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May 30, 2011 - 9:34am

Van Bergen on return of former players: "We’ve still been wearing the same helmets"


Fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen has had three head coaches since he's been at Michigan. But he doesn't think he's any less of a Wolverine than Michigan players who have fists full of bowl-game rings.

Over the weekend, hundreds of alumni and former Michigan football players flocked to Ann Arbor for multiple events highlighted by Saturday's spring game. On Friday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke met with more than 250 former players during a team meeting in which Hoke discussed how important the alumni were to teaching the current players about the tradition of Michigan football, among other topics.

On Friday at his charity basketball game at Pioneer High School, former Michigan star receiver Braylon Edwards said that Hoke's regime already has a different feel than Rich Rodriguez's.

“It’s just different,” Edwards said. “You feel welcome. That right there is enough. You can feel that warmth. That sense of, ‘I played here, I deserve to be able to come back and walk around.’ That wasn’t there. He’s bringing that back.”

After the spring game, Van Bergen was asked what it was like to see some former Michigan greats back in the Big House.

“It’s just kind of unsettling," Van Bergen said. "It’s great that they’re back. But it’s kinda like, 'Where have they been the past two or three years?' Because we’ve still been wearing the same helmets we have been since they were here. You know what I mean?

"It’s good to have them back, but at the same time, it’s new all of a sudden. Which is a good thing, it’s good to have alumni back to support us.”

Players like Mike Hart and Steve Breaston said they felt no animosity from Rodriguez or his staff and they were always welcomed back, but both said maybe other players had their own reasons for not coming back.

Michigan missed a bowl game for its first two years under Rodriguez — which, in 2008, marked the first time in more than 30 years that the Wolverines had not played in a bowl. Rodriguez was replaced by Hoke in January after Rodriguez finished his career with a 15-22 record.