The Wolverine

August 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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48 THE WOLVERINE AUGUST 2021 BY EJ HOLLAND T he Whitehaven Saints used to run circles around the Memphis 49ers. Well, at least, that's what four-star Michigan defensive back commit Kody Jones would have you believe. Jones was the star player for the Saints and was considered one of the best youth players in the Memphis- area — even as an 8-year-old. The crosstown-rival 49ers had some pretty good talent, too. One player in particular was an absolute monster on the defensive side of the ball and, as legend goes, used to make opposing kids cry. "He was always digging at ev- erybody," Jones said. "He would just smack people. It was full steam ahead head to head." That player was none other than U-M five-star defensive tackle target Walter Nolen. The two best players in the city would go head to head every year throughout their time in youth foot- ball leagues. What began as a rivalry soon became a close friendship as Jones and Nolen eventually teamed up for their final season before mid- dle school. Even now, though, things can get a little heated when talking about the classic Saints-49ers peewee games. "I've always been better," Nolen said. "We used to kill y'all," Jones said. "Every time we played y'all, you were hurting," Nolen said. "Yeah, but when we got together, you started winning," Jones said. Nolen's father, Walter Sr., helped run the 49ers program, while Kody's father, Keith, coached up the Saints program. After years of competing against each other, numbers resulted into the two programs merging as one. Initially, competition was fierce. F o rc i n g f o e s t o s u d d e n l y b e - come friends doesn't always go as planned, especially when dealing with children. "Kody has always been one of the fastest kids in Memphis," Walter Sr. said. "One day in practice, I asked him if he could backpedal and out- run everybody out there, and he said, 'Yeah.' I asked him if he could beat Walter, and he said he could but not by a lot. "They've always had that competi- tive nature, which is always a good thing." After several practices, the team jelled together quickly and went on to have a successful season. While they fell just short of win- ning the championship, Kody and Walter formed a bond defined by brotherhood. "We had an awesome team," Keith said. "After all the years of playing against each other, [Kody and Wal- ter] finally got to play together. Ever since then, they've been locked in tight." Wait a minute. There is one detail we're all for- getting about … what was the team name? While some fans referred to them as the Saintyniners, the official name was the Saints. Since the Saints has more 12U players at the time of the merger, the 49ers name was simply absorbed. According to Kody, however, num- bers had nothing to do with it. The Saints kept the name because they used to take the 49ers behind the woodshed for good old-fashioned whippings. Keith just wants to stick with numbers story. "I don't want to start anything," Keith said with a laugh. "I'm trying to get Walter to come to Michigan." Smart answer, Keith. Walter has gone from youth-league terror to one of the most sought-after college football prospects in the na- tion. The five-star defensive tackle is rated as the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2022 recruiting class by and has basically every major offer one could dream of earning. On the flip side of the coin, Kody surprised many when he committed to Michigan in February over schol- arships from Auburn, Florida State, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and a slew of other major programs in the South. FOOTBALL RECRUITING Childhood Friends Kody Jones And Walter Nolen Could Reunite At U-M Nolen (left), a five-star defensive tackle target, and Jones (right), a U-M defensive back commit, went head to head every year throughout their time in youth football leagues before eventually teaming up for their final season before middle school. Jones is hoping Nolen will join him again in Ann Arbor. PHOTO BY EJ HOLLAND

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