Chris Joppru grew up watching the Michigan Wolverines in "The Big House." By his own estimation, the Utah junior may have seen as many as 30 games at Michigan Stadium. His older brother, Bennie, was an All-American for the Wolverines setting a single-season school record for receptions by a tight end with 53 in 2002.
On Saturday, Chris will follow in his footsteps and play a game in the famed facility when the Utes open the season against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
"It's really meaningful to me," Chris said. "I couldn't ask for anything more."
When the game was added to the schedule late last summer, it didn't take long to spread the word.
"I was really excited. It was big news. I called my brother right away and talked to him about it," Chris said. "We were both pretty excited. I think he's probably going to go to it."
It wouldn't be the first time the brothers (who played their high school ball in Minnesota) were both on hand for a Utah-Michigan game. On Sept. 21, 2002, Chris watched from the stands as Bennie and the Wolverines slipped past the Utes, 10-7.
"It was a close one," Chris said. "My brother didn't have that great of a game against them. It was a great game."
Bennie didn't fare that well that day. He caught just one pass for minus-1 yard.
Chris, however, would love to duplicate the most important parts of his brother's performance.
"I'd like to catch a pass and get the win," he said. "That would be the greatest thing ever."
Joppru, who has appeared in just two games in his career at Utah, has moved into position to do so. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said the tight end was one of the most improved players in camp and is deserving of more playing time.
"There's no sentimental reasons to put a guy in the game. You put the best guys in. Now Chris Joppru happens to be one of our best tight ends," Whittingham said. "So he will be in the game by his play out here on the field, not because of any ties to his family or anything like that back home. He has earned his way into the lineup in certain packages."
Same goes for the only native Michigan player on Utah's roster. Sophomore tight end Neli A'asa is from Big Rapids, Mich., a couple of hours away from the home of the Wolverines.
"I have good support in Michigan," said A'asa, who will be cheered on by family, friends and other supporters.
After watching many of his teammates enjoy homecomings, especially those from California and Texas, it's now A'asa's turn."I never thought I'd be playing in 'The Big House.' I never expected to play any team in Michigan," he said.. "It was good to hear that I'm going back home."
Utah at Michigan
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MT
TV: ABC; Radio: 700AM
E-mail: [email protected]