Ohio Ties Bind Buckeyes, Spartans

While much has been made of Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio's ties to the Ohio State staff, there's more adding local flavor to the upcoming game between the teams than meets the eye. Because of MSU's large contingent of Ohioans, many of the players in the game knew each other in high school. As a result, this weekend brings to life some old friendships -- and rivalries.

The ties between the Ohio State and Michigan State coaching staffs going into the two teams' game Saturday in Spartan Stadium are well-known.

What might not be as common of knowledge is how deep the ties run among the players on each team as well.

Ohio State, of course, has the lion's share of its success based on players it recruits out of the home state, but much of Michigan State's 6-1 start to the 2008 season can be attributed to the Spartans' abilities under both former head coach John L. Smith and current coach Mark Dantonio to grab a few talented players from Ohio each year.

Ten Michigan State starters in quarterback Brian Hoyer (North Olmsted), running back Javon Ringer (Dayton), wideout B.J. Cunningham (Westerville), left tackle Rocco Cironi (Warren), defensive end Brandon Long (Canton), defensive tackle Justin Kershaw (Columbus), linebacker Greg Jones (Cincinnati) safety Danny Fortener (Kettering), cornerback Kendall Davis-Clark (Alliance) and punter Aaron Bates (New Concord) hail from the Buckeye State.

Freshman contributors Johnny Adams of Akron and Garrett Celek of Cincinnati are also Ohioans. A total of 24 denizens of Ohio are listed on Michigan State's roster.

That provides a situation for some friendships – and rivalries – that go all the way back to high school to come to the surface.

One Ringer Unites Them All
Take the case of Ringer, who was a ballyhood recruit while at Dayton's Chaminade-Julienne High School. The back who now leads the nation in touchdowns was a three-time All-Ohio choice at CJ, scored 81 prep touchdowns and averaged 251.9 yards per game in seven games his senior year before blowing out his knee. He still finished fourth in the state's Mr. Football voting despite the injury.

During that campaign, CJ started the season with a 39-36 win over Clayton Northmont in which Ringer ran for 300 yards and three touchdowns on his 33 carries.

One of the players on that Thunderbolts team that had trouble stopping Ringer was Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman, who even had an interception in that contest. Now a junior starter at Ohio State, Coleman has mentioned his high school ties to Ringer to his teammates over the past few days.

"He's talked about it a couple of times," said safety Anderson Russell, a native of Georgia. "We don't really talk about that too much, but we just talked about back in high school how good he was doing. I think he tore his ACL in high school halfway through the season. He already had like 1,600 yards or something."

It was 1,763 yards, to be exact, but no one would have to tell that to Marcus Freeman. Another Dayton area native who attended Huber Heights Wayne, Freeman said he has known Ringer, a black belt in karate, since their early years of high school ball.

"The same toughness that he shows now in carrying the ball 40-plus times per game, you saw the same thing in high school," Freeman said. "On and off of the field, Javon was a tough kid but did the little things. I remember he used to do karate and stuff like that. He always wanted to be a great football player."

Ringer's exploits in high school earned him plenty of notice. Scout.com had him as the No. 15 running back in the nation, while SuperPrep listed the prospect as one of its All-Americans.

Along the way, he ended up at a photo shoot with a tight end/offensive line prospect from nearby Springboro named Jake Ballard.

"Back in high school I did a couple of photo things with Javon Ringer," Ballard said. "That was a long time ago. I doubt he remembers me."

Ringer has told reporters that getting his first win against Ohio State would mean a lot to him, and not just because it would boost the resurgent Spartans' record to 7-1 on the season and get them halfway through the Big Ten without a loss.

"For me being from Ohio and me knowing those people on the team, it's very important for me to come out and get this win," Ringer told GoSpartans.net of the Scout.com network.

Playing With Old Friends…
The players from each squad might spend a little more time lingering on the field after the game exchanging pleasantries considering how many will go into the contest knowing one another.

For Freeman, this will be the second week in a row he's able to meet up with an old friend. Against Purdue, the Buckeye senior played against one of his old high school teammates, Boilermaker wide receiver Greg Orton.

"After the game to get to see Greg for five minutes, it was good to see him," he said. "I hadn't seen him in like a year or so. Just to be able to see these guys that you have prior relationships with – after the game is over, we're all friends. We're all college football players and we all want each other to excel, so it's going to be good to see him."

Another player who will get the chance to catch up will be Ben Person, an Ohio State offensive lineman from Xenia. Though his hometown is just down the road from Dayton, and Person certainly knew of Ringer during his high school days, he is looking forward to seeing Kershaw, who grew up more than an hour away in Columbus.

Person and Kershaw, who attended Reynoldsburg High School on the east side of Columbus, were among the best players in the state of Ohio during their senior year of 2003. The two ended up playing together in both the Ohio North-South Game as well as the Big 33 Classic against Pennsylvania.

"If you spend two weeks with a guy, you kind of get to know a guy," Person said. "He's a good guy and he's a good ballplayer, too, so it's fun to play against him."

That doesn't mean there's not any friendly competition between two friends.

"We had a few words last year during the game, just kind of some friendly contests," Person said. "You have to beat them."

…And Against Old Rivals
Not all of the ties are quite so friendly.

The two most successful Catholic schools in the Cleveland area are Lakewood St. Edward and Cleveland St. Ignatius. That rivalry will be reprised Saturday when Hoyer, who attended St. Ignatius, faces off against Ohio State offensive lineman Alex Boone, a St. Ed's grad.

Ohio State has had the better of its rivalry against Michigan State since the two have been at the college level. According to Boone, the results were different for him and Hoyer when the two were in high school.

"They always won for some reason," the jovial Boone said with a laugh. "It always really just grinded my gears. It still does. Way to bring it up."

Boone said that he originally "hated" Hoyer because of the local rivalry but has soothed over that relationship over the years.

"He was our rival quarterback," Boone said. "Actually I saw him two years ago. I was at a friend's house and he was across the street, so I went over and just talked to him a little bit.

"I'll say hi to him (after the game). Two Cleveland boys have to say hello to each other."

It could have been worse: During the junior year of high school for OSU safety Jamario O'Neal at Cleveland Glenville, Hoyer's Wildcats knocked the Tarblooders out of the postseason.

Adding To The Game
Fifth-year senior fullback Ryan Lukens of Ohio State is a Cincinnati Moeller grad, and he'll get the chance to go up against MSU's Jones, a linebacker and Crusader three years his junior. Though Lukens said the two don't know each other, Lukens is looking forward to playing in a game against a player that went to the same school.

"You know your coaches from high school are watching," Lukens said. "You want to be the one to represent your high school."

Most of the other Ohio Buckeyes questioned said that the presence of players with whom they grew up will add another element to the game. Freeman, who passed up a chance at the NFL for another go-round at the college ranks, will be more than happy to do it for a second week in a row.

"To play against somebody that you know like Greg or Javon, it just makes the game more fun," Freeman said. "You go out there and they're your opponent during the 60 minutes, but after the game you're all friends and it's good to see them doing well. It's good to see anybody from your area or high school doing well. It makes you proud."


Buckeye Sports Top Stories