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Ohio lineman picks UM, bucks family tradition

01/11/2017, 12:33am EST
By By KYLE ROWLAND BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Honigford family gets used to wearing maize, blue

Ohio lineman picks UM, bucks family tradition

The Honigfords weren’t anticipating a summer remodeling.

But the Ohio State family also didn’t expect that one of their own would commit to play football for Michigan.

That’s exactly what took place June 29. First, Joel, a three-star offensive lineman from Garaway High School in Sugarcreek, Ohio, pledged his allegiance to the maize and blue. Then he slapped a fresh coat of paint on his bedroom walls and removed any semblance of the scarlet and gray merchandise that previously adorned it.

The son of a former Ohio State basketball player was officially all-in on Michigan.

“At the beginning of the process, the [Ohio State] fan side of me was still there. But as I got bigger and bigger offers, you still have the fan side and there’s also the recruiting side,” said Honigford, whose father, Jim, played for the Buckeyes in the mid-1980s.

“I was a huge Ohio State fan. I was all about them. I actually said that I would never go to Michigan. It’s funny how it worked out. I went on a visit [to Ann Arbor] and fell in love with it. My dad said the hardest part was turning from an Ohio State fan into a Michigan fan.”

Honigford’s mother, Celeste, also attended Ohio State, and his older brother, Paul, is attending veterinary school at OSU. When Honigford revealed his college decision to his family, his dad’s first response was, “How about the green and white school?” alluding to Michigan State, which was in his final four along with Michigan, Oregon, and Auburn.

Last week, Jim attended a 30-year team reunion at the Purdue-Ohio State basketball game. He wore an Ohio State shirt over a Michigan shirt, and as former teammates were discussing their family lives, Jim revealed the Block M and told them his son was going to play football at Michigan.

“They were like, ‘Oh, hell no,’” Jim said, laughing. “They gave me a hard time, but it was all in fun.”

The 6-foot-6, 273-pound Joel Honigford will enroll at Michigan in June and projects as an offensive tackle after spending time at guard, defensive end — and kicker. That’s right, Michigan’s incoming tackle kicked off and converted 30 of 40 extra-point attempts.

Honigford is rated the No. 7 player in Ohio, according to ESPN’s recruiting database. And it didn’t happen because he won the gene lottery, though he does come from an athletic family. Instead, Honigford and his coach — Jason Wallick — credit a commitment to unpopular tasks and constant introspection.

“One thing I wanted to make sure I didn’t do in high school was plateau,” Honigford said. “My freshman year I was a pretty good player and I consistently got better over the years. ... My work ethic has grown an insane amount. My freshman year it would be a struggle to get me to lift. Now I’m lifting every day. It’s just something I love to do.”

Honigford is playing basketball this season but skipping baseball to beef up his strength. He sees redshirting as a distinct possibility because of his weight — currently 273 with a target of 285.

“Physically, I’m just not there yet,” Honigford said.

His athleticism piqued Michigan’s interest. He reciprocated when offensive line coach [and offensive coordinator] Tim Drevno and Jim Harbaugh became involved in the process.

“Drevno was just a guy I really liked,” Honigford said. “His coaching style fits me perfectly. He’s just a straightforward guy. He’s never going to feed you a line of crap. Coach Harbaugh makes everything so much fun. He knows how to get down to business, but he’s going to make sure you have fun. That really appealed to me.”

It took time for the colors and logo to become aesthetically pleasing. Clothes and shoes were swapped out, riding the house of scarlet in favor of blue. Friends now give Honigford, his parents, and siblings grief — in a good-natured way.

The village of Sugarcreek, population 2,234, is in Tuscarawas County in the heart of Amish Country, just 105 miles northeast of Ohio Stadium. There are two appropriate colors in the area: scarlet and gray. Handmade Ohio State decorations dot the rolling terrain. It’s not expected to change, but the school that usually goes unspoken is garnering moderate interest.

“In this area, all you see is Ohio State fans. These people are crazy about Ohio State,” Honigford said. “Since I’ve committed to Michigan, you’d be surprised how many people are paying attention to Michigan now. It feels good knowing people are supportive and want me to achieve my best.”

Perhaps strangest of all in this transformation was the 2016 Ohio State-Michigan game. In each previous iteration of Honigford’s lifetime, he cheered for the Buckeyes. Not so in November.

“It just felt weird because I still feel for Ohio State, but I actually like MIchigan,” he said. “It’s a really weird feeling.”

Jim Honigford’s transition now includes wearing a Michigan hat to Garaway basketball games — “I’m getting chastised” — and sending texts that include the words “Go Blue.”

“It was very unnatural,” he said. “For me, spending a lifetime of hating the letter ‘M’ and hating the colors [maize and blue], it was a little bit of an adjustment. I spent a lot of my time chastising friends who wore Michigan stuff.”

The ultimate question remains in the turbulent world of recruiting, where a flurry of unforeseen offers come in the final sprint to national signing day, what happens if the Buckeyes come calling?

“I’ll think it’s really cool,” Honigford said, “but I’m 100 percent Michigan. No doubt.”

Contact Kyle Rowland at: krowland@theblade.com, 419-724-6110, or on Twitter @KyleRowland.

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Joel Honigford poses with his parents, Jim and Celeste Honigford, at Michigan Stadium in September. Jim Honigford played basketball at Ohio State and Celeste also went to OSU.

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