.com second-team All-America honors.

And as his career came to a close, Boren looked back on his unparalleled journey inside the heated rivalry.

"It has always been a positive," he said of his transfer. "When I was making the decision my biggest fear was if I was going to look back and regret what I did. I can honestly say I have never had any regrets. It is the best decision I have ever made and I couldn't be happier to be here."

Of playing two seasons with his brother – and influencing a third to join Jim Tressel's program – Boren had positive words to say as well.

"I think it is something I kind of take for granted," he said. "It is special. Definitely special. Playing with Zach is awesome.

"I love it here. I know Zach loves it here. I truly think everything's meant to be, and I couldn't be in a better place."


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