Michigan's Mealer heads into his final 'Game'

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COLUMBUS (AP) -- What's brewing with the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes ...

BUCKEYES BUZZ: First, some background. Elliott Mealer grew up in Wauseon, Ohio. His allegiance was to Ohio State.

His dad painted his room scarlet and gray -- with a Brutus decal. When Elliott committed to play football for Michigan, his dad wouldn't remove the decal and change the decor because he had paid too much for it.

That's the way dads are.

Fast-forward to Saturday. Mealer, a 6-foot-5, 308-pound fifth-year senior, will start at center for the Wolverines in the 109th edition of The Game.

"It's extremely important to me. I was raised within this rivalry, so to me it's a dream I've had since I was in third grade," Mealer said. "I remember going to my first college football game and it was down in Ohio Stadium, and ever since then I've wanted to play college football. It has a special place for me."

Mealer's life changed forever on Christmas Eve 2007. Mealer's dad, Dave, was at the wheel, with his brother Brock on the passenger side. Elliott, his mom and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Hollis Richer, were in the back of their Mercedes-Benz SUV after going to midnight mass not far from their home.

A 90-year-old man ran a stop sign, T-boning the Mealers' vehicle and flipping it on its right side. Elliott, who had just completed his senior year of high school and would start classes at Michigan in January, climbed out the broken back window with his mother. They found Hollis dead beneath the vehicle. Dave was also dead and lying on top of Brock, who was pinned by twisted metal.

Elliott tore his rotator cuff attempting to free his brother.

Brock, who was just 13 hours short of graduating from Ohio State, was taken to a hospital and spent the better part of four months undergoing surgery and therapy. Now all but paralyzed from the waist down, he has completed his degree in economics at Ohio State and is living a productive life.

So now Elliott wil play in The Game for the final time. It's almost as if he has come full circle. What an incredible last five years it has been.

The annual showdown has meaning to anyone who plays in it. For those who have been through so much, particulary the ones who have seen both sides of both universities, it has particular meaning.

"Some of us Ohio guys, it has a special place for us in our heart," Mealer said.

25 YEARS LATER: Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was a graduate assistant in 1987 when Earle Bruce was fired by Ohio State President Ed Jennings.

He has vivid memories of what happened six days later, when the Buckeyes traveled to Michigan and pulled off a 23-20 shocker.

Meyer was in the coaches' box in the pressbox before the game when Ohio State's players, in a show of loyalty and affection for the plight of their head coach, took off their helmets to reveal headbands which read "EARLE" in large, block letters.

"I remember looking down, thinking what are they wearing?" he said with a grin. "That's one of the great memories that I have of my time here."

REMEMBERING 2002: In 2002 the Ohio State Buckeyes captured their first national championship since 1968 with a 13-0 regular season and a double-overtime victory over Miami in the national championship game in Glendale, Ariz.

On the 10-year anniversary of that achievement, team members and some coaches will be honored and recognized Saturday at the Michigan-Ohio State game in between the first and second quarters at the north end of Ohio Stadium.

Captained by Michael Doss and Donnie Nickey, and with Chris Gamble and Craig Krenzel sharing team MVP honors, the 2002 Buckeyes began the season ranked No. 13 but worked their way up to be No. 2 heading into the title game.

It wasn't easy. They won seven games by seven or fewer points, five by six or fewer.

Miami had won 34 games in a row heading into the BCS title game. The victory also marked the Big Ten's first outright national championship since the '68 team pulled it off.

Approximately 65 team members have indicated they will attend the celebration weekend, which includes a Friday night dinner, a pregame tailgate and being on the field to form a tunnel when the current Buckeyes come out.

HOKE ON "OHIO": Michigan coach Brady Hoke was asked if he referred to Ohio State as "Ohio" just to tick off the Buckeyes and their fans: "No, I've called them that a long time. And it's no disrespect to anybody. No disrespect to Ohio University. But that's just how I've said it for many years."

THEY SAID IT: Ohio State DB and special-teams player Zach Domicone, on the difference between how Jim Tressel referred to Michigan and how Meyer does it: "It would say Michigan around the building and things like that and it was called Michigan week. (Tressel) would use the phrase 'Team Up North' but he would also use Michigan. I like 'The Team Up North' -- especially since they started calling us 'Ohio.'"

WARINNER HONORED: Ohio State offensive co-coordinator and offensive line coach Ed Warinner is one of 29 nominees for the Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant coach in America.

Warinner, from Strasburg, Ohio, and a graduate of Mount Union, has coached and developed the offensive line into what Meyer calls the "identity" of the team.

The unit leads the way for a rushing game that ranks ninth nationally (245.5 yards per game).

Warinner is in his 29th season as a college coach and his 10th in a coordinator position. The former Kansas and Notre Dame assistant has coached four teams that led the nation in rushing.

Five finalists for the Broyles Award will be announced on Monday, with the winner revealed on Dec. 4.

HELPING OTHERS: The entire Ohio State team loaded into buses on Wednesday and helped prepare Thanksgiving meals at two LifeCare Alliance of Columbus facilities.

"It felt really good to help somebody -- to brighten some people's day," backup QB Kenny Guiton said. "Today was nice. We felt like we were really helping people."

In addition to preparing and distributing meals, the players also set up holiday decorations, cleaned exterior grounds and even made phone calls to wish others a happy Thanksgiving.

"We were waking some people up because it was early, but the majority of the people were very grateful we were calling," WR Jake Stoneburner said. "And some were really excited. They were diehard Buckeye fans telling us 'Go Bucks' and to 'Beat Michigan.'"

A BREAK FROM THE PAST: Previous head coaches at Ohio State went to great lengths to say they did not do anything in preparation for the Michigan game ahead of time. No one wanted to be accused of not focusing on the task at hand.

Back in the day, Woody Hayes frequently drilled his team against Michigan plays throughout the season. Of course, those were the times of the "Big Two and Little Eight" in the Big Ten, when maybe there weren't as many close calls in the weeks leading up to the annual rivalry game.

Meyer isn't afraid to say that he puts an emphasis on the Michigan game.

He conceded that the team had special incentives dealing with the Wolverines during training camp. His players also welcomed talk about the big game.

"We had a period in camp where we would do a bunch of pushups preparing for this game," DL Garrett Goebel said.

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