I try to write objectively. I’ve never used the term “we” when describing a team. I’ve never written that a team “should have” won were it not for a bad call, a muffed punt … or a missed spot. I try to be positive when optimism is called for, but critical when criticism is warranted – always remembering that college athletes are not professionals or characters in a video game, but rather 20-year-olds who are doing the best that they can. Not every player performs at the level of, say Rashan Gary or Nick Bosa, but it’s not for lack of effort.
Over the years, I’ve written at least one probably-too-personal account of a football game (2016 Michigan-Ohio State), but my objectivity was tested most this March during the NCAA tournament. I was with Michigan during its run to the Final Four, and being so close to John Beilein’s Wolverines was an experience difficult to put into words, and even more difficult to write about indifferently. Being courtside when Jordan Poole hit his season-saving, three-point, buzzer-beater and being in the victorious Michigan locker room after that game tested my ability to remain neutral.
Yet despite how I try to come across, I’m a Michigan fan at heart, and like to see the home team prevail. And that’s rarely truer than when Michigan plays Michigan State. Growing up in Michigan, I’ve got plenty of friends and family who ended up in East Lansing – friends and family who never tire of reminding me about the times that Green triumphs over Blue. So, like any other Michigan fan, I desperately want Michigan to beat their intra-state rivals. But this year’s game is going to be a little different.
That’s because over the summer I was able to spend some time with Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke and LJ Scott. And as much as my Wolverine brethren will hate to hear this, it’s hard to imagine a nicer pair of guys. In some ways, the two couldn’t have more different personalities: Lewerke has an easy charm about him, as if talking to hordes of reporters is no different than talking to a small group of friends. Outgoing and charismatic, Lewerke carries himself with the easy-going nature and self-confidence you would expect from a starting quarterback.
At one point Lewerke was was asked about his playing style and whether his coaches want him to limit his scrambling, for fear of injury. Lewerke said that wasn’t the case, that his coaches don’t want to eliminate the scrambling from his game, but would like him to take care of himself, when possible. Lewerke recalled a rushing touchdown against Michigan when he got popped pretty well on his way into the end zone. Asked if that’s the kind of thing he’d try not do in the future, Lewerke didn’t hesitate, but smiled and said that if he ever has an opportunity to score a touchdown against Michigan, he’s going to take it. As he spoke of how much scoring that touchdown against Michigan meant to him, it was not hard to be happy for him.
Scott is much more reserved. More soft-spoken, more reflective. Yet he is also very open and forthright. He spoke of the team’s goals, and added that if he had a personal goal, it was to gain 1,000 yards in his senior season. As was the case with Lewerke, spending time with Scott, even for as little time as I did, it’s hard not to gain a greater appreciation of him. Dare I say, it’s hard not to root for him.
At one point, the three of us chatted and shared a few laughs while their coach was being interviewed, each of us trying to find at the faintest trace of a smile during his interview (we didn’t). After the interview ended, I wished the pair luck and told Scott to go get that 1,000-yard season.
I’ve never rooted against Michigan State, but this year I’m watching them with greater interest. I hope the Spartans get their season back on track (last week was a good start), and even more so, I hope Lewerke and Scott finish their seasons strong. I hope Lewerke gets more chances to score more touchdowns and Scott finishes strong and gets those 1,000 yards … I just hope they don’t get too many of either this weekend.