At Michi­gan game, a fam­ily re­union

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Don Markus

The re­turn of first-year Mary­land foot­ball coach DJ Durkin on Satur­day to Michi­gan, where he spent last sea­son as Jim Har­baugh’s de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, isn’t the only re­union that will take place in Ann Ar­bor dur­ing the matchup be­tween the Terps and the third-ranked Wolver­ines.

An­other, in­volv­ing a for­mer high school coach­ing icon and his two sons, one of whom grew up in Africa be­fore com­ing to the United States and even­tu­ally mov­ing in with the coach and his fam­ily in the ninth grade, has more emo­tional ties that lead di­rectly back to Baltimore.

Biff Poggi, who won 13 Mary­land In­ter­scholas­tic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion A Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onships in 19 sea­sons at Gil­man, is in his first sea­son as a spe­cial ad­viser for Har­baugh at Michi­gan, where Poggi’s son Henry is a 6-foot-4, 257-pound se­nior full­back and his daugh­ter Mel­lie is a sopho­more.

Fa­ther and son are look­ing for­ward to catch­ing up with Melvin Keihn, a red­shirt sopho­more line­backer for the Terps who moved in with the Pog­gis shortly after en­rolling at Gil­man.

“It will be busi­ness, but as I’ve told him, ‘I’m root­ing for the Univer­sity of Michi­gan — and for you,’ ” the el­der Poggi said about Keihn in a tele­phone in­ter­view this week. “He’ll never be on the other side of the field. It’s like hav­ing two kids, one play­ing for Michi­gan and one play­ing for Mary­land.”

Keihn, who lived in Liberia un­til age 8, said he will treat the game no dif­fer­ently from any other he has played so far for the Terps or in the sea­son he spent at Vir­ginia Tech.

“It’s just an­other game,” Keihn said. “As far as mego­ing to play against my fa­ther and my big brother, that’s one thing I’m ex­cited about it … but it’s not like it’s a game I’ve dreamed about. It’s just an­other game.”

Keihn said he texted Henry Poggi this week.

“I said, ‘This is one game I’m look­ing for­ward to be­cause I get to go against some­one I played with and I looked up to in high school, and now I get to play against you,’ ” Keihn re­called. “‘The fact that you’re on of­fense and I’m on de­fense, I’m pretty sure we’re go­ing to crack hel­mets a lit­tle bit.’ ”

Henry Poggi said in a tele­phone in­ter­view Wed­nes­day that play­ing against Keihn “will be a re­ally spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence, I think. I kind of look at it as if I would have got­ten a chance to play against my brother Jim, who was at Iowa. That’s how close me and Melvin are.”

This won’t be Keihn’s first trip to the Big House. While sit­ting out last year after trans­fer­ring, Keihn vis­ited Henry Poggi at Michi­gan and went to two games, in­clud­ing one in which he sat in the stu­dent sec­tion with Mel­lie and her friends.

“It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence to see how the kids sup­port their team,” Keihn said.

The sit­u­a­tion could have been re­versed. After the Terps hired Durkin in De­cem­ber, Biff Poggi said the two had sev­eral con­ver­sa­tions about the pos­si­bil­ity of leav­ing Gil­man to join Durkin’s coach­ing staff in Col­lege Park.

Ac­cord­ing to Poggi, he “was close” to join­ing Durkin in a sim­i­lar role to the one he has now. Then he got a call from Har­baugh, ask­ing whether he was in­ter­ested in go­ing to Ann Ar­bor. The op­por­tu­nity to spend more time around his chil­dren at­tend­ing Michi­gan won out.

“It was the right thing for me to do,” Poggi said. “I re­ally like DJ. I think he’s do­ing an un­be­liev­able job. I have two chil­dren at Michi­gan and I thought I could be there with my kids. It’s some­thing you don’t get all the time.”

Poggi, who left Gil­man in Jan­uary, joined the Wolver­ines staff in Au­gust.

“It’s been like a dream,” he said. “First, [Har­baugh] is bril­liant. I thought I knew a lot about foot­ball. I’m get­ting an Ox­ford tu­to­rial ev­ery day. It’s re­ally been a lot of fun.”

Henry Poggi said he hasn’t had to ad­just much to hav­ing his dad around, es­pe­cially since he’s been coached by his fa­ther much of his life.

Biff Poggi, 56, ac­knowl­edges that “it didn’t end well” at Gil­man after an as­so­ci­a­tion that dates to his own high school days.

Poggi said he signed a one-year con­tract with Michi­gan and has re­cently started talk­ing to Har­baugh about mak­ing it more of a long-term com­mit­ment. Poggi’s wife, Amy, is still in Baltimore, where Mary, the youngest of their five bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren, is in the eighth grade.

If he de­cides to stay at Michi­gan, Poggi

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BALTIMORE SUN 2014

For­mer Gil­man coach Biff Poggi is an ad­viser to Michi­gan coach Jim Har­baugh.

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