At Michigan game, a family reunion
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 me going 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 said he will buy a house in Ann Arbor and move his wife and younger daughter there.
Poggi's role with the Wolverines is a bit undefined.
“I'm all over,” he said. “I'm basically with every part of the team. I'm involved in most facets of what's going on, from recruiting to you name it — to helping get a chaplain hired.”
Since most of his coaching duties are on the offensive side of the ball, Poggi has watched tape of what the 6-1, 225-pound Keihn has done in his first season at Maryland.
Keihn has spent the season backing up at two linebacker spots.
“His energy is incredible. His motor is unbelievable,” Poggi said of Keihn, who has made 22 tackles on defense and contributes on special teams. “He's blitzing. He's chasing the plays from the back side. He makes a lot of plays.”
Keihn said he has enjoyed his first season at Maryland. His biological mother still lives in Liberia, but his father, Bainda, who lives in Edmondson Village with his wife and three other children, has been to a couple of games. So have Amy Poggi and her younger daughter.
“It's been a lot more fun having family close by,” Keihn said.