For most of Michigan’s 2019 recruiting class the healthy disdain for Ohio State that comes with being a Wolverine will be a learned emotion. That’s the way it always been for youngsters who grew/grow up outside of college football’s most storied rivalry. But for those that grow up in Michigan and Ohio, the hate for the opposition is innate. For youngsters like Columbus (Ohio) DeSales standout Joey Velazquez, the meaning of the matchup is already known. He believes the perspective that he and the five other Ohioans in Michigan’s incoming freshman class will play a big part in turning around a battle that has titled overwhelmingly in the Buckeyes’ favor for almost two decades.
“Growing up with that rivalry you get to know both sides,” Velazquez told The Michigan Insider. “It’s every day. It’s like an everyday thing. Like Bo Schembechler said, ’the objective is to beat Ohio State.’ And that’s what we’re coming to do. It’s kind of like bringing it back to Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson and David Boston days.”
Velazquez’s appreciation for “the game” is probably even more pronounced than that of his Ohio born classmates. Not only is he from Columbus, he was also committed to play baseball for the Buckeyes for almost two years before flipping to the Wolverines to play both sports. So, he really has viewed the rivalry from both sides.
“Growing up in Columbus, obviously you root for the Buckeyes,” said Velazquez. “I have always been a great fan of the rivalry. And growing up in Columbus, you know what that rivalry’s about. You go to school with it. It’s kind of like a national holiday around here. People think it’s Thanksgiving Weekend, but it’s more like ‘The Game’ weekend.”
All the success the Buckeyes have enjoyed in the new millennium has obviously contributed to the joyous view of things in Velazquez’s home town. It has also added to the grief he gets for proudly wearing his Maize & Blue attire every chance he gets.
“Everybody around here just gives me crap for going to Michigan because I’m in Columbus,” he said. “But I really don’t listen to anybody except the people I love, which is my family and friends. And I’m just coming out here working hard, trying to make myself better.”
That approach was part of what made him so appealing to a defensive staff that places a premium of selflessness and versatility. Players are sometimes asked to sacrifice personal stats for collective success. Some are asked to play positions that might be foreign to them. Velazquez signed up for all of that. He also signed up for being a part of the class that he believes will turn the rivalry.
“Coach Brown talked to me about playing VIPER and WILL,” Velazquez stated. “But wherever they put me, I’m coming in to work hard, and coming in to get after it. I’m coming in with the mentality to be aggressive. Like Coach Brown says: ‘solve your problems with aggression.’ And we’re done taking backseats to teams. I’m just coming in ready to work. There’s one game on my calendar that I have circled already because that game, to me, is kind of personal.”
“I don’t think anybody is going to get any gold pants any time soon.”
That’s an obvious reference to the gold pants pin Ohio State players and coaches receive after beating the Wolverines. What might be construed as cockiness by some should instead be seen a show of confidence. For Velazquez that statement is more about belief and attitude than it is about being boastful. That’s a quality his future baseball coach at Michigan Eric Bakich spoke about in an interview with The Michigan Insider late last week.
“He is one of seven (kids),” said Bakich. “He’s got six brothers and sisters. The parents… you talk about discipline, character and make-up… this kid from an intangible skills standpoint is absolutely off the charts. When he came for his visit in the summer, and I got to sit down and spend some time with this family, it’s the most impressed I’ve ever been with a family. Their family dynamic, the way the kids are … just disciplined and put together, and attitude just off the charts. It was the total light bulb moment that, ‘all right. This kid is different. If there’s anyone that can play two sports, it’s this kid. If there’s anyone that can back up the things that he says, it’s this kid.’”
“I’ve been blown away, and continue to be blown away by this entire family and what they’re all about from a character standpoint. Michigan fans are going to love this kid and what he’s all about. Just because the make-up is off the charts.”
Now to be clear, it’s not just about intangibles with Velazquez. His self-reported stats – “a little over 6-0, right now about 208, and my 40 is a 4.5” – could make him a real chess piece for Don Brown. His five-tool ability headlined by a .545 batting average might make him an even bigger weapon for Bakich.
“If you can imagine what a star football player looked like in a baseball uniform, this guy’s like muscles popping out of his uniform,” said Bakich. “So, he is a physical specimen. He’s jacked. He’s only 6-1 or whatever, but this kid is put together physically as (well) as any high school baseball player I’ve ever seen. It reminds me a little bit of Jordan Nwogu (a freshman All American for Michigan last year) in a uniform. (Velazquez has) that kind of physicality. Just a grown man already.”
“He played for a team called Bo Jackson Elite, (which was) fitting. Bo Jackson… body wise. I saw him play this summer a few times. It’s left-handed power similar to that of a Jesse Franklin (another freshman All-American in 2018) on our team. He’s a left-handed thrower (and) left-handed hitter. He plays center field… a phenomenal athlete, speed/power combo. So, everybody knew about Joey in the baseball world. But everybody saw that commitment to Ohio State. So yeah, when Coach Harbaugh was able to garner his interest and flip him to Michigan and we got to be a piece of that process, we couldn’t have been more excited.”
If things go according to Velazquez’s plan, the excitement is just beginning.