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Buckeye brothers no longer: The unusual path three brothers took to Michigan

Erin Kirkland/Daily
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Daily Sports Writer
Published January 25, 2011


To many, it’s a sign of brotherly love. A way to hash out sibling rivalries and declare oneself to be atop the household hierarchy; the best, the toughest, the macho-est of all.

Craig and Susan Zeerip saw a great love for wrestling from their three sons beginning at an early age in their Fremont, Mich. home. However, their sons never quite outgrew their wrestling ways. The couple doesn’t have to see their sons duke it out at home anymore, though.

Instead, they travel to Ann Arbor, where their three sons — redshirt junior Justin, redshirt freshman Brandon and freshman Collin — are members of the Michigan wrestling team.

It’s nearly unheard of for three brothers to compete on one team at such a high level, but it’s even more unusual that this family can even utter the words, “Go Blue.”

Craig and Susan are graduates of Ohio State, where Craig wrestled in the mid-1980s — even Justin and Brandon grew up diehard Buckeye fans.

These days, they laugh at stories of getting heckled by classmates for wearing their Buckeye attire to school.

“Growing up in Michigan, there were a lot of Michigan fans around us,” Justin said. “Especially when we were growing up, Michigan was winning a lot in the Michigan-Ohio State (football) game; we’d always get crap. People would even leave messages on the answering machine.”

Only Collin can lay claim to being a lifelong Wolverine. From a young age, pictures show him sporting Michigan attire next to his scarlet and gray-clad brothers.

This season, Justin is 12-7, while Brandon — the reigning Big Ten Wrestler of the Week — is 2-1. Collin, meanwhile, is redshirting this season.

Small town roots

The journey to Ann Arbor started in two small, neighboring towns three and a half hours west of Ann Arbor — Hesperia and Fremont.

Craig and Susan met at Ohio State and married. After graduating, they moved to Fremont — where Craig grew up — and have since taken over the Zeerip family business, Heritage Farms, which provides fresh produce to Meijer.

In 1990, Craig became the head coach of the Hesperia High School wrestling team, located three miles from his house. He remained head coach for the next 15 years, but later swapped roles with the assistant coach prior to Justin’s arrival to high school.

“It’s a wrestling community,” Craig said. “We have a huge fan base. They love wrestling. There isn’t a lot to do in Hesperia. That’s why I think wrestling does very well in Hesperia as far as attendance.”

Craig estimates that Hesperia draws approximately 700 to 800 fans at the wrestling meets. To put that into perspective, the town’s population is under 1,000. The town has just two traffic lights — a shocking number when you consider that there are triple that number of Hesperia alumni who currently wrestle for Division-I schools.

Though the average graduating class at Hesperia is only about 50, six wrestlers are on scholarship at premiere programs. Sophomore Dan Yates — a close family friend of the Zeerips — joins the brothers on the Michigan squad. Philip Khozein — who lived with the Zeerips throughout high school — is a sophomore at Michigan State and Malcolm Martin is a freshman at Central Michigan.

Craig didn’t really push wrestling on his sons, but in 1997 — after being at practices and meets for much of his early life — it was time for eight-year-old Justin to give it a try.

“I think they all grew up with it,” Craig said. “And then, since Justin was going to be wrestling, then they wanted to wrestle too.”

And so it began. In no time, six year-old Brandon and four year-old Collin were also on the mats. The kids — who would create space to wrestle by moving couches in their living room — now create bigger things. And what they left looms even larger.

Big fish from a small pond

You’d be hard-pressed to find a family more accomplished and well rounded than the Zeerips. Each brother was class valedictorian. And on the mats, they earned a combined 749 wins and nine state championships.

Collin — who skipped eighth grade — earned 13 varsity letters in wrestling, golf, cross-country and football, where he started at quarterback. That’s more than one varsity sport per season, all while traveling for wrestling competitions and maintaining a 4.0 grade-point-average.