B1G, if true
|Lexington, Ohio - 5'10" 165
|Scout||3*, #35 CB|
|ESPN||73, #94 CB|
|Other Suitors||Stanford, Louisville, Vanderbilt|
When you need a fawning quote about the newest commitment or signee, no matter how obscure, the kid's high school coach is the #1 source. I've read hundreds of these things, but I've never seen anything quite like this:
“He’s the type of kid that if he wants to be president of the United States one day, he will be. I got two compliments I could give him. That’s the first, and the second is if my daughter was 18, she could date him."
That's Lexington High coach BJ Payne on star quarterback and corner Courtney Avery.
Avery was the first cornerback Michigan picked up in the class, receiving an offer after showing up and dominating Michigan's summer camp. Payne again:
"He had a phenomenal workout at Michigan, which is exactly what we expected of him," Payne said. "He was the top defensive back there and he performed as such."
Shortly afterward Avery switched his Stanford commitment to Michigan, ensuring one Wolverine coed a gentleman suitor in the near future.
Unfortunately, the local paper is one of many under the misapprehension that locking your archives behind a paywall will do anything other than annoy bloggers so Avery's high school exploits are a bit foggy. We do know he was an explosive full-time quarterback as a freshman and sophomore before starting both ways as an upperclassman. He started every game of his high school career he was healthy for, and his TD-INT ratio was something any of Michigan's QBs would aspire to:
Courtney Avery, QB, Lexington - Four-year starter and Michigan commit is as good an athlete as we'll see at any level. He threw 26 TD and just 3 INT last year.
That goes double for his completion percentage as a junior:
A starter at quarterback since his freshman year, Avery completed 73 percent of his passes during the regular season (122-for-166) for 2,095 yards, 21 touchdowns and one interception and was the Ohio Cardinal Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Too bad he's not 6'3". Avery also runs track and was the star of Lexington's basketball team. Too bad he's not 6'10". Avery wasn't too shabby as as a defensive back, either, finishing his career with seventeen interceptions and being named first-team All Ohio last year. He did this despite an ankle injury that limited him in a few games and forced him to miss a couple others. By season's end he was a player who had "battled injuries all season."
Scouting Avery might as well start with another ridiculous quote from his coach. Payne's in the tank for this kid to the point where his praise can't be taken seriously. I mean:
“He a true cover corner,” Payne said. “He’s a Deion (Sanders)-type corner. He’ll lock you down. And he’ll come up and hit. He thinks he’s 6-3, 220. We had to tell him, hey, tone it down a little bit because he was our quarterback, too.”
He's like Deion Sanders, except an awesome hitter. All right, then. Does he also peel garlic?
Payne does claim that Avery is the best athlete and football player he's ever gotten his hands on, which means something since Payne coached former Ohio State receiver and current Miami Dolphin Brian Hartline. Hartline was a productive starter at OSU and a fourth round draft pick; if Michigan gets that sort of production out of an anonymous three star that's a major win.
Hartline has the advantage of being 6'2", though. Avery doesn't. He's 5'9", although that seems like an actual 5'9" and not a fanciful Cass Tech 5'9". Even so, the common thread in scouting reports is "this guy is good, but tiny." Scout's evaluation:
A good football player who possesses above average speed and good quickness and agility. Is smart and understands the game. Picks up quickly on routes and has the athletic tools to close on plays. He does not have prototypical size, but is able to play up on the line. He is a well built kid, but is not real tall.
FWIW, Scout was much higher on Avery than other sites. When he switched his commitment to Michigan he was on the fringe of four stars, and though he's slid because of the ankle he's still fairly close.
ESPN's evaluation is surprisingly positive for a guy they give a MAC-like 73:
Avery is an exceptional athlete that his only limited by his physical size. He is light weight but has very good speed and excellent quickness. … Has good hips and can turn and change direction without any loss of balance or control. Shows the ability to play man to man coverage as a corner and can run stride for stride with the wideout on the takeoff route. Closes quickly on the receiver when playing zone coverage. Displays good tackling abilities but size makes it difficult to really explode through the ball carrier.
As a bonus, longtime Ohio high school football observer and Bucknuts guru Duane Long thought highly of Avery, calling him a "borderline Buckeye caliber recruit." That's pretty good for your fourth cornerback.
Avery's offers are probably not a good barometer of his talent since he committed to Stanford in April of last year, short-circuiting other schools' efforts. At the time of his commitment he had a smattering of offers from MAC-type schools, with Vanderbilt and Louisville coming in after he was supposedly off the market. Just before signing day there were rumors Florida was taking a look after hiring the coach who recruited Avery to Stanford, but those didn't materialize into anything.
Why Grant Mason? I remember Mason being considerably shorter than the six-foot he's listed at in his various NFL bios, just like Avery is considerably shorter than the 5'11" he's credited with on Michigan's official site. Anyway, Mason was a slight cover corner who transferred from Stanford and developed into a fairly decent starter as a senior. He had similar meh recruiting rankings and was also a smart, athletic kid limited by his size. It sounds like Avery may be a better athlete.
"When Courtney started narrowing down his schools, he had Stanford and Michigan and Northwestern and Vanderbilt and Duke. They all are great academic schools," Payne said. "A lot of kids would be glad to have one of those schools interested and Courtney had offers from all of them.
In case you were afraid Rodriguez was restricting his corner recruiting to the juvie halls of America.
Guru Reliability: Low. Avery is a known quantity in high school circles but nowhere did I find any mention of a camp or combine at which recruiting gurus could have been present. Combine that with full-time duties at quarterback and a senior-year ankle injury and it's tough for anyone to project Avery to the other side of the ball.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Avery seems like a better bet than most three stars because he's walking around with whatever the opposite of a red flag is. He's smart, athletic, and has transitioned to corner well. Michigan saw him in a camp setting. His size doesn't seem like a huge problem if he's going to be a cover corner.
Projection: Likely to redshirt since Michigan will have four or five corners in front of him this year. He does need a little more beef than he's got currently. After that, time on special teams and maybe a nickel package or two with an eye towards starting as an upperclassman.
|Winter Haven, Florida - 6'1" 204
|Scout||4*, #18 S|
|Rivals||4*, #20 OLB|
|ESPN||4*, 79, #21 OLB|
|Others||#42 to Lemming. #61 in Florida according to Orlando Sentinel.|
|Other Suitors||Ohio State, USC, Florida, UNC|
|YMRMFSPA||Stevie Brown with more lumber|
|Tom interviews Robinson in 2008. Commitment post.|
|Notes||This MaxPreps video of a game between Lake Region and Frostproof from Robinson's junior year contains multiple "power of Grayskull" references and the line "he had only one thing on his mind… get tackled at the four. So he did."|
Marvin Robinson's almost disturbingly chiseled abs—and the rest of him—could be considered the very last Lloyd Carr recruits. Robinson's been on the Michigan recruitnik's radar since he camped at Michigan as a sophomore and picked up an offer. Publicly enamored since, Robinson withstood a bizarre anti-M campaign (one that included multiple message board postings that were at least slightly unhinged). from his coach, an Ohio State fan*, and picked Michigan early in the recruiting cycle.
Robinson's long status as a Michigan lock and some explosive early hype—Ricardo Miller and Robinson populated top ten lists of Florida underclassmen forever—actually make his above rankings disappointing. He was supposed to be an uber-recruit. It's not hard to see why what with his offer as a 14-year-old from Michigan. A year later he had added offers from Ohio State, Florida, and USC. Zounds.
Early evaluations were similarly tantalizing. Rivals's Barry Every in 2008:
6-2, 205, OLB Eagle Lake (FL) Lake Region 2010
Assets: Has a tremendous burst and excellent ball skills.
What was most impressive at camp: For a guy who is making the change from safety to linebacker, he sure looked a natural.
Areas for improvement: He just needs to get reps at his new position because all the tools are there.
On the Hoof: Has good height, long arms and wide shoulders. Robinson's frame will fill out and enable him to play all three linebacker positions.
Here's another 2008 eval from a camp in which he was named to the Hot 11 while competing against a host of top recruits a year older than him:
6-1, 190, LB Eagle Lake (Fla.) Lake Region
Robinson admits he didn't have the best outing earlier this summer at the USC Rising Star Camp. Along with being injured, he just couldn't get in the zone. But he was there on Sunday, making big play after big play in drills and then in one-on-one battles. He was the one guy who was consistently able to hang with both the physical and speedy backs in the camp.
Those backs included top 100 seniors (and future Robinson foes) Cierre Wood and Edwin Baker. A game eval from his junior season was a little less rapturous but still pretty enthralled:
MARVIN ROBINSON (Jr., Lake Region): I’ve talked to Robinson a lot a over the last few months and his game film is impressive. What’s more impressive is his size and speed. He was bigger than a lot of the lineman on both teams and showed good speed while running downfield on kickoffs. However, he left his feet a lot when going for tackles on smaller guys and relies on a lot of arm tackles. Still, he is a great athlete and saved his team a lot as the last line of his defense.
Even in April of 2009, the reviews coming in were positive:
Defensive Backs Michigan commit Marvin Robinson (Winter Haven, Fla./Lake Region) stood out with the defensive backs. He is a physically imposing and athletic safety prospect. He showed good ball skills and moved well. On film, he displays a good feel for the game. In talking with Robinson after the camp, he said he still wants improve on his ability to read plays. Robinson said he plans to graduate early, and it looks like the Wolverines scored a good one from the Sunshine State.
Naturally, Michigan fans expected that a guy with those early offers and scouting reports would be shoved into national top tens, or at least top 25s, or at least given five stars, or at least put in top 100s or something. This did not happen. As you can see above, the scouting consensus on Robinson is good, not great, and almost frighteningly uniform.
Part of the drop is a re-evaluation when Robinson turned out to be one of those guys who gets big fast then stops growing. Another part of it is the perception that Robinson is a tweener between linebacker and safety. Robinson checked in at the tail end of top 100 lists when they came out. At the time of his commitment he was barely hanging on at #99. He slid in every rankings revision at Rivals until September when he was booted from the top 250 and ceased to exist in the realm of folks whose rankings fluctuate on the regular. Only Tom Lemming kept the faith: Robinson is his #42 player overall.
Why did this happen? Near as I can tell, Robinson showed up at a bunch of camps as a rising senior looking and playing like a linebacker but hanging out amongst the defensive backs. Mike Farrell's take from his appearance at "Gridiron Kings" that summer:
Robinson is bigger than his listed weight of 190 pounds, but he still has the body of a safety and not a linebacker. He's not a quick-twitch athlete, but he still closes well and keeps things in front of him. His coverage skills are OK, but not great, and he didn't stand out much.
Barry Every's version of events from the Tallahassee Nike camp referenced above:
ASSETS: Incredible body structure and very good speed for his size.
AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: Struggles coming out of his breaks and may be better suited as an OLB at the next level. WHAT WAS MOST IMPRESSIVE AT CAMP: Without a doubt the prettiest looking prospect competing in the defensive back group.
CONCLUSION: This Michigan commit will either be a hard-hitting strong safety, or more than likely a super-athletic linebacker with the speed to track down any running back in the Big Ten.
In a separate article for a Georgia site, Every is blunter: "struggles in space and in the backpedal trying to cover receivers." On the other hand, he had "tremendous speed and side to side movement" going forward. Barton Simmons closes out the Rivals skepticism trifecta by saying he looks "unbelievable on the hoof" but "isn't totally comfortable covering receivers on an island." Scout echoes:
Robinson has enough size that some feel he will grow into a LB. His speed would be very attractive there. He is an excellent tackler, particularly in space and he has plus hitting ability. Robinson will need to improve his range to stay at S in college, however he has shown quality instincts and has plenty of athleticism for the position.
So he's a 190-200 pound guy who doesn't seem like a free safety and is somewhat undersized for linebacker. That plus loads of athleticism gets you a solid but unspectacular four-star rating despite a crazy flood of early offers. Fair enough.
Compounding matters was a senior-year injury. Robinson pulled his groin in the second game and missed most of his season. Lake Region was 0-8 and no one was paying attention when he did, so Robinson stayed put in the rankings. Even so, Florida, UNC, and Georgia were still poking around in December (and probably beyond).
Robinson was planning on an early enrollment but couldn't get himself squared away in time for that to happen, leading to scattered rumors he might have some work to do to qualify. Those seem to have been generated by Robinson's creepy Buckeye coach and may or may not have much validity.
*(Whose team went 0-8. Surprise!)
Why Stevie Brown? Brown was a heavily recruited, super-athletic safety recruit who was completely terrible in coverage as a deep safety and was a total bust until he moved into the spur-type role he occupied last year, at which point he became Michigan's third- or fourth-best player on defense. Hopefully Michigan won't make the same mistake here, assuming the gurus are right about Robinson in a deep zone.
Other Guy Named Marvin Robinson: Spirit Bear guide in the super cold parts of Canada.
Etc.: Signing day photo.
Guru Reliability: High. Robinson was a heavily scouted player from midway through his junior year and the guru consensus is almost uncanny.
General Excitement Level: High. I know the sites downgraded him but the main reason they did is it seems like a traditional 4-3 doesn't have a great spot for him. Michigan does, whether it's the spinner position that Stevie Brown occupied last year or a spur/bandit in the 3-3-5.
Projection: Michigan's move to the 3-3-5 seems tailor made for an athletic edge player like Robinson who can take on backs out of the backfield, cover the flats, blitz, and take on blockers. Jordan Kovacs has one of the box safety roles sewed up but with the other currently manned by a rotating combination of Mike Williams, Floyd Simmons, and Thomas Gordon there is an opportunity for Robinson to step directly into the starting lineup. All observers mention Robinson's throbbing, college-ready abs. A redshirt is not necessary and there is an open starting spot that seems tailor made for him. Robinson will feature. Even if he doesn't manage to start against UConn, he will probably work his way onto the field situationally with an eye towards starting by midseason.
More meta UFR stuff. Biological fun fact: because of Chris Chelios, Mike Comrie, and my loose affiliation with the Wings due to a childhood spent in then hockey-free Colorado, I migrated my NHL fandom to the Edmonton Oilers a while back. How's that working out? Just fantastic, thanks.
One of the compensations of following the sort of team that would sign 70-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year deal without giving him a physical is that the blogging community around the team is spectacularly good. I've read Lowetide and MC79 for years and have just stumbled on the SBNation Oilers blog. It has a post called "Groupthink, Confirmation Bias, Hockey Fans And Microstats." I put in in the feed reader three times.
Anyway, here's UFR motivation in a nutshell:
In the world of sports fans, confirmation biases abound. It's impossible for individual fans to record, catalog, process, analyze and interpret the results of hundreds of independent events occurring constantly throughout a game, but it's much easier to pick out those events and sequences of events that support their conclusions. Any hockey fan that has sat silently shaking their head while the crowd piles on an undeserving player recognizes this immediately. It's a powerful psychological force, especially in a setting like sports. Fans can confirm their biases for themselves and immediately fall back on thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of fellow fans to confirm what they already know.
It seems that the Michigan fan's groupthink these days has been pretty accurate. Most of the people who have come in for internet horsewhippings have subsequently fluttered in and out of the lineup (Mike Williams, JT Floyd, Obi Ezeh, Jonas Mouton, Dorrestein/Huyge platoon) or been moved to less terrifying spots for their athleticism (Kovacs). Even so, it's nice to have UFRs around for when it's unjustified, like when Steve Breaston was getting killed for dropping about the same number of balls as any other receiver on the team.
And yes, I will UFR the Ohio State game, probably about a week after spring practice finishes up.
Right, I forgot about the pablum. So Da'Sean Butler suffered an ugly ACL tear in his Final Four game against Duke and then had that uncomfortable moment with Huggins.
But before that he said a bunch of nice things about Beilein:
"Everybody has to buy in, and you have to get the right people," Butler said, referring to Beilein's offense, which requires discipline and precise shooting. "You've got to get the absolute right people for that system, because if you have even one person that doesn't understand or doesn't care to understand, a cancer on the team of some sort, then it can throw everything off, honestly.
"The system works. That's the best system I've ever been part of in my life as far as just running an offense. It suited me so well. I think everybody kind of gets into, you've got to get all these five-star and whatever recruits, and for him, you just need to find the right players who can obviously make shots, but who will work hard. And if you find that right group, and not like prima donnas, it could be a very good system."
I guess that's nice but I bet the "whole lot of nothing" quote Butler dropped a few days ago resulted in a sharp thwack on the head and a reminder to never say anything that could be construed as not wildly positive. On the other hand, Huggins is still running Beilein's 1-3-1 regularly. That does seem meaningful.
Might be time for another "eeee" tag. Yes, more David Brandon hype ahoy:
“I don’t put a disproportionate amount of emphasis on any one year, but clearly this year was a year we hoped for better and certainly lost a little bit of momentum in terms of our improvement,” Brandon said. “But that doesn’t detract from my belief that going forward we can regain that momentum, and our program is going to get bigger and better and stronger when we get those practice facilities in, and we do some things that will afford us to be able to recruit a little more aggressively. It’s going to help both those programs a lot."
He manages to strike a balance between acknowledging things have been disappointing and offer public support of his coaches in response to the machine-gunned "when can we fire this guy?" questions he appears to field 24/7.
That comes from an article that focuses on the future of the basketball program with a couple of Brandon quotes that give an indication of what the U has planned for Crisler:
“We need wider concourses, we need more restrooms, we need better amenities in terms of food service and service opportunities for our fans,” Brandon said. “We need to re-seat the bowl, think differently about the kind of seating that we use and probably put in some kind of club-seating opportunities to give special experiences to people who are willing to take advantage of those.
“Probably come up with a different game plan as to where we put the media and just how we professionalize that arena.”
Emphasis mine. That sort of talk would be an anethma about Michigan Stadium—though it is basically undergoing the same process—but is welcome in reference to Crisler, which is what you'd get if you took Joe Louis Arena and turned off half the lights. If Brandon can fulfill his goal of having the broadcaster who declared Crisler one of the worst in the country return to eat crow*, Michigan's facilities renovations will be essentially complete. The last thing to do would be another Yost renovation that brought in video boards and some other things.
*(This has to be Bilas, right? I imagine this happened during one of his many defenses of Tommy Amaker.)
This was a Malcolm in the Middle plot. MVictors has detailed Michigan's tumultuous 1909 on his blog and in HTTV, and now we have a postscript thanks to mgouser and extremely unusual person Alaska Hokie. Michigan QB Joy Miller was the Demar Dorsey of his day, except with academic laziness (the classes: he had none) substituting for juvenile robberies. He was eventually booted from the team and ended up cleaning pots for a horrible woman in Alaska. Or something close to that:
QUARTER BACK LOSES HIS MIND
Famous Football Player on the Wolverine Team is Located at Walla Walla Working as Laborer.
HIS MIND IS TOTAL BLANK
Disappeared Months Ago From His Home and All Trace of Him Has Up to the Present Been Lost.
WALLA WALLA, March 19.—James Miller, the famous quarterback of the Michigan team last year, who has been missing from his home for several months, was located in this city yesterday working as a laborer. His mind is a total blank and he is quite unable to recognize his friends. He was elected to the captaincy of the Wolverine team for next season.
The end. It was Washington, but same difference.
Man-for-man, his isn't the most talented offense in the conference, but given the close-to-the-sweatervest approach at Ohio State and widespread inexperience at Penn State, I'd put my money on MSU leading the conference in scoring at a little over 30 points per game. Just like last year, though, part of that will be out of necessity, to overcome the growing pains of a pair of new and/or ineffective cornerbacks, specifically, and a back seven in general that just doesn't have the horses to seriously contend for the conference title or one of the floating BCS slots. Assuming the offensive line holds up, though, the passing game will have a few eye-popping afternoons, and a Gator or Outback Bowl bid likely awaits after a borderline top-25 finish in the neighborhood of 8-4.
That is not within a game or two of .500, which will be its undoing. Spartan .500 gravity is one of the universe's most powerful forces.
Etc.: Devin Gardner is walking around campus in a sling. He's still practicing, though. Canadian hockey writer/broadcaster person Bob McKenzie sent his son to St. Lawrence to play college hockey. The younger McKenzie has just played out his eligibility, causing the elder to post on his experience with college hockey. Browser-crippling version of Inside Michigan Football #3 up.
The Michigan Men's Lacrosse team took on a pair of in-state (and in-conference) opponents this weekend, squaring off against Western Michigan Friday night, and Central Michigan on Saturday. As is often the case against weaker opposition, the Wolverines took no prisoners, pounding both teams. I was only able to make it to Friday's game, the that report will be in a little more detail.
In front of a packed house at Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, the Wolverines struggled to start the game. Though they finished the first quarter with a 7-3 lead, expectations are a bit higher against lower-tier CCLA squads. Michigan responded with a strong second quarter, outscoring the Broncos 11-1, while taking 11 shots to the Broncos' 3, winning 10 of 12 faceoffs, and holding Western to 3/7 on clears.
Freshman goalie Conor McGee took over for Mark Stone after the break, but the second half was no different, as Michigan continued to dominate, putting up 11 goals, while holding Western Michigan to just one - the first score of the half. The half was not as high-scoring as the first two quarters, as Michigan was content to keep the Broncos from scoring, and dominate possession of the ball - as well as try a number of behind-the-back passes and shots.
As should be the case with such a dominant performance, there were a number of statistical firsts and season-highs. Freshmen Sean Sutton and Joe Hrusovsky each recorded their first career goals in Michigan uniforms, while their classmate Thomas Paras collected career-highs in points (11) and goals (6). Senior attack Josh Ein set a career high in points with eight, as did midfielder Jamie Goldeberg, with with five.
Also the Wolverines did the old man-up-hidden-ball trick to score. Twice.
On Saturday night, the Wolverines made for their slow Friday opening frame by blitzing Central Michigan with seven goals in the first seven minutes, fueling a 19-1 blowout over the Chippewas. Junior goaltender Andrew Fowler got the start in net (more on the goalies later), yielding to McGee for the fourth quarter.
Trevor Yealy (pictured at right) notched one assist to go along with seven goals, giving him an even 200 scores for his career after the weekend. Joey Hrusovsky scored for the second consecutive game, and his big bro Anthony tied his career high with three assists.
The Wolverines dominated statistically, winning 22 of 24 faceoffs (including a perfect 8-for-8 by Edward Ernst), taking more than four times as many shots as Central, collecting a 62 to 29 advantage in Ground Balls, and riding the Chips to a dismal 8-20 success rate on clears.
It's always nice to see the team dominate a pair of lesser opponents, not only because that's what a squad of this caliber should do, but also because it gives young guys a chance to step up and show their stuff. With Michael Bartomioli and Clark McIntyre out injured, some youngsters were going to get a chance to prove themselves either way, but improving the depth by giving bench players some experience is always a positive.
While talking about young guys, I'd better point out that Thomas Paras looks like he's going to be a special player. just a freshman, he is a huge threat to score at any time, and he's significantly more likely than other attackmen to rack up big assist numbers as well. When Michigan returns to full strength, the number of offensive options will be astounding.
As for the goalies, I'm still a little confused as to what to rotation is. Andrew Fowler seemed like the better goaltender last year until he suffered a foot injury midway through the season (though he would come back healthy by the end of the year). That confidence was shared by the coaches, as he went wire-to-wire in the National Championship game, despite a poor first half. This year, Mark Stone is the clear #1, and I'm not sure if it's because Fowler regressed, Stone improved, or some combination of the two.
Next weekend, the Wolverines hit the road (as they've been doing a ton this year, with only four home games out of a 13-game schedule) to take on Colorado and Colorado State. Colorado is pretty bad this year, but a win over the Wolverines could spark a run to salvage their season. With #2 Chapman falling to Oregon, Colorado State will likely be the #2 team in the country going into this weekend, for a huge #1 v. #2 matchup in Fort Collins.
I'll preview both teams in more depth in a diary later this week.
Michigan went into Bloomington this weekend for a three game set to open conference play. The first two games were high intensity with plenty of drama, the last game was a huge let down. Despite that let down, Michigan currently sits tied for first place with 4 other Big Ten teams as we emerge 2-1 on the weekend. That's more important than how badly the team face planted on Sunday.
So for full recap, take the jump. My thoughts on the series come after the individual game recaps.
Wincingly offtopic offseason stuff is go.
Smart Football picked up on a meme from an economics blog and a couple people have asked me to participate, so here goes. It''s a list of the ten books that have "influenced you most," end of explanation. This is my best guess:
Within the last week a friend of mine mentioned he had dug back in the MGoBlog archives for some reason or another and told me that my writing was way less like DFW's than it used to be. It's mandatory, then, that this is at the top of the list.
Not that it could have been anything else. There's something in the final line of "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley" that sticks with me. The essay is a ramble through DFW's childhood as a near-great juniors tennis player that ends with an incident where he and another local junior who would go on to greater heights are caught in a freak tornado that hurls them into the fence around the court so hard they leave "two body-shaped indentations like in cartoons where the guy's face makes a cast in the skillet that hit him." This event is documented in a sentence hundreds of words long and followed by
Antitoi's tennis continued to improve after that, but mine didn't.
The end. Outside its natural habitat, that sentence is flat enough to be worthy of Hemingway. As the culmination of DFW's dense rainforest of prose, it is a powerful coda. I think I think good writing is something that can take a sentence like that and turn it into something heart-stopping, and the trace of it runs through most of my columns.
Add in a world-realigning essay on what a world-class athlete is titled "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness*" that's a major reason I think football is a legitimate degree program and Marques Slocum is kind of a tragic figure despite everything and DFW in a tuxedo t-shirt secretly agreeing that caviar is blucky and there you go.
Let this stand for the rest of Wallace's work as well. DFW's essay on grammar isn't collected in this book but when a reader wanted to break me of my tendency to write singular plurals ending in S without a full possessive (ie, Jones') he pointed out that such things were deployed as "Jones's" in that essay and I immediately followed suit despite my tendency to read that as "keeping up with the Joneseses."
*(Harper's published this as "String Theory," which just goes to show.)
2. Cognition and environment: functioning in an uncertain world, Stephen and Rachel Kaplan.
This is the first of a couple cheats, but I did read it and it was part of a powerful realignment of my brain so here it goes. I graduated with a computer engineering degree in 2001. This was exactly when the Pets.com bubble burst and it seemed like looking for a job was a dumb idea. So I got a master's. In the process I took a couple classes from Stephen Kaplan about mental models, human desires, and accommodating those desires. They were cross-listed under all kinds of departments and I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up.
The classes ended up being tight 15-member groups where there was little in the way of assignments other than reading the coursepack/books and a solitary one-page paper at the end of the class. This paper was supposed to clearly communicate the ideas of the class—all of them—in about 250 words. The first attempt was meh and got a B+. The second one was kept as an example to show other people. It had bullets. It was about practically applying the ideas imparted by the class in life as an engineer.
That's enough, but the ideas of the class that I got my head around the second time are major reasons this blog has attracted the readership it has: people have a natural desire to explore while keeping familiar landmarks in sight. The possibility of the new is balanced with discomfort at being completely at sea. People seek to expand their cognitive ability in controlled bursts, striking a balance between boredom and confusion. People want their actions to have meaning, even if it's just seeing a number go up or down. Etc. I think the things I do are useful things to do largely because of these concepts.
3. The Elements of Style, Strunk and White.
The first of a couple wincingly clichéd entries here, but one that can't denied on the basis of the sentence that should by all rights be its title: "Omit needless words."
I am not a SNOOT. SNOOT is the acronym DFW deploys in the above-referenced grammar piece to indicate someone for whom the subjunctive is Serious Business indeed. (Wire fans should think of the scene early in season five where two grizzled newspaper editors paternally inform a n00b that unless you're talking about an enema it's not people who end up evacuated but buildings. Copy editors not being frequent subjects of dramatists, this is probably the most SNOOTy behavior ever filmed.) It's not really what I do. I write by ear and occasionally have SNOOTs show up in my own comments to declare that my "were" should have been a "was" or vice versa. All I know about the subjunctive is it makes Spanish verbs hard to conjugate after a "porque."
But I have also edited a metric ton of content over the past decade whether it was at the helm of the Every Three Weekly or editing Hail To The Victors or various guest posters/contributors here. And 90% of what I do is hack out useless clauses, rephrase unnecessarily clunky verb phrases, and turn 30 word sentences into 15 word sentences without dropping any meaning. Everyone who's ever written a paper with a page requirement knows the special agony of having nothing to say and a ton of space to say it in. The sentences that result are meandering things that say not very much in a ton of space. That's what 90% of people learn from English classes: how to turn a perfectly respectable sentence into something incomprehensible, cliché-ridden, and three times as long.
As someone who has fought a pitched battle against his tendency to insert "basically," "generally," "essentially," and all manner of other useless adverbs into any sentence that can bear one, "omit needless words" is a clarion call heeded daily. Many people have problems with specific sections of the book—apparently some of the examples lauded as correct are erroneous and vice-versa—but Strunk and White gets the most important thing right in language so clear as to be blinding. It wins.
4. I'm Just Here For The Food, Alton Brown.
Cheat #2. Alton Brown's influence on me has mostly come via Good Eats, but I do have this and his book about gear for your kitchen and his book about baking which has become completely superfluous in the wake of the fiancée's decision to become the Charles Woodson of sourdough bakers. Brown believes that everyone's lives can be improved by wonky discussions of technical topics enlivened with humor. He is basically me transplanted to Georgia and given a different family background.
Upon Further Review owes more to Alton Brown than any other person on the planet. Yes, the number of people who really care enough about marinades to comprehend the chemistry behind osmosis is relatively small, but by God if knowing that Alton Brown has read Harold Magee's book and translated it into cute kids with silly hats or army men isn't the essence of what I do around here I don't know what is. I'm not a football coach; Alton Brown is not a nutritional anthropologist or food chemist. We both stand as intermediaries. We attempt to translate the detailed, jargon-laden life's pursuit of an obsessive into actionable, relatively easy to understand niblets for the dedicated layman. I kind of hope to be the Alton Brown of Michigan football.
Also, Brown's chili is gooooooood.
5. Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
I got on the Pratchett bandwagon faster than most scifi/fantasy dorks on this side of the Atlantic because one of my high school friends had an aunt who worked for a British publishing company and thought he'd like them. She was right, and after he read them he'd pass them to me one at a time. I lost one. It was a disaster.
When not losing the irreplaceable foreign books I was reading them and finding that they perfectly matched my sense of humor. For a six month period everything I wrote had superfluous footnotes. Pratchett's influence on me has become considerably more subtle but remains in the pacing of sentences, word play, and occasional deployment of ironic capitals.
A collection of comics that frequently referenced Ed Meese, Oliver North, Pat Robertson, and Tammy Faye Baker was an odd gift to provide a ten-year-old with no idea who any of those people were, but my dad did it anyway. I must have been a weird ten-year-old. He was right, though, and my copies of that and "Classics of Western Literature," the other Bloom County uber-collection, are hopelessly battered.
Here I should confess that I have directly stolen jokes from Breathed: in a preview last year I said if Michigan lost I would lead a convoy of escapees across the border to Mexico screaming "FOLLOW ME TO FREEDOM." This is almost exactly what Steve Dallas says in a Breathed-written short story titled "The Great LaRouche Toad-Frog Massacree." (If the title does not immediately clarify why I find Bloom County so spectacular, I cannot help you further.)
This is fine because Breathed's retrospective + funny stories book starts off with a Bloom County strip that is a close doppelganger of a Doonesbury, which I never read because it seemed like a version of Bloom County without heart. Great artists steal.
7. Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby.
Wincingly clichéd entry #2, but this is the emo sports memoir to end all emo sports memoirs. If you had three words to describe MGoBlog, could you do better than "emo sports memoir"?
(Five words: "Chart-laden emo sports memoir.")
8. Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky.
Another cheat. I don't actually like this book much because it is a book version of the Clay Shirky essays I have soaked in since I first saw some crazy article about Zipf's law applied to the internet a few years ago. It's boring, but only because I've already absorbed the content so wholly that I take it for granted.
I like to think that I've made approximately correct moves when it comes to the community around here, and Shirky's shaped my thinking about how communities act on the internet so profoundly that it's hard to conceive of an alternative. As the blog has grown I've tried to keep the signal to noise ratio up by erecting ever-greater barriers to participating, organizing content into transitory and relatively permanent sections, and providing feedback mechanisms* for people to invest in. I can't cite the Shirkythoughts that have caused me to take this path, but since 50-80% of what I think about the internet has a basis in what he thinks about the internet, I'm sure most of that is in there somewhere.
*(This bit has been scarily effective. Sometimes when someone does something I feel is detrimental to the tone of the community I sock them with absurd MGoPoint penalties. Not once have I done this and not gotten a complaining email. People joke about redeeming their useless MGoPoints for prizes—usually an invite to the wedding—but there's a bit of truth in their jokes. This is how sketchy Facebook game companies can thrive by selling fictional tractors.)
9. Lapsing into a comma, Bill Walsh
I bought a beard trimmer about a month ago. As I used it for the first time, I thought to myself: "I am no longer a man with a beard. I am a bearded man."
This is a style guide by the copy desk chief of the Washington Post. I bought it of my own volition to use for things other than class. Its purchase was possibly the moment I went from a man who writes to a writer. Though I flagrantly defy some of the book's proclamations—the page I just opened to told me that a single parenthesis after a number is an "illegitimate" mark of punctuation—it did finally get me to hurl periods and commas inside quotation marks no matter how little sense it makes.
10. Football Against the Enemy, Simon Kuper.
I was going to write a book on the World Cup, and soccer in general, as a society-defining cultural phenomenon. It turns out someone had already written that book, and then Franklin Foer had come in and rewritten it almost idea for idea. (Seriously: probably 2/3rds of the chapters in "How Soccer Explains The World" have direct analogues in the earlier Kuper book. Don't take just my word for it.)
Kuper's book shapes my conception of fandom to this day.
BONUS NOVELS I REALLY LIKE BUT HAVEN'T HAD SUCH OBVIOUS EFFECTS ON THIS BLOG
A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M Miller
The Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson
Mason and Dixon, Thomas Pychon (Gravity's Rainbow was too chaotic and meandering for me. I pick the one written in 17th-century dialect because it's more approachable. Also there is a Learned English Dog.)
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
Fiasco, Stanislaw Lem