NEW ORLEANS, La. -- While it may be a 'Michigan Man' leading them into the Super Bowl, there will be plenty of Ohio State fans cheering on the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL's biggest game of the year.
That's because of the four former Buckeyes playing in Sunday's championship game, each one of them will take the field for the 49ers, who will face the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans, La. Each former OSU player took his own unique path to get himself inside the Louisiana Superdome on Sunday, but nevertheless, each will have the chance to walk away from this weekend having won a Lombardi Trophy.
The veteran of the group, safety Donte Whitner, is in his seventh year in the NFL after playing at Ohio State from 2003-05. Having spent the first five seasons of his professional career with the Buffalo Bills, who selected him with the No. 8 pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, Whitner is in his second season with San Francisco and is enjoying a rejuvenation in his career.
"I don't really know if I fit the scheme up there," Whitner said of his time with the Bills. "Coming here, switching to a 3-4 defense, being allowed to have more freedom, I believe that it worked out well for me. Sometimes the player doesn't fit the scheme, and that was the case up there in Buffalo."
Joining the Cleveland native in New Orleans will be not only a college teammate, but a high school teammate as well in wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.
The No. 9 pick of the 2007 draft has had a mostly disappointing career, finding most of his success with the Miami Dolphins and 49ers on special teams. Yet despite Ginn only recording two receptions in the 2012 season, Whitner said that a Super Bowl win will still mean the same to the former Glenville Tarblooders.
"Growing up in high school, Teddy and I were like brothers," Whitner said. "It's a great, great thing and I look forward to not only being here, but to sharing a Super Bowl and a ring with him."
While Ginn may be considered an underachiever in the NFL, it's hard to say the same about Alex Boone. After not getting drafted in 2009, Boone caught on with San Francisco, where he is now the starting right guard for the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense.
Thanks to the hardships that he's endured, the former five-star prospect is even more thankful for the opportunity that he has in front of him this Sunday.
"It's been a huge roller coaster," Boone said. "Obviously I've been at the all-time lows to now being at the highest of the highs. I'm grateful to be on this team and for this coaching staff and for my teammates."
Rounding out the quartet of former Buckeyes playing in Sunday's Super Bowl is Larry Grant. The fifth-year reserve linebacker appeared in all 16 of San Francisco's regular season games this year and recorded six tackles.
With 13 former Big Ten players on the 49ers' roster and six on the Ravens, Ohio State's conference will be well represented on Sunday, and not just on the field, but the sideline as well.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh is a Michigan graduate, who played quarterback for the Wolverines from 1983-86. Yet despite his ties to 'That School Up North,' Buckeyes fans will be pleased to learn that Harbaugh's coaching philosophy was formed not only by Bo Schembechler, but also his adversary.
"Bo and Woody Hayes- in my young mind, and in my old mind today, and every year in between- those two are larger than life," Harbaugh said. "I spent a great deal of time thinking about those men and how they approached the game, how they approached teaching, and then tried my very best to be like them."
The same goes for Jim's brother- John Harbaugh- the head coach of the Ravens, who also modeled his coaching style after growing up watching 'The Ten Year War' between Ohio State and Michigan.
"To me, those days, that's the No. 1 foundation for us," John said. "If Bo or Woody were around today, I bet they'd play like the Niners or the Ravens."