"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
I went, I saw, I ate little finger foods and learned fascinating things about the New York-area magazine softball league, which has been dominated by High Times for the past decade. We eventually settled on this theory: at some point in the hazy past, the High Times staff sat around, high off their gourds, and someone said "hey… you know what would screw with everyone's heads?"
A report ensues. What follows could be interpreted as excessively critical, so some positive words first: I'm astounded that HHR managed to put this together and pull it off so successfully. The room was packed and the people who spoke were terribly impressive on paper. There was an after-party with an open bar sponsored by GQ. This was such a vastly inexplicable accomplishment that when I asked one of the roving, frightened-looking GQ writers why the magazine would do such a thing he was as lost as I was. Roping in all these different people with different interests is so far beyond my ken that I spent a large section of the day in silent awe of the power of being a nice friendly driven person who can sell other people on your point of view. The mere existence of the thing is a tribute to HHR Media.
This is a power I lack utterly, though. Posts like this one, all sun and exclamation points and so forth, are grating things designed for buttering up more than honest evaluation. I prefer the bitter truth, and there were a lot of rough spots. So here goes.
Note: Yes, MSM is a frequently-deployed term below and it's hard to separate it from its pejorative connotation; I don't wish to come off like a snotty blogger as I use it. But there are huge differences between journalism borne of an institution and not-journalism borne outside of institutions, and MSM remains a useful catch-all.
"The Future Of Sports Media"
This was not a good start. Various venture executive suit type people sat around and gave their talks. They apparently got together and bet each other which of them could say "Twitter" 2000 times in 10 minutes. Kathleen Hessert, who runs Sports Media Challenge, won. Each speaker focused on the changing media landscape from the perspective of an agent/handler. Now athletes can interact directly with their fans. Okay. How does this pertain to me? This was not explained.
I remember zero from the presentations of the guy who runs sports agency Octagon and the guy who runs Fantasy Sports Ventures, but Richard Ting from R/GA had a interesting power point presentation that was unfortunately compressed given the pointlessness of the rest of the panel. Factoid: if Shaq's twitter was a newspaper, it would be the country's third largest. (And shortest, and most likely to talk about ass-tasting.)
If this was actually about the direction sports media was going with an angle on, you know, independent sports media often purveyed in blog form, it might have been worthwhile. It wasn't; looking around the room towards the end of the panel I saw glazed eyes and discontent.
Confirm or Ignore: Leveraging Social Media
This was the nadir. At one point Dan Levy spent five minutes explaining RSS to a room full of bloggers. Much snark befell him in the back room. The rest of the panelists weren't much more enlightening: Twitter! Social media! Etc.! There was a long discussion about whether or not following 30,000 people on Twitter was a good idea. Conclusion: maybe if you're a marketing droid. Not if you're a real person.
Hi Mom! Claiming That Earned Media
This is where things started turning around. Matt Ufford, aka
Unsilent Majority Captain Caveman of KSK and then the guy behind With Leather and now the guy behind Warming Glow—who I was disinclined to like because my impression of his work was "hey… tits!"—turned out to be awesome. He expressed a desire to move away from tits, even. He moderated a panel with Michael Tunison, AKA Christmas Ape, one of the guys behind WhoDeyRevolution, a Bengals blog dedicated to the proposition that the Bengals are basically owned by William Clay Ford, and Sarah Spain, who is famous for some reason or another.
Spain spent a lot of time complaining about how people judged her on her looks. The irony of her skirt hitting mid-thigh as she said this escaped her. She was intent on justifying herself, and by this point I was really tired of people with no interest in talking to the audience. I mean… seriously, own up to what you're leveraging (right). If Ufford was posing for cheesecake pictures people would start talking about it, yo, and possibly questioning their sexuality.
This panel was mostly a discussion of what happens when something you do catches fire, and the answer was "watch the carnage and buy something flame-retardant."
The WDR guy talked about some of their Project Mayhem stunts—placing urinal cakes with ignominious Bengal records in every urinal at a home game—and about how they've galvanized a fan community around their cause; that was the best part of the panel. A discussion of what happens after your post about Allison Stokke gets shot across the internet doesn't do much; a discussion of how you can get yourself some notoriety without resorting to 1) dumb luck, 2) hot underage chicks, or 3) getting fired would have been appreciated.
Ufford did have a salient point on Digg: it takes a huge amount of effort to penetrate the byzantine Digg community and the traffic you get from hitting the front page is ephemeral. That was a bit on social media more useful than anything in the actual social media panel.
Making It Big: The Secret of My Success
Strange selection of folks for this panel, as Tunison moderates:
- AJ Daulerio, whose secret is "be a close personal friend of Will Leitch"; no offense to his talent, but come on now: getting handed the keys to Deadspin after your BFF leaves for New York magazine is not a widely replicable strategy.
- Ufford, who did indeed turn himself from a crazy nickname into a professional writer via the dint of hard work.
- Dan Shanoff, whose personal brand got a major kick in the ass from his time as a prominent writer on Page 2 back when Page 2 was relevant, and
- Jimmy Traina, who writes Hot Clicks for SI.
Exactly one of these people—Ufford—did not have a major kick in the ass from an existing brand when they jump started their own, and KSK's close association with Deadspin was maybe a half kick in the ass. (Spain actually would have been a good selection here.)
As per usual, this topic didn't really come off like the title and description intended it. Instead, the highly influential linkers on the panel discussed how to catch their eye and how not to be ignored when you send them your awesome link. Worthwhile discussion despite the bait-and-switch.
Power In Numbers: Content Networks
Burned by the earlier panel without any bloggers on it, I missed most of this one in favor of talking with some folks I knew via their blogs but not personally. I did catch the last 15 minutes or so, which mostly justified my decision to skip the rest. Again, I don't see what the relevance of this is to most in the crowd: sure, it's nice SB Nation and Uproxx have blogs, but either they want you to sign up with them or not. My problems with Bleacher Report are well documented; anyone who's serious about establishing a career for themselves should avoid it like the plague. By posting there you associate yourself with the overall opinion of BR. This is not something you want to do. (This Get The Picture post is fortuitously timed; I wanted to ask the Bleacher Report CEO "do you know that your median post is horrible?")
This would have been much more interesting with a devil's advocate of some sort instead of just five guys who were trying to sell you something. I think certain members of the audience sensed this too, because the first question was a long rambler that boiled down to "don't you people have any souls, man?" It was overheated but I saw where that guy was coming from.
But, right: didn't see this whole thing so I could have missed something enlightening.
Make It Your Job
Clearly the A-1 panel, with Orson—in full WP Mayhew sartorial/drunkenness splendor—and Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski hilariously holding court. There was also some quality thinkin' injected, but it was the hilarity that stood out after a day sorely lacking in it. Also around:
- John Ness of NBC Local and a former boss of mine when we were both at Fanhouse, was an odd inclusion since he's not a writer. He didn't say much, though he was good when he did speak.
- Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead. TBL attracts a large share of the sports blogosphere's catty derision and this panel made it clear why.
- Matt Cerrone of Metsblog; he was overshadowed by the two cards but when he said something it was considered and on point.
The first questions from this panel linger in my mind as emblems of a conference-wide lack of focus on the audience. Paraphrased, they were "what was the thing about your old job you hated most?" and "what's great about being a blogger?" Neither question has anything to do with the process of going from Some Guy On The Internet to a professional writer, and while the guys on the panel eventually roped the discussion around to some useful advice the moderator didn't have much to do with it.
McIntyre is a highly unpopular character in the blogosphere and it's not hard to see why: most of his answers were pure MSM. There was a question about whether the panelists were rooting for a specific outcome or a "good story"—another question that had zero to do with the putative panel topic—and he went right for the cynicism of traffic and pageviews. In a later panel an ESPN reporter cited Deadspin and TBL as things the MSM reads; I think the popularity of TBL is largely because of the site's decidedly newspapery mindset: as many things as possible in as little detail as possible. You could see other people on the panel chafe as he talked.
That only added to the overall entertainment, though. This was engaging, interesting despite the questionable direction provided, and a welcome relief after some soul-deadening previous panels.
Show Me The Money
This was about turning posts into money and was moderated by Mike Hall, a baby-faced guy at NESN running their new media department; he was terrific. His questions were focused and audience-directed. This panel also had one blogger—the guy behind WOO TITS AND SPORTS (NTTAWWT) blog Uncoached—paired with a couple of business-side guys, which provided an interesting mix. Hall delved into specifics, attempting to ferret out a solid number of pageviews that would provide a livable wage. The answer, worked out in detail by Yardbarker CEO Pete Vlastelica, was about a million per month. I can tell you that 1M per month is in the ballpark, but it's at the beans-and-rice-daily end. (MGoBlog is averaging around 2M of late.)
Other parts of the discussion were about how swearing like a sailor makes you tougher to market to some brands, and something called Lijit, which remains mysterious to me. This panel was okay but lacked a discussion of ways to monetize other than the banner ad, save for some comments by Vlastelica about moving display/brand advertising more into content a la Gawker.
I had a side discussion with Bethlehem Shoals about his frustrations trying to monetize his content which would have made for great fodder here; it's not all sunshine and lollipops.
Why We Hate You
This was posed as a rehash of the Buzz Bissinger stuff. The panel was a strange melange, with Hall and Dan Steinberg clearly caught between worlds, and the woman from ESPN whose name escapes me largely silent. Only SI's Jeff Pearlman really took up the MSM flag.
A large portion of this panel was spent explicitly rejecting its premise. Every panelist took time to explain that no, they don't hate blogs or the mainstream media, with Steinberg and Bethlehem Shoals holding forth convincingly on what a stupid conversation it is to have. When the panelists did get into some of the rifts between large institutions and independent mavericks—"blogger" was dismissed as a term of art—Pearlman made a case for the really good reporters who seek out stories instead of following time-worn paths through the season, much of it in response to Wyshynski's earlier assertion that in 20 years bloggers would be the only game in town. He came off very well, and posted on his blog about his appearance.
This was the second-best panel of the day once it got past the disavowal stage.
I find people like Gary Vanyerchuck kind of depressing and tuned him out after he literally said "if you're not spending 20 to 50 times more effort promoting your content than creating it, you're an idiot." For the record, this blog has become a living for yrs truly and what I'm pretty sure is the #1 college football blog of any description with vanishingly little effort applied to marketing the content. His model is not the only model. I don't go in for rah-rah, and I don't want to own a professional sports team.
Suggestions for BWBII, which is in October in Vegas:
Avoid college football season. Because I can't go.
More. I may have tripped a fine line between being honest and being a dick, so to clarify: spectacular win for HHR and something that now has the momentum to self-perpetuate. That's a huge accomplishment.
More bloggin'. It's not a coincidence that the best panels were heavily populated by bloggers and the deadest ones were the province of corporate types. I understand that the corporate sponsors want some face time for their promotional considerations, but full panels of these guys talking adjacent to each other, not to each other, isn't particularly good.
More diverso-bloggin'. There's a huge difference between a blog that covers sports as a whole and one that covers a specific team, but by my count only two team-specific blogs were represented: WhoDeyRevolution and MetsBlog. Both of those inclusions were valuable, and in the future more team-driven sites should be highlighted. It's a totally different world.
More focus. The first panel probably should not have happened at all, as even when it flickered towards interestingness it remained irrelevant. Other panels wandered back and forth with little guidance; sometimes the guidance was an active hindrance to the topic at hand.
If this Lijit guy is going to talk someone should be asking him pointed questions about why a blog should slow its pageloads down and hand over valuable real estate to him. If the corporate types are going to be talking about the shift in media the person moderating the panel should be a blogger trying to figure out why this is relevant to him.
More breaks. People got increasingly antsy as the day dragged on and opportunities to interact with people were limited to lunch (and the afterparty). Everyone took a half-hour afternoon break at some point, which caused several interruptions as panelists asked people to quiet the din in the back.
For The Win. The panelists most full of win:
- Orson Swindle
- Matt Ufford
- Greg Wyshynski
- Dan Steinberg
- Bethlehem Shoals
- Jeff Pearlman
I will forgo a full conference UFR.
Previously: S Vlad Emilien, S Thomas Gordon, CB Justin Turner, CB Adrian Witty, LB Isaiah Bell, LB Mike Jones, LB Brandin Hawthorne, DT Will Campbell, DE Anthony LaLota, DE Craig Roh, OL Michael Schofield, OL Taylor Lewan, OL Quinton Washington, WR Cameron Gordon, WR Je'Ron Stokes, WR Jeremy Gallon, RB Teric Jones, and RB Vincent Smith.
|Youngstown, Ohio - 5'10" 185
|Scout||3*, #49 RB|
|Rivals||4*, #8 all purpose back, #239 overall|
|ESPN||79, #28 RB|
|Others||#95 to Lemming|
|Other Suitors||Pitt, Illinois, WVU|
|Hello: Fitzgerald Toussaint|
|Notes||Youngstown Liberty (Isaiah Bell, Antonio Kinard)|
This might be hard to get your head around after profiles of running backs who run 5'8" and 5'6" in sensible heels, but people think comparative giant Fitzgerald Toussaint—he's 5'10"! Gojira! Run!—is a small, zippy, tiny back. So, yeah, more of that stuff.
Toussaint has advantages over the other two kids in this class other than his spectacular name: he made Rivals top 250 and Lemming's top 100 and ended up a low-ish four star to ESPN. Only Scout remained skeptical. If you run into Scouty.com McScouterson, ask him what's up, because Toussaint's senior year was re-damn-diculous. He ran and ran and ran. By week eight his stats were astounding:
Fitzgerald Toussaint, Youngstown Liberty: Senior RB and Michigan recruit went over 250 yards for the seventh week in a row in a 33-28 win over Hubbard. After generating 16 yards on four carries in the first half, Toussaint erupted for 235 yards in the second half and scored two TDs. He has 1,950 yards in eight games.
Though tougher teams in the last portion of the season and the playoffs reduced Toussaint's torrid pace—he finished with 2,239 yards—he still averaged nearly ten yards a carry and scored a total of 28 touchdowns. Liberty's season ended against spectacularly-named Chagrin Falls, during which game Toussaint was truly shut down for the first time all year with just 21 yards.
The yards he did acquire were often spectacular. Check it:
If you watched that you know he is fast, but confirmation for skeptics versed in the ways of one college-bound guy against future engineers starts… now! JJHuddle's Duane Long:
Sometimes I watch a player and I see another level of speed. That is what I saw the first time I took a look at Toussaint. … He ran a 10.7-second 100-meter time as a freshman. Last year he ran a 10.59 100-meter and clocked a 21.79 200-meter time. That is an entirely different level of speed.
That was going into the year; during it Toussaint won the indoor season's 60 meter dash:
Toussaint, an All-Ohio running back who is headed to the University of Michigan, won the 60-meter dash with a time of 6.96, edging Columbiana junior Nick Melone (7.04), who placed second.
Toussaint's senior year outside started off with a hamstring injury but he managed to win some 100m dashes despite not being 100%. Unfortunately, he didn't get a chance to run at states because of a false start. Without that we might have had a titanic matchup between future Wolverines: junior and WR commit DJ Williamson was the state champion.
ESPN says he "might be a national sleeper at the position," but refrained from rating him higher than they did because of issues with his level of competition. (Liberty plays in one of the smaller Ohio divisions and in an area of the state that's not exactly loaded at that level.) Tantalizing specifics:
Runs patiently with good vision through the hole. Excels as a zone runner with his ability to stretch it east-west with great lateral quickness and avoid the initial penetration. Can sharply cut it back against the grain or turn the corner and separate from defenders with a great second gear, acceleration and top-end speed. Very shifty through traffic. Runs low to the ground, with excellent body control allowing him to slide through small run creases without losing much in transition. Very dangerous when he gets in space with his elusiveness.
Their main complaint is a tendency to dance around, which directly contradicts what you see above so like WTF. I don't know. As per usual, the scouting report highly recommends Toussaint land in a spread offense that can deploy his open-field elusiveness to devastating effect: check.
Other scouting reports and/or tantalizing coach quotes are surprisingly sparse. Rodriguez on Toussaint:
"We thought he was one of if not the best back in the state of Ohio last year. … he’s got all the things we want in a running back."
And this opposing coach offered an opinion after Toussaint shredded his team at the beginning of his junior year:
Friday night, the Struthers head coach had a similar feeling after watching Liberty junior Fitzgerald Toussaint juke, jive, spin and accelerate past his team — sometimes breaking a few tackles along the way — on his way to 239 yards and four touchdowns.
"He's a special back," said Saunders after his team's 43-22 road loss to the Leopards. "I don't know that he's quite at that [Wells'] level, but he's the best I've seen in awhile."
It wasn't all flowers and 90-yard touchdowns for Toussaint, though. His dad—also named Fitzgerald Toussaint—ended up in jail after stabbing his ex-wife's boyfriend… at a football scrimmage. Nasty business.
WARNING! Like Jeremy Gallon, rumors have been swirling about Toussaint's grades, and not "wow, did you hear Fitzgerald Toussaint has a 3.9?" The latest completely unsupported speculation is like the tiny amount of data we have on Gallon: it's looking like he will probably make it, but don't bet the farm.
Etc.: Various pictures.
Why Steve Slaton? Toussaint is a fast 5'10" slasher with the speed to take it the distance who will be deployed in the spread 'n' shred. Slaton, a universal three-star who had his Maryland offer yanked, was actually lower rated than Toussaint.
Guru Reliability: Moderate. High profile kid at a relatively easy to project position, but wide spread and no camps/combines.
General Excitement Level: High. While I think Vincent Smith can be a good back in the Michigan offense, Toussaint has the bigger recruiting rep, better track numbers, and heart-stopping highlights; my bet is that he's the most successful tailback out of this class. I love the combination of moves, zone suitability, and flat-out speed cited by ESPN and demonstrated at track meets and football games.
Projection: I hope they don't go Carr here and burn a redshirt for no purpose; Toussaint will be behind the two seniors, Mike Shaw, and possibly Vincent Smith and Mike Cox this fall if for no other reason than inexperience and whatever incremental improvement Michigan might get from running Toussaint out there for a couple dozen carries, or—ugh—special teams duty seems outweighed by the potential of a fifth year.
Past that, he'll be part of an all-out war for the starting job in 2010.
Instead of my content, here's a fun diary I've bumped. Actually, wait, this is extremely painful. Dammit.
Football is such a game of inches. If you could go back in time and gently nudge a single play in Michigan’s favor, which would you choose to change? I’m not talking about randomly adding 7 points to a game, but rather a minor change to an actual play that has a huge effect. This is my list:
10. Michigan v Nebraska, 2005 Alamo Bowl – Steve Breaston is RIGHT THERE and you don’t flip the ball to him? Oh Ecker. I would go back and have you make one little pitch. Although this game had no global impact or anything, it would’ve been nice to beat Nebraska.
9. Michigan v Northwestern, 2000 - Did we really deserve to win this game? Probably not. But we certainly would have but for one little fumble, almost an unforced error by Anthony Thomas (one of my favorite players.) If he just puts both arms on the ball in the waning minutes, Michigan wins an odd Big Ten shootout.
8. Michigan v Michigan State, 1990 – We got jobbed on the 2-pt conversion. If Desmond can hold on for just another .5 seconds, it’s good. This game marks my first sports bet. It, um, wasn’t my last.
7. Michigan v Ohio State, 2006 – How many plays in this game could’ve gotten us a victory? I’ll focus on 2, though both involve the same player, Shawn Crable. Crable had Beanie Wells for a loss in the backfield, and let him get by for 7. Then he gets the infamous penalty on Troy Smith, and if his head were just a few inches lower he’s probably in the clear and we have a shot at the win. This game isn’t on the list as a guaranteed win, but I’d just have liked to see us with the chance at the end. That’s why it isn’t higher.
6. Michigan v Texas, 2005 Rose Bowl – Vince Young loses if Dusty Mangum’s FG attempt is blocked. I forget which defender it was, but one Wolverine was literally an inch or two from blocking it. It certainly appeared to me that if he didn’t touch the football, he felt the breeze on his hand as it went by. Would’ve been nice to have won this one, and we were maybe an inch away.
5. Michigan v ND, 1990 – This game was on ESPN Classic the other day. Michigan was leading by 28-14 in the 4th quarter and driving deep in Irish territory. I’m thinking, how the hell did we lose this game? Then Elvis tossed a bad interception to Michael Stonebreaker, and the rest is history. If that ball is just tipped or dropped, or sails over his head, we kick a FG and win easily. Sigh.
4. Michigan v ND, 1988 – Mike Gillette’s field goal attempt sailed wide by inches. Lou Holtz goes on to win a MNC, and I generally hate life for awhile. This one was personal, though Michigan only lost 2 games (and tied Iowa) and had a great season.
3. Michigan v Appalachian State, 2007 – Shawn Crable, can’t you just block the guy? Seriously? Or Steve Brown, can’t you just tackle the guy in the first quarter? Really? Truth is you could probably pick 10 plays from this game an inch here or there and it goes the other way.
2. Michigan v Iowa, 1985 - If that damn field goal at the end misses, or one Wolverine hand gets on it, chances are Michigan wins a National Championship for Bo a year after going 6-6. Yes, Michigan tied Iowa, but I personally believe that if we’d topped Iowa we’d have beaten Illinois. Just the impact of that game alone warrants being very high on this list, but for me personally, well. We all have that first loss when you’re old enough to know what’s really going on and you’ve developed enough of a passion that it *matters*. This was that game for me personally. It hurt. A lot.
1. Michigan v Colorado, 1994 - I don’t even really have to say which play, do I? It would be nice to avoid sitting there in the stands for a half hour after the game just looking at the crumpled up freebie program and thinking about the meaninglessness of existence. Feel free to share your own, I'm sure I've forgotten a ton. And please let me know if you have a time machine I can borrow.
Wow. Wow. Wow. I was idling along on SI.com doing something, what I can't remember, when an SI Vault link invitingly titled "Herbstreit has Buckeyes Rolling" promised retro lulz given the way Herbstreit's career turned out (0-4-1, all of which losses were entirely his fault… just like Mike Hart). I clicked, and found myself in a gold mine. (Though it was a mistitled one. Herbstreit hardly came in for a mention.)
For one, here's one of the great quotes of the rivalry, one I had no idea about:
Facing fourth-and-goal on the Michigan five with 4:24 remaining and the Wolverines leading 13-6, Ohio State's Kirk Herbstreit threw a scoring pass to Greg Beatty, and the Buckeyes hung on for a 13-13 tie. University president Gordon Gee's jubilant assessment of the stalemate—"This tie is one of our greatest wins ever"—was interpreted as naked relief that he wouldn't have to fire a decent man.
Also, I had no idea how rough Cooper's start was. His first four years he brought home a winning percentage of .600 to go along with an 0-4 record in The Game. Would Rodriguez get that sort of slack these days? (Maybe, since it would mean Michigan would average 9.2 wins over the next three years. Woo for going 3-9 to start.)
And then there's this annoying, deathless meme:
Two things, however, separate this Buckeye squad from Cooper's previous teams: an abundance of speed and an absence of controversy. The ascension of Florida teams has finally convinced Big Ten coaches that the days of pounding the ball behind stegosauruslike offensive linemen are over. "We've begun to realize," says Cooper, "that if we're going to compete with the big boys, we're going to have to recruit speed."
argh. argh argh argh. This is almost 20 years ago! How many times has a spiritual equivalent of the bolded sentence been written? An exhaustive search of everything ever written about sports yields 600 million, or so, all of them trite and dumb.
And this… this I give the title of fakest FAKE 40 of all time:
Even Dan (Big Daddy) Wilkinson, the Buckeyes' 6'5", 305-pound defensive tackle, can motor. Big Daddy ran the 40 in 4.87 three years ago—when he weighed 350.
The hell, I say. The freakin' hell.
And then there's the tenor of the article itself, wherein undefeated Ohio State wonders if its current team "stacks up with Woody's best":
Certainly the defense, which has yet to yield a rushing touchdown, is special. A debating topic among Buckeye fans is whether this is the best Ohio State defense since the '84 unit, which featured Chris Spielman and Pepper Johnson, or since the '73 defense of Bob Brudzinski and Randy Gradishar.
How did this all work out for Ohio State?
Update 5/12: Linked to video of OH OL Christian Pace, OH S Kurtis Drummond and OH RB Andre Givens, articles on IL WR Kyle Prater, FL OL Torrian Wilson (second), MN OL Seantrel Henderson, MI LB Daniel Easterly, OH OL commit Christian Pace, DE RB Jamaal Jackson, FL CB Tony Grimes, MI DE Will Gholston, MD RB Zach Zwinak, TX DE Holmes Onwukaife, GA CB Darius Robinson (more, yet more), CA RB Dietrich Riley (second), SC S Bashaud Breeland, FL QB Jeffrey Godfrey, TN QB Barry Brunetti, OH WR commit DJ Williamson, MI LB Daniel Easterly (second), OH TE Alex Smith, OH LB commit Antonio Kinard, MI QB Devin Gardner, MI RB Austin White.
Added OH CB Terry Talbott, FL LB Justin Wilson, OH OL Travis Jackson, OH OL Matt Rotheram.
Editorial Opinion: Recruiting board lives here. This is late and thus even bulkier than normal; there's just a lot more information floating out there these days and it's getting tough to track all this on the regular. In any case…
To the right: OH WR commit DJ (or "Deaver" or "D'Aver"; maybe I'll just call him Deathbacker, too) Williamson winning the Ohio state championship in the 100 M, as a junior. (It was a 10.90 into a headwind.) He's fast. Let's hope he can play football.
More kids Michigan had chucked offers at but had little shot at go off the board; you can observe them above if you care. Only one guy that had come in for any mention around these parts makes an exit, but it's a disappointing and surprising one: the pendulum that is CA RB Brennan Clay committed to Oklahoma over the weekend.
Which WTF? When last we left Clay he had scheduled officials in the fall and was telling Tom this:
TOM: What’s all this I’ve been hearing about you and Michigan?
BRENNAN: There’s been a lot lately. I really like them a lot right now.
That turned into this:
"I kind of misled him earlier in the week," Clay said. "I wanted to make it a full on surprise but I told him I was narrowing decisions down. I think he thought it was going to be a top three, top five kind of deal.
"When I told him I was committing I think he said four or five times how excited he was. I'm pretty sure he has a great feeling going through his spine still."
What about my spine, eh? Doesn't anyone ever think of my spine? Anyway, that was almost immediately followed by Tate Forcier telling his facebook legions to ping Clay on behalf of M, which I'm betting is some sort of NCAA violation.
So… I'm leaving him on the board for now, just because this has the air of something that might be less than permanent, and Clay seems like one of those guys who changes his mind frequently. But even so Michigan's chances went from like 40% to like 2%. Lame!
This seemed inevitable as soon as OH TE Alex Smith took a BBQ visit and started talking about taking stadium tours across the country, and now it is official:
Lakota West High junior TE Alex Smith said this morning, June 9, that he will reopen his recruiting process.
One Cincinnati fan has a This Week In Schadenfreude-worthy response to all that:
Let me remind everybody that this is the same guy who said that he wanted to start a trend of hometown talent staying home and attending UC. And then he goes and commit treason, yea I said it TREASON, it's that serious when Rich Rod the SNAKE has been snaking our recruits from us since BK has gotten hear, the snake got one of our recruits to decommit from us last year right before signing, and then this.
Smith evidently has some interest, but it'll be a while before it's clear how much. A camp visit would be a very good sign.
War on the floor
Camps and combines continue apace, with the Champaign Nike camp of particular interest, as it featured a wide array of targets and commits. Michigan kids were "the story" of the camp according to Bill Kurelic. Amongst them was QB commit Devin Gardner. Various reports on his performance follow. Kurelic:
Gardner started a bit slow, but by the end of the camp was throwing very well. He showed a strong arm throwing the out pattern.
University of Michigan commit Devin Gardner (Inkster, Mich.) is a carbon copy of Bolden in terms of build. He is a tall and intimidating signal-caller who delivers the football to the right spot as the receiver is making his break. He needs to polish his technical skills but is quick and athletic with a strong arm.
This camp also served as the Elite 11 tryout for everyone who showed; Gardner didn't win the MVP, which went to three-star Illinois commit Chandler Whitmer, but if he's even in the ballpark with pro-style guys—and it sounds like he's getting there—when it comes to sitting in the pocket throwing outs that is major win when you put him in a situation where he can kidney-punch linebackers en route to the endzone. Gardner was an Elite 11 ballboy last year; hopefully he gets an invite this year, if only for the instruction.
MI RB Austin White was the RB MVP:
RB, Austin White, 6-0, 189, Livonia (Mich.) Stevenson
White is one of the more versatile 'backs seen on the 2009 NFTC tour to this point. Blessed with a solid 6-foot frame that should be able to easily carry 210-220 pounds in college, White is also light of foot and very smooth with the football in his hands. Is also one of the top pass-catching and route-running backs in the country
Kurelic on White:
White was the top running back at the camp. He flashed his excellent speed, has a powerful looking frame and can catch the ball.
IL WR Kyle Prater also remains very, very good:
He is on the brink of being one of the top skilled athletes in the country. Prater is smooth and fluid in his routes and absolutely towers over the secondary -- standing 6-5. Prater can separate from defensive backs with his quickness and speed. He snags the football out of the air with his long arms and big, soft hands. It was no surprise that Prater made several acrobatic, reach-back receptions during the camp.
Prater named USC, Oklahoma, and Illinois as a top three recently but Gardner's apparently working on him and in other spots he claims no leaders from his group of ten. MI DE Will Gholston also came in for the usual amount of praise. Perhaps more interesting is this bit from Rivals on a guy who stood up to him:
But after the one-on-ones started, the attention quickly turned to the guy who was dominating Gholston in those battles – offensive lineman Connor Kruse of Lowell (Mich.) High.
Not much was known about Kruse heading into the camp – he wasn't even in the Rivals.com recruiting database until just recently – but after handling Gholston in one-on-ones and looking solid in drill work, he's a name to remember.
"I have one offer from Western Michigan," said Kruse, who is 6-4 and 280 pounds. "I'm hoping a camp like this will help get me on the map even more. I wanted to test myself against the best, and [Gholston] was supposed to be the best. I think I handled him quite well. You saw he didn't want anything to do with me when it was time again. He backed away from me."
Oh snap. Might be a guy to watch if he comes to Michigan's camp.
More on a couple other attendees in another section.
Here's a complaint I thought we'd never get around to this recruiting cycle: what's with Michigan not offering a couple of instate prospects? MI DT Jonathan Hankins plays a spot Michigan has few other prospects at, had an Oklahoma offer, and now sports another tres shiny letter:
Detroit Southeastern defensive tackle Johnathon Hankins added an offer from Ohio State recently.
Ohio State now leads, pending some sort of Michigan response. That almost has to come at Michigan's summer camp, doesn't it? Hankins grew up a Michigan fan and a couple of premium insider sorts claim he's highly likely to drop when (if?) he gets that camp offer.
Hankins also showed at that Nike camp:
Hankins is a true power-rusher who is difficult to stalemate. He has a great motor but needs to expand his repertoire of pass-rush techniques.
Apparently the major holdup on Michigan's part is that Hankins is carrying a lot of cheeseburgers around and Michigan would like to see him in better shape before they offer, which is beginning to happen.
Meanwhile, Cass Tech S/LB/maybe DE Daniel Easterly has his own set of swank offers:
Easterly said he landed a scholarship offer from UCLA right before leaving for Illinois, which was offer No. 18. Easterly anticipates offer No. 19 coming soon from Cincinnati. Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Syracuse, Alabama and Kentucky are among the other schools to offer Easterly.
Michigan has yet to join them, possibly because they're not quite sure what you do with a 6'5" 200 pound guy in their new Greg Robinson defense. Right now he's a safety, but many are projecting a move:
Daniel Easterly (Detroit/Cass Tech) played safety during his junior season, and feels that is where he will likely play in college. However, the 6-foot-5 and 200-pound Easterly said some recruiters have mentioned a move to outside linebacker if he gets big enough in the next couple of years. For that to happen, Easterly has a way to go. In shirts and shorts, it was easy to see how lean Easterly is. He is nowhere close to linebacker size at this point.
So. There's all that. Right now Illinois is the tentative favorite:
"I don't have a favorite yet, but I'm starting to look more to Illinois," Easterly said. "I like everything about Illinois. I like the coaching staff and the players. I like how they play. I like how their secondary plays. The coaches have told me I would play safety, or if I get big enough, Will (weak side) linebacker."
Michigan's new 4-3 under protects the WLB and loves LB/safety hybrids so that's where Easterly could fit. He believes an offer will come:
"I plan to go to Michigan and Ohio State's (football) camps," Easterly said. "Dior [Mathis] and I are going to both. Michigan wants me to come to camp, and then they are going to offer."
One to watch as well, mmm. [/yoda]
Hey: This Is Useful
This may be the most interesting and useful recruit evaluation I've seen. It's Rivals AMP on the commitment of OH OL Christian Pace:
"It seems like every play he's putting someone into the ground," says the Rivals guy, and there is plenty more effusive praise for his latest film; the implication is that he's likely to move into the four-star range but for his smallish frame. This limits his pro potential, which Rivals does consider in their rankings.* The overall impression is that despite his limitations, Pace will get a rankings boost in their next re-rank.
One of Rivals' small complaints—Pace's time to field—should be mitigated by his plan to enroll early. More about Pace's ability to turn you into a tulip:
"He enjoys physical play and is a real versatile big, strong kid," Dlugosz said. "He has exceptionally quick feet. … "He finishes his blocks," Dlugosz said. "If he locks on you, he's going to put you into the ground."
I was already enthused about Pace's commitment, and this stuff only heightens it.
*(This, by the way, is something I find totally reasonable. It's a potential sanity check and an excellent metric to use. It does mean that certain systems, like the spread 'n' shred, will find their overall rankings depressed a bit because they prioritize different things than your typical NFL team.)
That Thing No One Believes: Not True!
CA RB/S Dietrich Riley did not commit to Tennessee, not that anyone thought that he had. Guy hasn't even been to UT. Nevertheless, The Smokey Chomp clears this up and offers a tantalizing nublet of information:
Riley, who claims 15 offers but not a top school, says Michigan is recruiting the hardest.
What schools does Riley plan to visit this summer? “Tennessee, so I can meet the new staff and build a relationship with them. Also Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, Florida if they offer, Oklahoma, Alabama, and I plan to attend the USC Rising Stars camp."
Riley's been dynamite at camps…
"He was incredible," Campbell said. "We've seen some great backs this year, guys like Marcus Lattimore, Roy Finch and all the guys at the USC camp but Riley is the best kid I've seen. He's a beast with size, speed and moves and he plays with an edge to him."
…but in protesting his willingness to head out of state he sort of confirms the likelihood he'll stay in state:
"I know right now a lot of people think I'm mainly looking at just USC and UCLA but I'm open to some out of state schools too. I'm going to go through the recruiting process and take my time before I make my decision."
I hold out some moderate hope here; the visit will tell all.
Mr. Henderson has a tentative list:
"Right now it is not official, but I like Minnesota, USC, UCLA, Michigan, Iowa, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Florida State, Florida and LSU. There are some other schools, but that would be my top choices right now."
And he would like you to know, pro-style folk, that he will not be swayed by that pitch:
"I want to know the teams' depth chart and who they have coming in. I want to know if they are going to have a nice quarterback and who else they have on the offensive line. Then just being comfortable around the team and on campus, and finding a school where I can be at for the next four years, or maybe even five. I can play in any offense, and distance from home doesn't really matter."
Etc.: GA CB Darius Robinson is almost definitely headed to Miami; Clemson leads for SC S Bashaud Breeland, another guy high on my list of "recruits who could be from Dune"; FL OL Torrian Wilson drops Tennessee from his top five… in favor of FIU. lolz. DE RB Jamaal Jackson picks up three offers… from I-AA schools. I doubt his offer is "commitable," as they say.
Uh… Kurelic headlines an article "Bucks, Lions to battle for [PA RB/LB Zach] Zwinak" and ends it with "Zwinak does not plan to select a college in the near future and says he has no favorites."
This guy thinks Tennessee will offer and get TN QB Barry Brunetti, who's basically Tajh Boyd. Way to go, Kiffin!
Baseball draftin'. While the Major League Baseball draft isn't a major concern for anyone currently on the team—only Chris Fetter is expected to get drafted, and he's a senior—there are a couple of recruits who will be watching carefully to see where they go:
Derek Dennis, a shortstop from Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central High School, Daniel Fields, an infielder from University of Detroit Jesuit, and Patrick Biondi, a Dearborn Divine Child outfielder, are all potential early-round draft prospects.
Maloney said Baseball America projects Dennis as a third- or fourth-round pick and Fields as a fifth- or sixth-round pick.
Michigan is close to signing Forest Hills shortstop Derek Dennis. Dennis visited this last week, talked with Coach Maloney, Lloyd Carr, John Beilien, and Red Berenson to discuss the benefits of college. The GRP makes it sound like if he’s not taken in the top 3 rounds, he will forgo signing and come to Michigan. This may bode well, as if a team suspects he may not sign, he may get drafted even lower, increasing his odds of coming to Ann Arbor.
Dennis did not go yesterday, when rounds 1-3 were held. Fields, meanwhile, was the subject of an ESPNRise article in May that contains only this about the probability he'll end up on campus:
"He's got the combination of speed and potential power that a lot of people covet," says his father. "The power has to be more consistent, and I think it will be. To me, he's a potential five-tool player."
"He's the whole package," adds Fernandez.
MLB scouts will likely come out in droves this spring to watch Fields, who knows he has another great option -- his scholarship to Michigan -- in case the draft doesn't work out.
I didn't find anything on Biondi.
Zonin' it. Florida State, now possessors of former Rodriguez offensive line coach Rick Trickett, is something of a funhouse mirror via which we can discern things in the Michigan program. Trickett's installed the same sort of zone blocking Michigan has, and this has led to a fantastic post at Tomahawk Nation about the system. My favorite bits are the ones where TN transcribes a video of Alex Gibbs, the longtime Broncos guru and a guy who had major influence on zone running games across the country, including the spread 'n' shred:
Above all, we want guys who want play so bad they could die. We want guys who can run, who are athletic, who have "recoverability", but who maybe lacks bulk and strength. Maybe doesn't know what his body is about yet. We want guys who are going to take advantage of that redshirt year.
TACKLES: Tall, length, maybe no basic strength, but he can run, and we're willing to let him add that power. 6'5 1/2" is usually the max we want.
GUARDS & CENTERS: height and length doesn't mean ****. Marginal height, but plays with great leverage. "LOW WAISTED" (long torso short legs), with leverage under our bodies. Healthier by not being heavy. RARE for them to play early. Nobody over 6'3". My center must be football brilliant.
Very intelligent on the inside. The "test score limit would SCARE YOU."
In here you see the initial seeds of Molk, Omameh, and Huyge's successes, plus the coaching staff's out-and-out glee at picking up 6'3" Quinton Washington. You can also see why maybe Dann O'Neill was buried and why Mr. Plow said "screw you guys, I'm going home." Also of interest: that Christian Pace AMP interview where he came off like a future engineer.
Also note Florida State's heir apparent at running back, Jermaine Thomas. Thomas was a nondescript three-star—though ESPN made googly eyes—with but two major offers (Florida State and LSU). All he did last year was this:
And that's not especially cherry-picked runs against I-AA teams, either: take out Thomas's 18 carries against them and his average drops, sure, but only to 6.2 YPC. His highlight video is strikingly reminiscent of someone you might be familiar with:
That guy is a smaller, possibly faster, version of Brandon Minor down to the upright running style. One cut. Go. Also, check out how many of Thomas' big runs here are outside zones that get, you know, outside. I don't think I saw Michigan pull this off at any point last year. I specifically remember posting UFRs that openly questioned why the fullback always shot outside of a tackle who was getting shoved back to the point where the tailback had no choice but to turn it up between said tackle and Molk's generally-effective reach block. Since I never saw anyone actually get outside the tackle, it seemed like a waste.
I wonder what caused that. There are a number of possibilities:
- The tackles weren't that good.
- Molk's youth and lack of strength made it tough for him to anchor and dangerous for the tackle to hold his ground lest the holes evaporate entirely.
- Opposing teams, confident in their ability to avoid second-level blocks from Michigan's ponderous guards, sold out to stop players from getting outside.
The answer was probably some mix of the three.
Truth is, almost every program has at least a dozen secondary violations a year. Until recently, they almost never made news.
Uh… maybe if Feldman is talking about entire athletic departments, and even that's a stretch. To suggest the Keystone Kiffins are anywhere near an NCAA median—or even under it—is wrong:
Of the 21 NCAA recruiting violations committed by Big Ten schools during the 2007-08 year, Ohio State committed more than half with 13.
Big Ten teams not named Ohio State averaged 0.8 secondary recruiting violations last year… for their entire athletic department. Even violation-happy Ohio State had only four fey self-applied wrist taps given to the football team, which is two fewer than Tennessee has racked up in six months.
How much does this matter? In no way whatsoever, apparently. But let's not pretend that this is some sort of media explosion over nothing*: Kiffin is racking up secondary violations at a rapid pace, and the reason they're so much more visible than the others are is that other secondary violations are things like "accidentally talked to recruit on Shrove Tuesday." Kiffin's blunders are far stupider, and far more public.
*(WE GET IT, Clay Travis. The SEC is going to dominate everything forever and everything that happens is evidence of this.)
Mike Spath posted that Lucas Lessio, a first-round pick in the OHL Draft, may become a Wolverine. He would then play at St. Mike's (The school that produced Caporusso, Cogliano, and Burlon) next season. His source told him that Lessio would be the best player to come to Michigan out of Ontario in the last decade (which includes the names listed above as well as Mike Cammalleri). Lofty praise. He's been compared to Rick Nash in the past, according to that thread.
Holy hotpants. Please get to campus, everyone.
Tim also has a complaint about the home schedule, which finishes up with a Thursday night game against new power Notre Dame, but a commenter corrects him:
Spring break doesn't start until Feb. 27 or something like that next year, so thankfully students will actually get to be there for senior day. I'm assuming that is part of the reason why the game is on a Thursday.
If so, this is a fantastic move by the AD. Most previous senior days have been over breaks, which has been an enormous missed opportunity. Having a full-fledged home crowd for what could be a CCHA-title deciding game also seems like a good idea.
It will continue. Michigan's basketball scheduling looks like it will remain shiny as long as Beilein's around:
"When you have a situation like we're in right now when you have an (experienced) team coming back, I wanted to get my arms around this thing," coach John Beilein said. "We wanted to have enough games so we can have enough games in this (Crisler) arena. At the same time, when you've got a team coming off the NCAA tournament and a lot of people back, that's the time to go after it."
Adding Kansas to the mix may be the most intriguing element.
"I always would like to have one really marquee big-time team coming here," Beilein said.