Football: Anderson, Northwestern players from Michigan ready for trip home to the Great Lakes State


Left: Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer. Right: Jonah Elkowitz/The Daily Northwestern

Left: Graduate linebacker Chris Bergin prepares for a tackle. Right: Sophomore offensive lineman Josh Priebe celebrates a Northwestern touchdown. The two are Michigan natives who are returning to the Great Lakes State this weekend when Northwestern takes on No. 6 Michigan.

Drew Schott, Gameday Editor


​​Just seven miles north of Eastern Michigan University, a bastion of college football looms large. 

The Eagles journeyed to the Big House on Sept. 19, 2009 to face off against Michigan, where they were met with a 45-17 loss, the third in a streak of 12 consecutive defeats. Though the outcome was less than ideal, the game marked a homecoming for Eastern Michigan’s offensive line coach.  

Kurt Anderson won a national championship with the Wolverines in 1997 and earned the Hugh R. Rader Jr. Memorial Award, granted to Michigan’s top offensive lineman, as the starting center in 2001. Anderson then served as a graduate assistant on the offensive line at his alma mater during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. 

“Going back for the first time, it was a little surreal,” Anderson said. 

Now Northwestern’s offensive line coach, Anderson will return to Michigan Stadium for the third time as an opposing coach on Saturday when the Wildcats (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) take on the No. 6 Wolverines (6-0, 3-0). Looking to topple one of the nation’s best teams in what coach Pat Fitzgerald called “one of the cathedrals of college football,” Anderson will not be alone on the sideline as a member of NU with ties to the Great Lakes State. 

Ten of the Cats’ players come from Michigan, including graduate linebacker Chris Bergin, sophomore left guard Josh Priebe and sophomore cornerback Rod Heard II. Four call the Detroit metropolitan area home. Bergin, his brother  — sophomore linebacker Owen — and freshman offensive lineman Caleb Tiernan are alumni of Detroit Country Day School in Beverly Hills, roughly 40 miles away from Ann Arbor. 

The Bergin brothers, whose hometown of Bloomfield Hills is about a 45 minute drive from the University of Michigan, were raised Michigan State fans since their dad Joseph played for the Spartans. But they became the outliers. 

The topic of Michigan vs. Michigan State created debates at the lunch table, Owen remembers. 

“The area I grew up in are diehard maize-and-blue fans,” Chris said. “That’s something I grew up around, just more Michigan fans than I could ever keep count of. Everyone loved the Big House.”

Chris, currently the Big Ten’s tackles leader by 21 takedowns, has yet to walk into Michigan Stadium, the largest venue in college football with a capacity of 107,601 people. That will change Saturday. 

Meanwhile, Priebe knows what to expect this weekend in Ann Arbor. 

The 6-foot-5, 295-pound offensive lineman was a three-star recruit with 28 offers, including the Wolverines. He attended games on his visits to Michigan, which he said had a great atmosphere. 

Priebe grew up just above the Indiana border and South Bend, the home of the University of Notre Dame, in Niles. In high school, he witnessed how fellow football players reacted to the possibility of playing for one of the most historic programs in college football. 

“Michigan football is really competitive, really big in the state for high school,” Priebe said. “A lot of kids grow up Michigan fans and I think that’s definitely a lot of kids’ dreams growing up, to have an opportunity to play in the Big House.” 

Priebe is not the only highly-recruited Michigan native to be offered by the maize-and-blue and ultimately end up in Evanston. Tiernan was a four-star in the class of 2020 who chose the Cats over the Wolverines, Ohio State and Penn State. Both Priebe and Tiernan were recruited by Anderson. 

This weekend, Priebe’s relatives will be on hand to watch his seventh game as a starter. So will members of the Bergin family. 

“It’ll be special,” Chris said. “It’s hard to put into words. I know it’s gonna be a feeling that goes beyond words.” 

Anderson’s brother Erick, who etched his name into the history books as a linebacker for the Wolverines, will also be watching live in Ann Arbor. His 390 tackles rank third in school history and he is the only Michigan player to lead the team in tackles for four straight years. 

While Saturday marks a return to home for numerous players, the Cats are locked in on the task at hand. At stake is the first annual George Jewett Trophy, named for the first Black player at Michigan and NU. A win would elevate the Cats to above-.500 and give the squad its biggest upset victory since 2011

By Saturday afternoon, Anderson — who got engaged in Ann Arbor, the birthplace of three of his five kids — is hoping to have another significant memory in the city. 

“Some people can be at a place and play football at a school for five years and never play a top ten ranked team,” Anderson said. “It’s always special when you get that opportunity.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @dschott328

Related Stories:

Football: From walk-on to one of the top linebackers in the country: Northwestern’s Chris Bergin is the embodiment of hard work

— Football: Northwestern looks to build off last week’s defensive success ahead of massive test against No. 6 Michigan

— Football: Who holds the edge in the third matchup between Pat Fitzgerald and Jim Harbaugh?