August 19, 2010 at 4:47 pm

Sam Webb: Recruiting

Ex-Wolverine Tony Gant hopes son follows his footsteps to Ann Arbor

Allen Gant's dad Tony played for Bo Schembechler in the early 80's, but Allen grew up an Ohio State fan. (Allen Trieu/ )

Twenty-eight years ago, an Ohio football star named Tony Gant spurned overtures from his home state Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions of Penn State, and a host of other big-time schools so he could become a Michigan Wolverine.

The hard-hitting safety prospect from Fremont (Ohio) Ross High School became a fixture in Bo Schembechler's defensive secondary from 1982-1986.

Fast forward to present day, and Gant's son Allen is also a rising football star. As the younger Gant heads into his junior season at Sylvania (Ohio) Southview High, a veritable who's-who of college football is hot on his trail. At the moment, none of those suitors sit atop his leaderboard, but one does hold the distinction of being his childhood favorite.

"It might sound surprising to people, but I'm actually a Buckeye fan and I root for Ohio State," Gant told "I've been a Buckeye ever since I was young, really. My uncle, Shawn Simms, coached at Ohio State under John Cooper and he played at Bowling Green. I wear all Buckeye gear and that's my team."

When Ohio State began reciprocating Gant's interest after his breakout freshman campaign in 2008, the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was elated. An eye-opening performance in Southview's state championship victory -- during which he hauled in a long touchdown reception, threw a 40-yard pass, and registered eight tackles from his safety spot -- proved to be the catalyst for the Buckeyes' pursuit.

Dad shared in the joy of his son's success and recruiting attention, but he couldn't help but wonder if his alma mater would ever truly be in the running.

"Initially (Allen's tepid Michigan interest) was a little disappointing," Tony admitted. "I'd taken Allen to a couple of football reunions that we had. The last one was the year Bo died (in 2006). It was Michigan-Michigan State, so we had a huge reunion with all the football players. So I'm introducing Allen to a who's-who of Michigan football, but it really didn't faze him.

"I said, 'Oh my God, I'm in trouble here. My son really doesn't like Michigan.' Let me mention Ohio State and the Scarlet and Gray, though, and his eyes just lit up."

Change of fortune

Michigan not appearing to be as interested in his son as the Buckeyes definitely didn't help matters. The Wolverines were in danger of becoming an afterthought in a legacy prospect's recruitment before it really even started, when an impromptu visit to Ann Arbor in June changed everything.

"It went great," Allen said. "Talking to Rich Rod, he really impressed me. They are definitely interested in me and I've got a lot of interest in them. I'm going to continue going back up there. My dad said he only recognized a few people, but mainly he just said that he was glad to get what we could get out of the experience. He was really impressed with how things went."

Tony added: "It was a great interaction. Coach Rodriguez is just like talking to your next-door neighbor -- just very down to earth, and very personable. I had talked to him a couple of times before and he was always a warm and nice guy, but this particular time he just really made you feel at home.

"He explained to both Allen and myself that in light of the NCAA allegations, he just had to make sure that they did everything by the book. They are interested in Allen, it is just that Allen is an underclassman. September is when the (recruiting) gates are opened, and he'll be recruiting Allen heavily."

That explanation seemed to suffice, as the Wolverines appear to have taken a significant step toward making up ground on the Buckeyes.

Said Allen, "Before I just didn't have a very good idea of what Rich Rod and his staff were about, but after (the visit) I feel a lot more comfortable with them. I know that they're interested in me. They're on my radar with all the other schools that were recruiting me."

Wisconsin, Nebraska, Purdue, Penn State, LSU, UCLA, Oregon and Oregon State are some of the other notables giving chase. Gant's blend of athleticism and high football IQ ensures that list will grow even more.

"I was talking to (Michigan equipment manager) Jonny Falk and Coach Rodriguez and I told them that if Bo had one scholarship to give, he would choose Allen over me," the elder Gant said. "He is almost 6-2, and weighs in the 205- to 210-pound range. He runs a 4.6, he's got a nose for the ball, he's physical, and he is smart.

"Having that type of football intelligence, it just makes his job that much easier because you want to react instead of think out on the football field. Plus he's coachable. His football intelligence and coachability are his two greatest assets along with his physical capabilities."

Famous connection

Michigan's future courtship of this Buckeye State standout will continue to receive assistance not only from his dad, but also from a cousin who happened to win a Heisman Trophy for the Wolverines in 1997. Charles Woodson has had limited contact with Allen over the years, but the two reconnected earlier this summer.

"My aunt (who was married to Charles Woodson's father) died and he flew down from Green Bay for the funeral," Allen Gant explained. "We had a chance to spend some time together. First of all, all he kept saying was 'Go Blue' and that Michigan is a great school. Then he gave me some advice. He said that as a defensive back when the ball is in the air, I have to become a wide receiver. I have to go after it like it's mine. I have to admit, that really helped me a lot in a passing tournament we participated in recently.

"We'll try to keep more in touch."

For a dad looking for anything to make Michigan more appealing to his son, Woodson's words were greatly appreciated.

"Sometimes as a father you can tell kids things and they say, 'Oh you're just dad, you're just saying that,' and they just won't listen to you," Tony Gant said. "It really helped that Charles took him aside and told him a lot of the benefits about playing football for Michigan, but more importantly getting an education from Michigan. So that was extremely, extremely helpful."

While it's clear that seeing his son don the winged helmet would be very fulfilling, his greatest desire is for his son to find the best possible fit.

"I'm an Allen fan first, and a Michigan fan second," Tony Gant said. "I've coached Allen to keep an open mind. It could be a very crazy process. I just explained to him what I went through as a high school junior and senior -- where every other day you're talking to someone on the phone or someone is talking in the hallway. I said, 'Allen, I grew up and I loved Ohio State too. Archie Griffin, Tim Spencer, those guys were my idols. I loved Ohio State, but as the time came to be recruited, I weighed everything.'

"You look at education, you look at proximity, you look at the opportunity to play as a freshman, the turnover in coaching staff, longevity, and things like that. I chose Michigan because it was a great fit for me and it was kind of like my dad's dying wish as well. I tell Allen to keep an open mind about everything and not just be sold on Ohio State because they are the first school that really contacted him.

"Right now, we're going to wait until signing day (to make a decision). I want Allen to experience everything that he can experience. I want to make sure that he takes all five visits so that he really truly understands the process, he looks at the academics at a university, he looks at the football programs and he just enjoys the total experience."

Sam Webb is managing editor of and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA.

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