Frank Shotwell was destined to be a Buckeye.
The senior decathlete grew up an Ohio State fan in Medina, Ohio, just two hours northwest of Columbus. His mother threw the shot put there. His grandfather wrestled and played football there. Shotwell’s heart was set on running track for the Buckeyes. There was just one problem: Ohio State didn’t return the love.
“I had told the head coach in December of my senior year in high school that I wanted to go to Ohio State and I wanted to run track there,” Shotwell said. “I told another one of the volunteer assistant coaches that and there was no follow up. Nothing at all.”
Ohio State didn’t call Shotwell back until two weeks before signing day. By then, he had chosen Michigan over Virginia.
“I had some choice words for one of the coaches that called me,” he said. “I was very direct with him about my feelings. I’d say my dislike for that school started with that phone call.”
When Michigan takes on Ohio State for indoor track and field’s rendition of “The Dual” on Saturday in Columbus, the Wolverines will bring with them a handful of native Ohioans – all of whom took different paths toward planting themselves on the north side of the rivalry.
Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, Michigan coach Fred LaPlante was once a Buckeye supporter rooting against Michigan.
“I really can say that I understand the rivalry from the Ohio point of view,” LaPlante said. “There tends to be more of a ‘hate’ factor coming from Ohio than from Michigan. Through football, it brings such an emotional thing to so many people that it transcends through all other sports. Our guys really want to beat them.”
But sophomore pole vaulter Jack Greenlee, a Cincinnati native, was brought up as a Michigan man the whole way.
“I was raised a Michigan fan,” Greenlee said. “I’ve been a Wolverine all my life. Both of my parents went to Michigan. They would never let me go to Ohio State.”
Before coming to Michigan, freshman shot putter Cody Riffle, also a Toledo native, had a more moderate position on the rivalry than Shotwell and Greenlee.
“At first I was pretty neutral and (the Buckeyes) didn’t bother me,” Riffle said. “I didn’t go any way really. I was just in the middle. Now I’ve learned to not like them so much. When that’s your biggest rival, you just really despise them. You really want to beat them.”
Although the three athletes all felt differently about Ohio State prior to arriving in Ann Arbor, all three agree competing against the Buckeyes is different from all other meets.
“There’s going to be more adrenaline,” Greenlee said. “It will be different than a regular meet. These are the ones I train for.”
Though a veteran of the rivalry as a fifth-year senior, Shotwell won’t be able to compete for Michigan until the outdoor season. He pointed out that due to the stakes of the meet, grabbing momentum early is crucial because of the domino effect it can have.
“There’s a lot of emotion, a lot of energy in the meet,” Shotwell said. “You know that having a good performance in your event can ultimately elevate someone else on your team in a different event to have the same kind of performance.”
While the anti-Buckeye sentiment is undeniable, the entire team is grateful that Michigan gets to be part of one of sports’ strongest rivalries.
“It’s such a cool meet and we’re so lucky to have it,” Shotwell said. “It’s the ultimate competition.”
LaPlante added: “I respect Ohio State. I love the rivalry. I’ve become friends with the coaches at Ohio State and as we’ve had this rivalry, we’ve both grown in our respect for each other.”
Michigan will try to avenge last year’s losses in “The Dual.” The Buckeyes took the indoor meet 92-70 and waltzed to a 116-84 victory outdoors in the spring. However, the Wolverines still hold the edge in the history of the challenge: 20-5 (indoors) and 28-11 (outdoors).
“The rivalry-type competitions in any sport are fun,” LaPlante said. “They’re intense and you really savor a victory and there’s a sting when you lose. I tell our guys you never win the war. The idea is to win the battle. The war will keep going on.”