Maize N View: Former players to reunite for good cause
Michigan's annual spring game always attracts former players to Ann Arbor for a weekend, and this year's festivities will include a charity flag-football game founded by All-American Marlin Jackson.
The Go Blue Bowl will take place April 4 (the evening before the Spring Game) at Pioneer High School, with 18 confirmed former players set to coach 16 flag-football teams made up of middle and high-school students benefiting from the charitable funds raised that night.
"I played with Brandon Williams and Marlin Jackson so when they came to me with the idea that they wanted to do something during spring game weekend, a charity event, I was definitely down for whatever they wanted to do," said Cato June (1999-2002), a two-year starter that went on to a successful NFL career.
"So many guys owe their success to mentors they had in their own lives at a younger age, and this is an opportunity for us to coach some kids, interact with them, mingle with the sponsors that are supporting these great causes, and just have a really good time."
Jackson and June are among the household names set to coach, including All-Big Ten receiver Jason Avant, All-American tight end Bennie Joppru, Doak Walker Award-winning tailback Chris Perry, All-American safety Ernest Shazor, and more.
"I've always had a dream of coaching and giving back to my community like the coaches that helped me in my younger days," said Shazor (2002-04). "I really hope I can be a positive role model for a bunch of kids like I had growing up in Detroit."
The Go Blue Bowl is still seeking corporate sponsors with different levels of activity, including a post-game party in which up to 15 guests can socialize with some of their favorite Maize and Blue players. June and Shazor promise they will share stories from their collegiate careers and offer an informed opinion about the current team.
"I keep an eye on Michigan all the time," said June, who is back in Washington D.C. coaching his alma mater, Anacostia High School. "You're never really disconnected from Michigan. Even when I was in the NFL, I tried to watch games when I could and keep tabs on them.
"I know we went through a pretty rough patch and we're still pushing to get back but with Coach Hoke, and with the people he brought with him … the guys that wore that helmet still believe in him and believe he will return Michigan to a tough team, a team that will hit you, be physical, and win championships."
Shazor, who works as an account manager in Southfield, Mich., is also keeping the faith, and thinks in another year, Michigan will be Michigan.
"He's recruiting more and more of his type of players and once those guys get a little older and more experienced, we'll be fine," said Shazor.
June and Shazor cannot wait to be back in Ann Arbor next weekend, to see friends, to watch the football team in-person, and to lend their knowledge and experience to the youths they will coach and the generous sponsors they will swap stories with.
"I'm bringing high energy, competitiveness -- that's what a Cato June team looks like," June said. "I'm going to want to win. All the guys do because that's the way we were raised and that's why we reached the level in our careers that we did.
"I don't care if it's a chess tournament or intramural softball, I'm going to compete to win."
"I'll be intense," Shazor said, with a laugh. "It won't be that intense - we don't need to take anyone's head off - but it will be up-tempo. It will be a fast-paced team that plays aggressive and looks to deliver the punishment."
As the two speak, it's easy to hear the passion in their voice. Their playing days may be over, but they're still making an impact.
"The University of Michigan gave me so much and I am here to give back," Shazor said.