For the 40,000 fans Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez hopes come out for tomorrow’s spring game, the event will be a chance to get a first glimpse at the 2009 edition of the Wolverines.
And they’ll also get to see a few faces they might remember from seasons past.
To prepare for his first open-to-the-public spring game, Rodriguez has worked with the Athletic Department to make the festivities more fan friendly. Part of that is the first annual alumni flag football game, slated to take place before the 100-play intrasquad scrimmage.
When Ron Bellamy, a Michigan wide receiver from 1999-2002, was asked by assistant athletic director for football Scott Draper to play in the game, he jumped at the chance.
“Scott knows I’m a Michigan man until the day I die,” Bellamy said. “And he knows that once he asked me, I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to be back in that stadium and be a part of something special.”
Other big-name players on the roster include Rick Leach (quarterback from 1975-78), Anthony Thomas (running back from 1997-2000), Aaron Shea (tight end from 1996-99) and Scott Dreisbach (quarterback from 1995-98).
At practice Tuesday, Bellamy comfortably roamed the sidelines, chatting with coaches and others in attendance. Although the staff is completely different than when the wide receiver was with the program, Bellamy has a long history with Rodriguez.
While at Archbishop Shaw High School in New Orleans, Bellamy was recruited by Rodriguez, the offensive coordinator at Tulane at the time.
“I’ve known Coach Rodriguez for a while,” Bellamy said. “ I used to go to games and stuff when he was at Tulane. He ran the same offense. So I’ve seen his offense for quite some time, but it’s new to a lot of Michigan folks.”
Bellamy, who played in his fair share of Michigan spring games, is excited to see the changes that Rodriguez and Co. are bringing to the event.
Other activities planned include locker room tours, an introduction of ex-Wolverines who played in this year’s Super Bowl and a field goal challenge for University students. Prior to this year, the day usually involved just a scrimmage and an autograph session.
“I like the marketing idea, helping get the fans involved in the game, let them see what the players go through, let them see the facilities, the place where we warm up before the game,” he said. “Every fan is interested in that, and I think that’s important to keep the interest in the game.
“Michigan football is going to sell itself, but I think it’s special that you’re allowing the fans to be a big part of it.”
Members on the team, however, aren’t so focused on the off-the-field hoopla.
“I’m excited to just be out there playing football,” junior linebacker Obi Ezeh said. “I don’t really get caught up with it. It will be nice to be back in the Big House, that’s for sure, but other than that, I’m just excited to go out and play.”
Unfortunately for Ezeh, Rodriguez said the game will be “watered down.” He said that Michigan may have some news packages this year, and Rodriguez doesn’t want to give too much away to Western Michigan and Notre Dame — the first two team the Wolverines will face this season.
Although it won’t be a full game, there will be certain situations, like two-minute and goal-line drills, which will pit the first-team offense versus first-team defense. And fans will get to see their first glimpse of quarterback Tate Forcier. The highly touted early-enrolee will take most of the reps with the first-team offense because redshirt junior Nick Sheridan sustained a leg fracture earlier this spring.
“We don’t have enough guys, I think, to have a true game, a maize and blue team,” Rodriguez said. “But (fans will) be able to see guys compete a little bit, watch some of our young guys out there for the first time and have a little fun. It will be mostly live, so hopefully there will be a few plays they’ll be enjoying.”