Columbus (OH) Marion-Franklin WR Jaron Dukes made his first-ever trip to Ann Arbor yesterday for an unofficial visit to his childhood favorite, Michigan. Dukes told me earlier this week that he was "ecstatic" upon receiving his Wolverine offer and "[has] my mind set on where I want to go," but he's heeding the advice of his coaches and parents and making sure to check out not only Michigan, but other schools as well before me makes a commitment. I spoke with Jaron last night when he returned from his visit, and needless to say he enjoyed the trip:
ACE: How'd you enjoy the visit?
JARON: Oh, I loved it. It was the best.
ACE: Do you want to expand on that? Take me through what you saw in Ann Arbor.
JARON: I'll tell you what I saw. I saw a love for Michigan. Everybody I talked to loves the university, loves everything about it. They were a family, you could tell there was a bond everywhere you went, you could just feel it. It was just a great place to be. They took me through the facilities, they showed me the field, academic center, athletic center, I talked to the dean, everything—it was just great.
ACE: Who hosted you on the visit and what coaches were you talking to?
JARON: It was myself, Coach Heck, Coach Montgomery, and another coach, I think he was the linebackers coach.
ACE: What was your impression of the coaching staff?
JARON: (laughs) We were just over there having a good time, laughing and talking, making sure Michigan will be a place that I will be happy at. It was just having a great time getting to know the school and everything, not putting pressure on me, just letting me enjoy seeing the campus and everything for right now.
ACE: What would you say was the high point of the visit? Can you pick out a particular thing that stood out to you?
JARON: Easily. Easily I can say the highest point was me starting from the very top of the tunnel, running down the tunnel, jumping, and just walking out onto the field. I went from the 'M' in the center of the field, to end zone, to end zone, and back to the center, and a tear came down my face.
ACE: Is Michigan a place you could see yourself playing?
JARON: Oh, yes sir.
ACE: I know you didn't want to make a snap decision, a commitment on the visit, but what is it going to take it terms of knowing when you'd like to make a decision? Also, what's it going to take for another school to be able to match what Michigan offers?
JARON: I don't think, well, I don't know. I guess they have to show, they'd have to impress my parents. If my parents are happy, then I'm going to be happy, but as long as I feel I'm safe there, then it'll be OK.
ACE: What did your parents think of the trip?
JARON: My parents really liked it, they loved it. They just want me—and they should—they want me to go around and make sure that I've got everything else out of the way that I want to see. They want me to go around and see what other colleges have to offer. Show me that there's more than just one school out there.
ACE: Do you know what other schools you want to see at this point?
JARON: Yes. I would like to take a trip to Cincinnati, Michigan State, I'd like to go up to West Virginia, maybe Illinois.
ACE: Do you know when you'd want to take those visits and when you'd want to be done with your recruitment, or is that still to be decided?
JARON: That still has to be decided with my parents, and me and my coaches would have to go over it.
I spent the afternoon reading about the careers of Ohio's staff, on the theory that coaching college football is a group endeavor, so Meyer is only as good as they are. This isn't a study of their tendencies or preferences as coaches, just a simple look at their résumés. I also wanted to compare Meyer's staff to Michigan's in terms of how it came to be -- unlike Hoke, Meyer has an extensive coaching tree to draw upon. Did he do so?
Let's begin with Hoke's staff at Michigan. Five coaches came with him from SDSU (Borges, Ferrigno, Hecklinski, Funk, Smith), three of whom have been with him since Ball State. Mattison and Jackson have relationships with him from his time at Michigan. So that's seven of the nine hires with previous experience working with Hoke. Of the remaining two, Mallory is a Bo/Mo Michigan alumni who coached at Ball State (Hoke's alma mater) while Hoke was at Michigan, so I'm going to guess they were not strangers prior to 2011. So that just leaves Montgomery, the youngest and least-experienced member of the staff, as a total newcomer to Hoke's world.
The same cannot be said of Urban Meyer's new staff. There are two carryovers from Florida, one of whom was already in Columbus. The other was a graduate/quality-control assistant at Florida and has never been an actual coach under Meyer, with precious little experience beyond that. None of the rest has any history with Meyer, except for one year in 1986 (more on that later).
Another thing worth pointing out is there are four coordinators, two for defense and two for offense. Maybe this is a way to justify higher salaries, but if not it seems like a recipe for confusion. In both cases, you have a full "coordinator" and then a "co-coordinator." On offense the duties are apparently split between the passing game and the running game. Meyer has brought in two coaches with recent success as offensive coordinators to fill these two positions. On defense, I'm not sure what the split means.
Anyhow, here's the rundown on offense (with links to their official bios):
- Tom Herman. Coordinator/Quarterbacks. 11 years experience. Hired because of Iowa State 2011 and Rice 2008. No history with Meyer.
- Ed Warinner. Co-coordinator/Line. 29 years experience. Hired because of Kansas 2007 (the year they were 12-1). No history with Meyer.
- Tim Hinton. Tight ends/Fullbacks. 31 years experience. Knows Meyer from 1986 Ohio staff (both were graduate assistants) under Earle Bruce. No history with Meyer since then. Has link to Dantonio at Cincinnati.
- Stan Drayton. Running backs. 20 years experience. Running backs coach at Florida (2005-2007, 2010). Drayton was already at Ohio (wide receivers) in 2011.
- Zach Smith. Receivers. 3 years experience. Spent five years as a graduate assistant and quality-control dude at Florida under Meyer. Did a lot of work with the special teams at Florida, so may also have that role here. [Note: He is Earle Bruce's grandson. h/t to elaydin in the comments.]
- Luke Fickell. Coordinator/Linebackers. 14 years experience. No history with Meyer.
- Everett Withers. Co-coordinator/Safeties. Also Assistant head coach. 24 years experience. Comes to Ohio after four years at North Carolina. No history with Meyer.
- Bill Sheridan. Cornerbacks? 31 years experience. Hired later, when Taver Johnson (Cornerbacks) left to follow Paul Haynes to Arkansas. Sheridan has Michigan ties, a graduate assistant 1985-86, linebackers coach 2002, and defensive line coach 2003-2004. He is also Nick Sheridan's father. Knows Warriner from six years together at Army (linebackers and defensive line). His only experience in the secondary seems to be 2001 at Notre Dame, where he coached safeties and special teams. No history with Meyer.
- Mike Vrabel. Line. 1 year experience. 14 years as an NFL player. No history with Meyer. [Note: Vrabel had the linebackers in 2011. Now he moves to the defensive line, replacing Jim Heacock, the defensive line coach since 1996 (also coordinator since 2005). For those keeping score at home, that's fifteen years of continuity up in smoke. h/t to BlueDragon in the comments.]
A few thoughts. One is that it could take a while for this group of coaches to gel. There are not a lot of existing relationships here. There could even be some turnover as things shake out over the next few years. Second, I guess Meyer is in control, so maybe it doesn't matter who his coordinators are, or how many there are. Nonetheless, he seems to have emphasized hiring coaches with significant experience as coordinators, which could cause friction. Third, for what it's worth, there is a stark difference between this situation and Michigan's last year. One of the principal reasons Michigan's 2011 season went so smoothly was because the new staff was able to work together immediately and without rancor. The players pick up on this.
Fourth, you have to wonder about the offense -- you've got three coaches with past ties to Meyer working under the two new offensive co-coordinators, neither of whom has ever worked with Meyer. Here's Meyer on Zach Smith: "He knows my system inside and out and he teaches the system the way I want it to be taught." How will Herman and Warriner, both of whom have had significant success coordinating their own offenses, function in the face of that? It's not quite the same situation, but I can't help thinking of Scott Shafer's year at Michigan.
On defense, it's clear Meyer tried to keep most of the existing staff together, but the loss of Taver Johnson undercuts that plan (especially with regard to Cleveland-area recruiting, or so I hear, not that it matters -- Ohio is Ohio). Now he's just got Fickell and Vrabel from the old staff, both alumni whose only real coaching experience is in Columbus -- what will the dynamic be like between these two hothouse flowers and the other two defensive coaches, both veteran teachers with many stops on their résumés?
Finally, I have to bring up the fact Meyer hired Tim Hinton. Both men were graduate assistants under Earle Bruce at Ohio in 1986. Bruce was fired the next year, before the end of the season in 1987. You have to wonder about that. Do they share some sort of long-simmering sense of injustice? If so, what sort of effect could that have if everything doesn't go perfectly?
Southfield (MI) High School WR Brandon Bean has yet to pull in any Division I offers, but he's been in contact with both in-state powers and several other schools as his recruitment begins to gain steam. The 6'2", 200-pound junior is a Michigan legacy; his father, Vince, played receiver under Bo Schembecher, amassing over 1,500 yards from 1981-84, and Brandon wears the same #25 for Southfield that Vince sported as a Wolverine. The younger Bean has already visited Michigan unofficially for the Nebraska and Ohio State games, and he also took in Michigan State's last-second win over Wisconsin. I had the opportunity to talk to Brandon earlier this week, and he brought me up to date on his recruitment:
ACE: How is everything going with your recruitment, and which teams are going after you the hardest right now?
BRANDON: The recruiting is going pretty well right now. I'm getting a lot of mail from a lot of different schools in a lot of different conferences. Mostly, I've been a lot from Big Ten schools like Michigan and Michigan State—I've been to some of their games, and a couple of Michigan games. I get a lot of mail every day from a lot of people and I keep in touch with a lot of coaches through Facebook, some coaches come to the school. I meet a lot of people and I also keep in touch with some coaches, too.
ACE: Specifically regarding Michigan, who are you in touch with from the school and what's your general impression of Michigan as a school and a program?
BRANDON: I've always loved Michigan, even as a little kid. I've always been familiar with their program and I've been familiar with their facilities as well. I've been talking to a lot of their coaches as well, I've been talking to their receivers coach [Jeff Hecklinski], and I met a lot of coaches this year at games when they invited me down. I got the chance to talk to the offensive coordinator, Al Borges, he came to the school to talk with me, and the receiver coach and the recruiting coach ... I mostly remember talking to Coach Borges when he came to the school.
ACE: What did Coach Borges have to tell you about recruiting you and your possible role as a part of the offense?
BRANDON: He was telling me a lot of good things. He told me he liked my size, he liked my aggressiveness as a receiver going to get the ball, and he started telling me about the future of the program and he thinks I fit in well. That made me feel really special and really good, and it definitely pushed me as being recruited by the school because I got a chance to talk to him, he made me feel like I could be a part of the program. He likes to talk about some of the other recruits and how I fit in well.
ACE: Coming from Southfield, did you grow up as a particular fan of Michigan or Michigan State?
BRANDON: You know, I've always been a fan of Michigan, but I've also been a fan of Michigan State too. My dad played under Bo Schembechler, so I've always grown up watching Michigan play and I've always been dreaming of continuing the legacy of being a Wolverine. I've always had a passion for the Maize and Blue.
ACE: I was going to ask, with your dad playing for Coach Schembechler, does that affect your recruitment at all in terms of where you'd consider going?
BRANDON: As of right now, I'm interested in a lot of schools, a lot of them are saying good things to me, but that definitely helps. I've always said since I was a little kid that I wanted to play in the Big House and everything, so my dad playing there definitely helps me, but I haven't made up my mind about anything.
ACE: Going back to your junior season, how'd everything go for you during the season and what kind of numbers did you put up?
BRANDON: I don't really remember the numbers any more off the top of my head. I have a highlight tape I can send you [see above]—I was all-league, All-OAA. The season went pretty well for me. We had two other D-I recruits that went to different schools, so I had to share the ball with them but overall it was a pretty good season for me. I was happy and I'm definitely excited for my senior year to do bigger and better things.
ACE: Coming from a school where you guys have had some Division I prospects recently, have you been keeping in contact with prospects—I know Ron Thompson was coming out of Southfield—do you talk to those guys at all about what it's like to go through the whole recruiting process?
BRANDON: All the time. Ron [Thompson], Leviticus [Payne], Brandon Watkins, I talk to them a lot. They always give me pointers about what to listen and what to watch for, stuff like that, especially in 7-on-7, can really help me out. Ron, being recruited by Syracuse, being in touch with Coach [Tyrone] Wheatley, I keep in touch with him a lot. I met him through Ron and Coach Wheatley talks to me a lot, we email and I sent him my highlight tape, so he asks for stuff like that. I talk to Coach [Steve] Stripling from Cincinnati. I've actually talked to some great coaches at schools where [my teammates] have already committed to, and also they put me on the map through 7-on-7 and getting in touch with other people that can help me in my recruiting process, too. They always give me pointers and tips and I always listen to them.
ACE: Looking ahead to the summer, do you have any idea in terms of junior days or camps or schools visits that you'd like to go on?
BRANDON: I'm planning on participating in a 7-on-7 team for Maximum Exposure, we're doing a lot traveling—we go to Dallas, we go to Canada, we do a lot of traveling there. We also do some camps locally like Sound Mind Sound Body that I've been participating in, and I'll be doing some other visits to schools when I can get down to junior days, stuff like that, so I can showcase my skills, so I'll definitely be participating in a lot of camps.
ACE: When it comes down to wrapping up your recruitment and making a decision, what are going to be the main factors that you're looking for when you're trying to pick a school?
BRANDON: Before I make a decision I'll just have to take into consideration my future, my major, and that's very important to me. Going to school to play football is definitely a main factor for me, but school is important to me and I always put school first. The other thing is family, I always have to take into consideration what my family thinks and where I'll be happy.
ACE: Any specific timeline for when you'd want to get your recruitment wrapped up, or is that still to be seen?
BRANDON: I don't know. Right now I'm playing basketball. Basketball is going really well for me so I've been doing a lot of stuff, so I don't know when I'll be able to wrap that up, but right now I'm very busy with school and basketball. Then I'm doing track to improve my skills some more, then I'm doing 7-on-7, so I'll definitely be coming across more people, especially through 7-on-7, so I'm not really sure when I'm going to wrap that up.
ACE: To go away from football for a second, what's one thing that you want people to know about you that happens away from the field?
BRANDON: I've always had a great work ethic. I'm a hard worker on and off the field. You can see it through my grades that I'm a hard worker. I'm a Christian. I represent my family, my school, my community, I'm a person who cares about what other people have to think, too. I'm a hard worker and I want people to remember me by that, not just what I did but what I can do.
Tampa (FL) Wharton CB Vernon Hargreaves III is one of the top prospects at any position in the class of 2013, earning five-star status from Rivals (#10 overall), 24/7 (#7), and ESPN along with an early four-star rating from Scout. The Wolverines recently joined Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami (YTM), Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Purdue, South Florida, USC, Vanderbilt, and Virginia in extending the 5'11", 180-pound junior an offer. You can see sophomore highlights of Hargreaves above, and read through my recent conversation with the blue-chip prospect below:
ACE: How is everything going with your recruitment, and which schools are going after you the most right now?
VERNON: It's going good, it's exciting. I got four offers today, which was really exciting, I wasn't expecting them. I'd have to say Florida and USF are recruiting me the hardest.
ACE: Coming from Florida, is there a strong pull from those in-state schools, especially with having your father [USF assistant Vernon Hargreaves Jr.] on the coaching staff at one of them? Is that a big drawing point for you?
VERNON: Not really. I'm looking for a program with a good base, where the coaches aren't constantly leaving. So not really, not for me at least. For some kids it is, but for me I'm just going to take all my visits and see which one I like the best.
ACE: Are there any schools that are standing out as early favorites for you?
VERNON: Not really, because I haven't seen every school. The only schools I've been to are Florida and Florida State, so I can't really say they're my leaders because they're the only schools I've been to.
ACE: Talking about Michigan real quick, which coaches have been in contact with you from Michigan, and what are your impressions of the school and the program?
VERNON: Coach Montgomery called me recently, so I've been talking to him lately. I don't really know much about Michigan, but I know they have a huge stadium, one of the biggest—114,000, something crazy like that. That's always cool.
ACE: Coming in and getting the five-star recognition early and getting all this attention from all these big schools, how do you handle the expectations that come with that and what's it like to get that recognition early on?
VERNON: Football season hasn't started yet so there's not really that much pressure on me yet. I'm just taking it in, watching it happen and just having fun, not getting too stressed about it.
ACE: Going back and talking about your junior year, how'd you feel you performed and what kind of numbers did you put up?
VERNON: I actually got hurt in the summer, I sprained my left ankle, so that set me back, and then I sprained my right ankle, so I was playing crippled basically for the whole year. I think I could've done better this year, but my team made it to the playoffs, and though we lost in the first round it was the first time we've made it in four years, so that was pretty exciting. My numbers, I had 11 touchdowns, two interception and around 67 tackles.
ACE: What would you say are your biggest strengths on the field and what are you trying to work on and improve for your senior year and beyond?
VERNON: I'm trying to get faster. I'm running track right now, because they always say speed kills. I'm also just trying to get stronger, so I'm not getting hurt as much and I can jam people off the ball.
ACE: And what would you say you're best at on the field?
VERNON: I'm probably best at playing man-to-man. That's where I feel like I'm best at.
ACE: Looking ahead to this summer, do you have any junior days in mind for taking visits or are you still trying to figure out a schedule?
VERNON: I'm still trying to figure out a schedule where I can work everybody out. I'm going up to USF this Sunday for a junior day, but that's just right up the street.
ACE: When it comes down to making a decision what are you going to be looking for at a school in terms of what traits are going to draw you in?
VERNON: It would have to be a good environment and a good education, obviously, just like everybody else. Just a good place to be around and where I can be happy for four years.
ACE: Do you have any idea in terms of a timeline, when you'd want to get things wrapped up?
VERNON: Probably a little before signing day. Next year at this time I'll have it all figured out, but I'm not sure. That's just what I'm thinking.
ACE: I see the name 'Freeze' come up as a nickname. How'd you pick that one up?
VERNON: I was playing 7-on-7s and I was at corner, and the other team wasn't throwing my way. I got interviewed after the game and the reporter was like, "Can I call you Freeze," and I said sure. All my teammates heard it and they started making fun of me, so I just went whatever, so it kinda sticks now.
ACE: Going away from the football field, what's one thing about you or something you like to do that has nothing to do with football that you'd like people to know about you?
VERNON: I don't really have any hidden talents or anything, but I play a lot of Xbox. I guess you could say that (laughs).
ACE: What's your favorite game on there?
VERNON: Call of Duty.
Philadelphia (PA) William Penn Charter OT Mike McGlinchey is one of the latest juniors to receive an offer from Michigan, who join Wisconsin, Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Rutgers, and Virginia in extending a scholarship early in the process. McGlinchey is rated as a four-star and the #244 prospect overall on 24/7 and he's a member of the ESPNU 150 Watch List. At 6'8", 285 pounds, he has the prototypical frame for a left tackle, and his recruitment has really picked up in the last couple of weeks. I had the chance to chat briefly with Mike last night:
ACE: How is everything going with your recruitment, and which teams are going after you the hardest right now?
MIKE: Everything has been really exciting, and I have offers from Michigan, Wisconsin, Boston College, Maryland, Rutgers, Duke, and Virginia.
ACE: Any favorites of those teams right now?
MIKE: Yeah I really don't know who is at the top of my list right now. I still have to take the time to think about it and narrow down my choices.
ACE: How do you think you performed in your junior year?
MIKE: I think I performed well. I put a lot of hard work into making sure I do so!
ACE: What would you say are your biggest strengths on the field, and what are you working on to improve for your senior year and beyond?
MIKE: I have a lot of size and strength and quickness and I think I need to sure up my technique.
ACE: Who's your main recruiter at Michigan, and what are your thoughts on the school and the program?
MIKE: Coach Mallory. They are a great program with a huge tradition.
ACE: Any idea what your timeline is for wrapping up your recruitment?
MIKE: I want to be finished with the process by the end of this school year.
*For an explanation of NCAA scoring matches, see Appendix A.
Big Ten play is still over a month away, but plenty has already happened in the 2011-2012 Michigan men's tennis season. Following Saturday's 5-2 win over #32 LSU, the #28 Wolverines are 4-2 on the year. The two 4-3 losses on the year so far were tough matchups against top ranked #10 Duke and #21 Texas Tech.
The last time we saw the Wolverines in action vs. LSU at the Varsity Tennis Center Saturday last, the Wolverines gave up their first doubles point of the year. No. 3 court Petrone/Zhu (both freshmen) fell 3-8, while on No. 2 court, Buzzi/Franks (sophomores) gamely played on after dropping the break, falling 6-8. King/Bernstein (Jr/Soph) rolled 8-3 on No. 1 court. LSU's players served up many lobs on the doubles courts, testing Michigan's deployment of both men beyond the baseline at times.
In singles Michigan players won all but one of their matches. On court 2 Bernstein won a grueling three-set decision, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6. King(1), Petrone(3), and Zhu(4) won their matches easily in two sets. On court 5 Franks had to stay focused at the end but also prevailed in two, 6-4, 7-5.
Implications for Big Ten play and NCAA Championships
In the Big Ten it's all about the fight for second, and Michigan is as competitive as any team in the league. As much as it pains me to say it, this Michigan team will probably not have what it takes to defeat the Ohio State buzzsaw. #3 Ohio is loaded top to bottom like always and will probably overpower Michigan's young team. Even with the somewhat more seasoned teams of a few years back, scoring one or even two points on Ohio represented a fantastic effort on the part of Michigan's players. King, the #6-rated singles player in the nation, defeated two of Ohio's starters at the October Midwest Regional, clipping #2 Blaz Rolo 7-5, 7-5, and #5 Chase Buchanan 5-7, 6-0, 6-3.
Even with King holding down court 1, the rest of the team is very young. King is the only upperclassman on the team. The style of the team has adjusted somewhat with its youth. Power serving is no longer the preferred style of half of the starters, since no one has a dominant or consistent enough power serve. King has the best serve by far on the team. Unfortunately Bernstein and Buzzi have trouble avoiding double faults and hitting their serves at angles designed to force the defenders into difficult shots. True freshmen are playing scored singles matches. The good news is that everyone comes back next year with more experience and weight training. For the moment it's very much a quick-oriented team, much more so than the Maravic-esque long volleys of yesteryear. A smaller team is more vulnerable to being pushed around the court by tall power tennis players. Fortunately LSU did not have the right kind of roster to beat this team. In fact some of their players were serving up multiple double faults even in doubles play.
Michigan will get some nice wins and drop some close calls on the road while looking to extend their six-year NCAA Championships streak. 13-11 qualified the team in 2010-11. Penciling in likely wins covers Hawaii, MSU(terrible), @Minnesota(lost to LSU 4-0), Purdue, Nebraska, Iowa at 10-2. Michigan would need only 3 more wins to match its record from last year. With some decent breaks Michigan can qualify for the NCAA championships for the seventh year.
Appendix A: NCAA Scoring Matches, Odds and Ends
In NCAA men's college tennis serving, there is no such thing as a "let". If the ball hits the net and then falls in the service box, it counts as a legal serve and must be returned. For the most part this inexplicable rule keeps a few net-kissed top-spin shots in bounds but there are occasional inadvertant drop shot "serves" created that amount to free points for the server. So it goes.
Scoring matches (regular season)
Begin with three doubles courts. Each plays a single set to 8 winning by 2 or tiebreaker at 8-8. Whichever school wins 2 out of the 3 doubles matches gets one match point. After a 20-minute break the 6 singles matches begin. Each singles match is worth one match point for the team. Whichever team scores 4 points first wins the match, although 7-0 routs are not uncommon.
Singles matches can be two sets long, two sets with a super-tiebreaker if the game goes to three sets after the outcome of the match has been decided, or three sets if the outcome of the match has not been decided. The sets are played to 6, win by 2, tiebreak at 6-6.
Scoring matches (Tournament)
Same basic structure as regular season scoring matches. However, when two courts from the same team win in doubles, doubles play is over on the spot. This can sometimes cut the third game short. Singles matches are played until one team scores 4 points, at which point all singles matches remaining are called off. The idea is to help preserve the health of the players with an extended four- or five-day tournament schedule.
Appendix B: Chart? Chart! Standings as of February 7, 2012.