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The best Michiganders to cross the border and play football at Ohio State

We have seen a few more players from Michigan don the scarlet and gray over the last 20 years.

Texas Tech v Ohio State

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about Ohio State’s rival. We are talking all things TTUN. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”That Team Up North” articles here.

Often you’ll see recruits from Ohio head north and sign with Michigan, but it is pretty rare to see players from Michigan suit up for Ohio State. It’s easy to understand why this happens, since there is a lot of high school football talent in Ohio that is sought after by not only Ohio State, but other top programs around the country, while Michigan doesn’t produce quite as much top-tier talent as the Buckeye State.

That’s not to say that Ohio State hasn’t welcomed players from Michigan into the program over the years, as there have been some key players that have worn the scarlet and gray. Heading into the 2023 season, there are currently three Buckeyes that came from Michigan: Senior safety Cameron Martinez is from Muskegon, while brothers Kai and Cayden Saunders hail from Northville. While all three could end up making big plays for Ohio State, let’s take a look at some of the best Buckeyes to come from that state up north.

Craig Krenzel - Sterling Heights

Even though Krenzel didn’t put up huge stats like J.T. Barrett, Justin Fields, and C.J. Stroud have recently, he will go down as one of the most beloved quarterbacks in Ohio State history. After Steve Bellisari was suspended late in the 2001 season, Krenzel was named the starter for the Michigan game. In the return to his home state, Krenzel went on to lead Ohio State to their first win in Ann Arbor since 1987. In the 26-20 victory, Krenzel was 11-of-18 for 118 yards with one interception.

What Krenzel will always be known for is his role as the quarterback of the 2002 team that went on to win the national title. With Maurice Clarett lining up behind him, as well as the incredible defense the Buckeyes had to lean on, Krenzel wasn’t asked to do a whole lot. That doesn’t mean Krenzel didn’t come up with some memorable moments when the Buckeyes needed him to make a play. Had it not been for “Holy Buckeye”, Ohio State would have lost to Purdue, and not had any chance of playing for the national championship.

Krenzel would return for the 2003 season, leading Ohio State to an 11-2 record and a win over Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. When his career was all said and done, Krenzel was 24-2 as a starter. Even more impressive than his accomplishments on the field was what Krenzel did in the classroom at Ohio State. The quarterback received three Academic All-Big Ten honors, and graduated with a degree in molecular genetics.

Pepper Johnson - Detroit

The early-to-mid 1980s saw some great linebackers come through Columbus. Not only did Chris Spielman become one of the greatest linebackers in school history, Thomas “Pepper” Johnson also put together a strong career. While Spielman wanted to play for Michigan but those dreams were eventually nixed by his father, Johnson was born and raised in Detroit, before crossing enemy lines to suit up for the Buckeyes.

Johnson lettered in each of his four years with the Buckeyes, and he led the team in tackles in 1984 and 1985. Johnson was named the team’s defensive MVP and earned All-Big Ten honors in both of those seasons, as well as being named an All-American in 1985. Following his college career, Johnson was selected in the second round of the 1986 NFL Draft by the New York Giants, won two Super Bowls as a player, followed by three more as an assistant coach.

Vernon Gholston - Detroit

Before Mike Weber came to Ohio State from Cass Tech in Detroit, the Buckeyes earned the commitment of Vernon Gholston. The start of Gholston’s career was slowed when he broke his hand in the 2005 season opener, which resulted in him redshirting as a freshman. While Gholston was originally recruited as a linebacker, he would shift to defensive end.

Once he was healthy, Gholston became one of the most dominant defensive ends in Ohio State history. During the 2006 season, Gholston would record 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss. The following season, Gholston made 15.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage, with 14 of those being sacks of the opposing quarterback, which resulted in Gholston being named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. The 14 sacks by Gholston in 2007 were a single-season school record until Chase Young notched 16.5 sacks in 2019.

Michigan Wolverines v Ohio State Buckeyes Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Gholston declared for the NFL Draft following the 2007 season, and was selected by the New York Jets with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. The dominance Gholston displayed at the college level never translated in the NFL, with the defensive end being released by the Jets after three seasons.

Johnathan Hankins - Detroit

Imagine being an offensive lineman in Detroit in 2008 and 2009, and having to try and keep Johnathan Hankins and future Michigan State defensive lineman William Gholston out of the backfield. Hankins originally wanted to follow Gholston to East Lansing to play for the Spartans, but the defensive tackle didn’t receive and offer from Michigan State.

Michigan State’s loss was certainly Ohio State’s gain. After recording 16 tackles as a freshman, Hankins slimmed down a little bit and saw his productivity on the field go up, notching 122 tackles over the next two seasons, with 15 of those stops coming behind the line of scrimmage. Hankins would earn All-Big Ten and All-American honors for his play during the 2012 season. Hankins was selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the New York Giants, and recently resigned with the Dallas Cowboys.

Mike Weber - Detroit

While in high school at Cass Tech, Mike Weber was putting up Playstation numbers as a running back, averaging 10 yards per carry and rushing for 26 touchdowns as a senior. Weber originally committed to Michigan, but Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer worked his magic to persuade Weber to come to Columbus instead.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 01 Big Ten Championship Game - Northwestern v Ohio State Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Even though expectations were high for Weber as he was tasked with replacing Ezekiel Elliott, the Detroit product had a strong season after redshirting in 2015, rushing for nearly 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns, earning him the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year award. With his rushing total as a freshman, Weber became just the third Ohio State freshman running back to record at least 1,000 yards rushing, joining Robert Smith and Maurice Clarett.

Unfortunately for Weber, injuries slowed him down at the beginning of the 2017 season, which allowed J.K. Dobbins to show his talents, which greatly cut into Weber’s carries when he was healthy. Weber and Dobbins would form a strong duo in the 2018 season, with both running backs rushing for 1,050 yards, and combining to score 15 touchdowns. Weber was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and was part of the Kansas City team that won Super Bowl LIV.

Those five Buckeyes that came from Michigan are the most memorable to play for the hated rivals of the Wolverines, but there have been others over the years. Guard Michael Jordan came to Ohio State from Plymouth, while defensive back Damon Webb was another product from Cass Tech. Feel free to drop any of your favorite Michiganders that would go on to be Buckeyes in the comment section.