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He attends Park Hill High School in Kansas City, Missouri, but at heart, Ondre Pipkins is a Michigan kid. Originally from Saginaw, the four-star defensive tackle saw his recruitment as a way to fulfill his dream of playing major college football, but also as a way to get back home. With that, he chose the Michigan Wolverines, allowing him to be closer to his father, and giving the Wolverines a 6’3, 325-lb monster in the middle.
Al Pipkins and his son Ondre have always had a strong relationship. It goes back before Ondre even began playing football, but the sport is one of the loves they share. In fact, the younger Pipkins credits his father with being the one who turned him on to a game he has grown to excel at, and one that is now largely responsible for his free education.
“He definitely started me playing football,” Ondre said. “When he was coaching, I'd always be up at practice playing around. He was the first one to put me in pads and noticed my physical capabilities, and said, ‘I've got to get this kid ready to be playing football.’ Him being a coach and my dad, it clicked, and football became my sport.”
Al knew his son just had something, but it was even before he coached him at Central Middle School in Saginaw. He says the moment he knew his son may someday be a great football player came even earlier.
“When he benched pressed 80-lbs at six years old on a stationary weight machine.”
It was not always easy for Big Ondre though. While his size and strength allowed him to excel on the field, his dad says it was hard for him being bigger than other kids. He also had struggles in school early in his high school career after moving from Michigan to Georgia. As usual, dad was there with advice, even if he had to come from hundreds of miles away.
“He was down in Atlanta and I was visiting him and he was having problems in school and I said, without grades, you can’t play football. He transferred to Rochester Adams (in Michigan) when his mom moved up here, and he was so much bigger. He was about 6’0. 270. He hit this one kid doing a tackling drill and coach took him out of the tackling drill because he was just leveling 9th graders. At that point, I knew he had the potential to be anything he wants if he keeps his grades up. He really wanted to be a basketball player. I had to sit him down and say, Ondre, you’re no longer a basketball player. I mean, you can play it, but you need to focus and focus hard on football. He didn’t like size at first. He had a complex about it. A 13 year old kid standing six feet high, and I had to tell him, at some point, people are going to love you because you’re this big.”
That day came soon after. Pipkins moved to Kansas City just after his sophomore year, and it was around that time that the colleges began noticing. After attending a Missouri camp in June of that year, he earned his first scholarship offer from Missouri. By the time he committed to Michigan in August, his offer count was well into the double digits, and included some of college football’s elite like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and others.
The recruiting process is essentially over now for Pipkins. He says his main focus is on winning a state championship. He will be back in Ann Arbor for a game at some point this season, and dad will be right by his side, just as he has been from day one, and as he will continue to be when his son enrolls at Michigan and then to wherever life takes him after that.
“He's definitely kept me on a straight line. He's an awesome dad. I couldn't ask for anything more.”
And for Al Pipkins, it is hard not to think about next Fall. He says all three of his sons could have played college football, the older two simply chose different paths. He is proud of all of them. Looking back at the long journey with Ondre though, and projecting his feelings towards early September of 2012 when he runs through the tunnel to 115,000 screaming fans for the first time, dad almost gets teary eyed, just the way he did when his son committed.
“Well you know, I always tell people it’s not about me. I think I will be, at that point, like I am now, more excited for him, because he’s accomplished something he’s been working towards for a long time. When he committed, I was in tears. When he talked to Brady Hoke and Coach Montgomery, I was in tears. I asked that they take care of my son. Now the moment has finally come. I always ask, is it really true? When he’s on that field, you’ll probably have to pinch me. That’s one of my baby boys. That’s one of those moments where you say, we’re finally here. Let’s stay here and let’s move forward.”
For the full article on Pipkins, an in-depth conversation with Mike Martin, a preview of the upcoming hockey season and much much more, be sure to check out the next issue of GoBlueWolverine