IOWA CITY — Cedrick Lattimore grew up less than an hour away, but he’s only stepped inside Michigan Stadium once in his life.
The Iowa defensive tackle was a spectator at the Big House on the day when Michigan State’s Jalen Watts-Jackson recovered a fumbled snap by Michigan punter Blake O’Neill and returned it 38 yards for a game-winning touchdown as time expired in 2015.
"It was crazy in there," Lattimore recalled Tuesday, hoping to have a hand in creating more craziness Saturday when 14th-ranked Iowa visits 19th-ranked Michigan in an 11 a.m. Big Ten game.
The 6-foot-3, 295-pound senior from Detroit is one of seven Michigan natives on the Iowa roster, players preparing this week for the only chance they will get in college to take the field at Michigan Stadium.
It’s something the seven talked about before the season started, a big week but strictly a business trip.
"We can’t lose focus. We’re going there to work and do everything we can to win a football game," Lattimore said. "It’s going to be great to see everybody, all my family and friends, and this is special because of that."
Lattimore has rounded up tickets for 20 family members and is still hoping to find a couple more, but he’ll save the pleasantries until after the game.
"I won’t let it distract me. I’ll see them after the game," Lattimore said.
Lattimore is expected to make the 11th start of his career at left tackle on the Iowa defensive line Saturday.
Playing a position where statistics are secondary to performance, Lattimore has recorded seven tackles during Iowa’s 4-0 start to the season. He has one of the team’s five sacks and shares second on the team with two quarterback hurries.
He’ll line up next to junior end Chauncey Golston, who has been a teammate of Lattimore’s going back to East English Village Prep, the same Detroit prep program which prepared Desmond King to play at Iowa.
"They’ve done good things together, and it doesn’t surprise me," said Rod Oden, their high school coach who currently coaches a high school team in Harper Woods, Michigan. "They’ve always been hard workers who do everything they can to play the game at the highest level."
They haven’t forgotten their roots, either.
Oden gets a weekly phone call from Lattimore and Golston.
"Game day morning, they both call, every week," Oden said. "I always remind them that I’m watching and tell them to play the game the way they know they can. I tell them to make sure people remember their name, do great things."
They rarely disappoint.
"Coach (Phil) Parker, he and the staff there do a great job, and to watch my guys play there, they’ve had careers they can be proud of," Oden said.
Lattimore and Golston are joined in the Iowa lineup by Michigan natives Alaric Jackson on the offensive line and Michael Ojemudia and Kaevon Merriweather in the secondary. Graduate transfer Zach VanValkenburg is also on the depth chart this week as a back-up at defensive tackle.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz credits Parker, the defensive coordinator and secondary coach who leads Hawkeye recruiting efforts in the Detroit area, with helping Iowa find players he describes as "diamonds in the rough."
Most have typically not been offered by their home state schools.
"You’ve got to find something there that we think will mesh well with our program," Ferentz said. "You think about guys like Desmond or Chauncey or Cedrick, those guys have really grown in the program, maybe weren’t quite ready to go."
Of the group, only Jackson was offered a scholarship by the Wolverines.
Ojemudia’s brother, Mario, was a three-year letterwinner who started eight games over two seasons as a defensive end at Michigan, but like Lattimore, he figures he ended up at the collegiate level where he needed to be.
"Was it a little disappointing that Michigan didn’t offer? A little, but Iowa had a lot to sell," Ojemudia said. "Things couldn’t have worked out better for me."
Lattimore said he doesn’t take being overlooked by the Wolverines personally, saying he grew up more of a Michigan State basketball fan than anything.
"Tom Izzo and all that, I was a basketball guy more than a football guy when I was a kid," said Lattimore, who played for the same AAU program that Merriweather was part of growing up.
These days, Lattimore has traded his hoop dreams for success on the football field.
This week, that means getting ready for his one chance to return home and face a Michigan team that will be trying to avoid a second early-season Big Ten setback.
Mostly, Lattimore is anxious to celebrate his own Michigan homecoming with his teammates.
"Just to see the happy faces on guys when we get in that Michigan air, it’s going to be great," Lattimore said. "We know it won’t be easy. They’ll bring their best. We’ll need to be at our best. It’s something we’re really looking forward to."