Ryan Van Bergen never got to hoist Paul Bunyan Trophy

Angelique S. Chengelis The Detroit News

This is the fifth in a series of profiles on former Michigan players and their thoughts on the Michigan State game

During his playing days at Michigan, comparisons often were drawn between defensive lineman Ryan Van Bergen and the Paul Bunyan Trophy, which goes to the winner of the Michigan-Michigan State game.

Yes, Van Bergen had a bit of that lumberjack look, complete with the beard he still wears.

“I don’t think so anymore, though,” said Van Bergen, now co-owner at coach at Blue Lion Fitness in Ann Arbor. “My style choices have definitely changed. Paul might be considered hipster now with his flannel and denim. He’s back in.”

Van Bergen never got to hoist the Paul Bunyan Trophy during his career, which concluded after the 2011 season. He was a redshirt freshman in 2007 when Michigan defeated Michigan State in East Lansing, but he was back at his dorm watching.

“I would have liked to have them never win against me, but that’s never how it went,” said Van Bergen, who played for former coaches Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. “You can make the argument that (MSU coach) Mark Dantonio, since John L. Smith was there, has moved that program into a national contender. They’ve won a Rose Bowl beating a top-ranked team, they have good, solid recruiting, and they lost (defensive coordinator Pat) Narduzzi, but who knows how much impact that will be.”

There is plenty on the line when No. 7 and unbeaten MSU faces No. 12 Michigan, which has won its last five games, including three straight shutouts.

“In order for Michigan to get back in national picture, you have to win the state first,” Van Bergen said.

His last game in 2011 began to crumble the moment the Wolverines entered the Spartan Stadium locker room after warmups. Meant as a surprise for the players were specially designed white jerseys with blue striping on the sleeves, similar to those Michigan had worn in the Notre Dame game at home under the lights.

“We had a dumb decision to change uniforms before the game, which the team didn’t know about,” Van Bergen said. “I didn’t think it was stupid, until the stuff didn’t fit me. The clothes didn’t fit. (Center) David Molk played with seams cut from his knee to groin. We all had uniforms that didn’t fit.”

Van Bergen pointed out that every player has a pre-game process, whether it’s listening to the same music, or just having the same routine game to game.

“You want to throw a team off that’s a good way to start,” he said of the uniform change.

He will never say that Michigan State manhandled Michigan in any of the games he lost. The Spartans won, 28-14, in 2011.

“They were jumping our snap count,” Van Bergen said. “They were much better prepared than we were. We were out-schemed, but you’ll never hear me say we were bullied or they were more physical. When we played them our senior year, we had a great team in 2011.

“We were in gun formation and our center had a pretty consistent tendency. It was so consistent Michigan State started on a full sprint when his head was between his legs snapping. We never changed the cadence. That’s coaching, that’s filmwork when you notice a tendency. They were more ready than we were. It is disappointing, but there’s stuff to be learned from it. Our new coaching staff, they seem to be on their P’s and Q’s. They’re so fundamentally sounds which is amazing to me considering how many fundamental flaws they had at the spring game.”

Van Bergen has a friendly wager with another coach at Lion Fitness. If Michigan loses, he must wear a Michigan State shirt all day on Monday.

Blue Lion is allowing Van Bergen to apply techniques he learned from coaches and strength coaches with whom he has worked. The gym opened March 30 and has more than 100 members.

“We’re not trying to be a huge gym,” Van Bergen said. “It is exactly what I was hoping to recreate, a college weight room all over again. We treat everybody who walks through the door as an athlete.”

He designs programs for clients who are seeking weight loss or increased endurance. His workouts encourage flexibility and are similar to the offseason conditioning program he went through at Michigan.

“There’s plenty of different opportunities,” Van Bergen said. “People who go to the gym with head phones and use a cardio machine, no way you’re going to get to your fitness goals. When you see people next to you pushing harder, that’s how you get better.”