I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Free Hugs: Not An NCAA Violation
The Washington Post series "First and 17"—following VA WDE Da'Shawn Hand as he goes through his senior year—continues with a look at his first day of school, Woodbridge's second game, and his official visit to Michigan. Watch to see Hand hug seemingly every student and faculty member at Woodbridge, drop a hint about potentially knowing his college destination at lunch*, lay into his teammates (physically and verbally) during practice, help his team to victory, and then discuss his Notre Dame visit. The positive vibes for Michigan continue unabated, and Hand also comes off as a genuinely pleasant and likable guy—as long as you're not facing off against him in a game or loafing on a practice rep, that is.
*If you can't/won't watch the video:
Girl in cafeteria: Do you have any idea?
Girl: For real?
Girl: So you know and you're just not saying it.
Hand: (slight pause) I have an idea about where I'm going.
Yeah, you have permission to feel good about that. Meanwhile, random Woodbridge girl just locked down a job at the recruiting service of her choice, as that's the most telling quote anybody's got from Hand in months.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on the Glenville duo and a wrapup of Michigan commits in action over the weekend.]
Apologies for the lateness and relative brevity; I spent all day dealing with Comcast, whose technician decided it was necessary to shut off my internet while changing out cable boxes, then left for an hour when he realized he had the wrong box—without turning the internet back on. Good times.
I Was Like "Hmmmm" (Whoosh) And I Was Like "BOOM" (Cackles)
The Washington Post series with Da'Shawn Hand has been a great follow for moments like the one featured below, in which Hand picks up some poor running back and just body-slams him into the turf. The header is my best effort at a verbatim quote from Hand when he's interviewed about the play. Yeah, it's impressive:
GIF'd, because this is what I do:
Apologies for the quality; working out the kinks with my screengrab software.
As for recruiting-related info, Hand talked before his visit for UTL II about how his main priority was finding a place where he's comfortable. Steve Lorenz caught up with Hand after the visit, and yes, it sounds like he's pretty comfortable here ($):
Coaches: "That comfort level has been there for a long time. I watched some film with Coach Mattison, but in a lot of ways this visit was the same with the coaches, which is great because I like that coaching staff."
Hand's comfort level with the coaches and the commits is going to be tough to top by Florida and Alabama; his Florida visit will be his first time in Gainesville, and he's been in Ann Arbor more times than he's been to Tuscaloosa and seems to have a better rapport with Michigan's coaching staff.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mark Rosentraub, aka Professor Needs A Raise, is mentioned by name as being "the man". Seriously, get that man a raise.
Hand brought two friends with him: 2015 five-star DT Tim Settle and 2015 four-star OT Matthew Burrell. According to Hand's former coach and current mentor, John Harris, the visit went very well for both junior prospects, per Lorenz ($):
"They both knew this visit was mostly about Da'Shawn," he said. "The coaches sat both of them down and told them they passed the eye test. They said they just want to make sure they have the numbers to back up a potential offer for either player. Michigan has always been honest with Da'Shawn, so it makes it easier for the kids to believe what they're saying. They have learned a lot about recruiting already even though they're pretty young. I think they were too busy enjoying themselves to worry about an offer at this point."
That's an important point, as Michigan hasn't offered either prospect; in Burrell's case because of the numbers crunch at tackle, while with Settle there are rumors of potential grade issues on top of the limited scholarship availability. Despite leaving without an offer, Settle spoke very highly of Michigan in the aftermath of his visit to Sam Webb, and Webb also got a very intriguing quote from Wilton Speight, who spent much of the game chatting up his fellow Virginians ($):
“I really felt that like we made tremendous progress on Tim Settle,” said Speight. “He actually said after the game, ‘I didn’t even have Michigan on my list. I had no idea about any of this up here. Da'Shawn just wanted me to come. Now this is my top school.’ It just made a huge impression on him.”
Settle, who seems to take after his friend Hand in terms of playing his cards close to the vest, wouldn't name any leaders when asked about that by Webb. One would still have to think that Michigan would be among his top schools if they come through with an offer; the same goes for Burrell. Rivals analyst Mike Farrell said much the same in his "Mind of Mike" column, and also gave Michigan a 75% chance of signing Hand ($). Notably, Florida—not Alabama—is the school he gives a 20% chance of pulling the upset.
[Hit THE JUMP for updates/scouting on Noah Furbush, Ian Bunting, Erik Swenson, and Tim Settle.]
Yes, A WOW Experience
— Justin Hilliard (@1Justinhilliard) September 8, 2013
I deign to use Dave Brandon's favorite phrase in any non-sarcastic context; when you've got Beyoncé on the big board introducing the halftime show, Eminem up in the booth, and a record-setting crowd rocking the Big House in a rivalry win, however, it's appropriate, especially when talking about how UTL II came off to a large contingent of high school recruits.
From L to R: Mason Cole, Matthew Burrell, Damien Harris, Tim Settle, Da'Shawn Hand, Wilton Speight, Drake Harris, George Campbell (photo courtesy of reader Canzior)
According to his mentor, five-star WDE Da'Shawn Hand came away very impressed on his official visit, per Scout's Sam Webb ($):
“It went very well,” said Hand’s mentor and former coach John Harris. “The boys got to hang out with (Wilton) Speight after the game. The atmosphere at the game was electric also.”
"The boys" also included 2015 five-star DT Tim Settle and 2015 four-star OL Matthew Burrell. Despite their high ratings, neither holds an offer; if one comes for Burrell, it sounds like Michigan will be at or near the top of his list, per Steve Lorenz ($):
"This was by far the best visit I've been on," Burrell said. "The people, the coaches. It was just a well-rounded visit. I felt like I was on top of the world I was having so much fun and I wasn't even a commitment."
Based on Coach Funk telling Burrell that he "hope[s] that [Burrell] will be a Wolverine," I'm guessing an offer will come sooner or later; Burrell and PA four-star OT Sterling Jenkins are two quality options for what is, for now, Michigan last O-line spot in the '15 class. Thanks to friend of the blog Canzior for sending along several photos from the Virginia crew's trip, including this fantastic shot of Burrell on the field with John Beilein:
Canzior mentioned that a parent of one of the prospects went so far as to say that Ohio State "didn't even compare" to Michigan.
In a late surprise, four recruits from Glenville—2014 ATH Marshon Lattimore, 2014 S Erick Smith, and 2015 WRs Milan Golden and Trevon Story—made the trip to Ann Arbor; their assistant coach, Robert Andrews, told 247's Steve Wiltfong that all four came away very impressed ($):
“Those guys they were blown away by Michigan. Michigan has treated them special. Our kids come from the inner city and a lot of times they lack the little things in life, and people making a big deal about the little things for them, and Michigan makes everything they do big and important.”
Ohio State still has to be considered the favorite to land Lattimore and Smith, though it's unclear if they'll have room to take the latter; if they don't and Michigan does, the Wolverines are in very good position for him.
2014 five-star DL Malik McDowell ended up staying the night after the game—obviously, a positive sign—and his father told Wiltfong that the visit went very well ($):
“I know [staying the night] was a big plus for him,” Greg McDowell, Malik’s father told 247Sports early Sunday afternoon.
“I just got off the phone with him. He said it was crazy in the Big House. It was roaring. He enjoyed the game and everything.”
Michigan top target in the 2015 class, five-star WDE Jashon Cornell, gave quite a lofty comparison when discussing the atmosphere, per TomVH ($):
“We all thought it was crazy that they had Beyonce on the big screen and Eminem and all the famous people. It was like the Super Bowl,” he said. “All the recruits thought it was special, too, because that’s the last time they will play each other there.”
Cornell won't name any leaders but said that the Wolverines "stand up there" to Wiltfong ($). He'll be back in Ann Arbor in November for The Game.
2015 four-star OH LB Justin Hilliard was impressed with the festivities, as you can see at the top of the post, and told Scout's Dave Berk that Michigan is among a group of schools standing out to him early ($):
“Right now programs like Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Ole Miss and some others are sticking out,” said Hilliard. “It’s getting a little overwhelming, but not too much. So I’ll probably be narrowing my list down after my season.
Iowa is also a major factor in his recruitment; his brother, C.J., is committed to their 2014 class.
2015 four-star Cass Tech RB Mike Weber came away from the game with a rediscovered love for Michigan, per Scout's Josh Newkirk ($):
“When I was little I loved Michigan,” Weber said. “Then I still loved Michigan. But when the other guy (Damien Harris) committed, I kind of put my head down towards it. But after I went there last night – it’s back to where it had been when I first even thought about Michigan.
“I know what college is the best fit for me, there is people there. I know I will have to beat them out. I’m not scared of competition.”
If Michigan has room for him, Weber seems like a good possibility to end up in the class.
Per Steve Lorenz, 2016 IL OT Erik Swenson—one of the top prospects in the class and a heavy Michigan lean—had an "insane" time at the game and will be back for the Ohio State game ($). He has no other visits lined up. JPTTA.
Despite the lack of commitments, it's tough to say that last weekend was anything but a roaring success from a football and recruiting standpoint.
[Hit THE JUMP for a roundup of Michigan's commits in high school football action from last weekend.]
Notre Dame Visit Primer
The second interation of Under The Lights should be Michigan's biggest recruiting weekend of the fall. 247's Steve Lorenz was kind enough to give me permission to post his list of visitors($); this doesn't cover every visitor who'll be on campus this weekend (there are many), just the ones I've deemed most important to point out. To make this easier, I'm breaking it up into categories.
Unfortunately, Michael Ferns and Jabrill Peppers can't make it, so Michigan won't have two of their primary commits/recruiters; Wilton Speight will be there, however, as will George "The Mayor" Campbell, Damien Harris, and a host of other Wolverine pledges from both the 2014 and 2015 classes.
2014 Uncommitted Prospects
Just two players fall into this category, and they happen to be the two prospects sitting atop Michigan's board for 2014: Southfield DL Malik McDowell and VA WDE Da'Shawn Hand. The Wolverine's Tim Sullivan caught up with Hand's mentor and former position coach, John Harris, to discuss what the nation's top defensive end will look for on his visit ($):
"[Saturday,] he'll look at how the coaches react if Notre Dame gets an early touchdown. Do they get down on guys or are they encouraging? He'll look at the scheme, but he's already been through that. If you can justify how you can use him in it, he won't say, 'I don't like that front.' Everything is about how he fits into it."
Tell Hand the story of Brendan Gibbons's confidence-fueled rise from beaten-down shank artist to brunette-envisioning record-setter and I think he'll be encouraged by the coaching staff's level of, er, encouragement. Hand himself also spoke with Adam Friedman of Rivals about what he wants to see this weekend ($):
"I just want to go up there and have fun," said the 6-foot-4, 248-pound defensive end. "The first time I was up there it was mainly an academic visit because I met with one of the professors. This is more of a visit to see if I can live there for four or five years. I know that it's not going to be like this weekend every day but at the same time I want to see how it is on game day."
As for McDowell, he told Sam Webb that he won't take any official visits during the season in order to focus on his own football season ($). That means he'll try to cram in five officials between the end of his season (likely November with playoffs included) and whenever he makes his decision; this is just my speculation—I don't see that happening. Regardless, Michigan is still in a very good position for McDowell.
2015 Uncommitted Prospects
Da'Shawn Hand is bringing a pair of very talented friends with him to Michigan: five-star DT Tim Settle and four-star OT Matthew Burrell Jr. will accompany Hand on the trip. While neither of those players currently hold offers, I'd expect both will have them after the weekend; the coaches like to wait until prospects show serious interest before putting offers out there and a visit certainly qualifies. Both Settle and Burrell are top prospects at positions of need who'll be the subject of heated recruiting battles; it's good that Michigan is getting early looks from each of them.
Four-star Saginaw athlete Brian Cole looked to be a strong Michigan lean early; since Michigan State hired Curtis Blackwell, his 7-on-7 coach, the tides have shifted in favor of the Spartans—at least, that's the perception after Cole has been a steady presence in East Lansing. He's visited Michigan several times, as well, and a positive experience this weekend could move the needle once again. Cole is the one 2015 in-state prospect that I think Michigan would do well to haul in; it'd be a real loss if he ended up at State.
A few other notable in-state prospects are scheduled to attend: the Cass Tech duo of RB Mike Weber and DL Joshua Alabi plan to be there along with a few of their 2016 teammtes (CB Lavert Hill, brother of freshman S Delano Hill, as well as linemen Ostell Martin and Michael Onwenu). Detroit King LB Tyriq Thompson, son of former Michigan safety Clarence Thompson, is likely to attend as well.
MN DE Jashon Cornell is the #1 overall 2015 prospect on ESPN and a composite five-star; his visit is particularly interesting given that he comes from a school, Cretin-Derham Hall, that is traditionally a Notre Dame pipeline. Though he boasts offers from across the country, Cornell appears to be looking to stay in the Midwest—he's also got unofficials lined up to Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and—yes—Notre Dame. He took notice when George Campbell committed and The Mayor will surely look to convince Cornell that they should team up in college.
Four-star linebacker Justin Hilliard is a consensus top-three player in Ohio; he's got an extensive list of planned unofficials that includes a return trip to Ann Arbor for The Game. It wouldn't be surprising if his recruitment came down to Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Iowa, where his brother C.J. is 2014 running back commit (lord help him—no, AIRBHG, a different lord ohhhhhh no what have I done).
A couple more potential visitors are AZ ATH Cassius Peat, a 3.5-star OLB/DE-type and the brother of Stanford lineman Andrus, and NY TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr., son of... well, you can probably guess. Peat has an early Michigan State offer and enjoyed a summer visit to Ann Arbor; Wheatley already has a Michigan offer and looks like a strong candidate to end up in the class at some point.
LA four-star DT TD Moton is also a potential visitor, though there's a hurdle to clear here:
— Tim Sullivan (@TimS_Wolverine) September 5, 2013
Stay strong, Mr. Moton.
2016 Uncommitted Prospects
The one to watch here is IL OT Erik Swenson, whose tone regarding Michigan has been downright rapturous after his previous visits; he may want to take his time with a decision, but sooner or later he's almost guaranteed to end up committing. That will be very good news, since he's one of the top overall prospects in the 2016 class.
Other notable sophomores include Traverse City OL Thiyo Lukusa, who already has a Michigan State offer, and Farmington WR Desmond Fitzpatrick, who has three offers himself (Indiana, Ohio, and Toledo) and has been a consistent presence on campus
There isn't an obvious candidate to commit this weekend with the possible exception of Swenson—interestingly, one of the youngest prospects who'll be in attendance. The two 2014 targets have long maintained that their recruitments will stretch well past this weekend. The 2015 visitors for the most part are either players who should have very competitive recruitments (Settle, Burrell, Cornell) or guys Michigan hasn't offered or may not have room to take—Wheatley is an intriguing exception to this rule.
Of course, this was much the same case the last time these two teams played at the Big House, and then Dymonte Thomas shocked Ohio State fans by pledging to the good guys (and, yes, sticking to that commitment) after getting swept up in the excitment of Robinson-to-Roundtree. In what should be another incredible atmosphere on Saturday, who knows what surprises this weekend holds in store?
I should note that 247's Steve Wiltfong has a very informative free overview of what's turning into a big visit weekend across the Big Ten.
[Hit THE JUMP for a couple of Michigan commits getting rankings bumps, highlights of Jashon Cornell in action, the decline of head-to-head recruiting battles between Michigan and Notre Dame, and more.]
Oh, Cool, We Get To Root For The Blue Guys Again
It's a very odd experience to have Cass Tech playing a marquee game and not have several Michigan commits/targets to root for wearing green and white, but that was the case on Friday night when the Technicians—featuring OSU commit Damon Webb and MSU commit Jayru Campbell—took on a Southfield squad starring Michigan pledge Lawrence Marshall and top Wolverine target Malik McDowell. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend due to a family matter (all is well, don't worry), but there was plenty of coverage to round up from Cass Tech's 18-14 victory.
Maize & Blue News has cut-ups of McDowell (#67 in white), who finished with five TFLs in a very impressive performance in his first game for Southfield—an especially good sign given the greatly increased level of competition compared to what he faced in his first three years of high school:
This was Marshall's first game after tragically losing both his father (complications from diabetes) and grandfather (heart attack) within the last two months; TomVH has the full story of Marshall using football as his refuge while going through such a difficult time. Despite those trying circumstances, Marshall had a very impressive game; here's Lorenz on his performance ($):
Marshall was another player who impressed consistently. He still has difficulty disengaging blocks at points, but was very impressive physically and did not look even the slightest bit slower after putting on about 30 pounds since this time last season. He never quits on a play, and made a couple backside pursuit tackles that may have prevented Cass Tech touchdowns. He looked great.
McDowell, meanwhile, earned the nod as top defensive performer of the entire Prep Kickoff Classic from Rivals's Josh Helmholdt ($):
McDowell was named by Rivals.com as one of 10 class of 2014 players who needed to step it up in his senior season, and in the first game he did just that. Detroit Cass Tech fields one of the biggest offensive lines Southfield will see all season and it sent double teams at the 6-foot-7, 290-pound defensive lineman all night long, but it didn't matter. McDowell lived in the Cass Tech backfield, registering five tackles for loss. He was making plays sideline to sideline, showing a great motor.
The major questions surrounding McDowell after three years at Detroit Loyola centered on his motor and whether he could dominate against high-level competition; the early returns on both fronts are obviously quite good. His ability to play both inside and outside on the line could be very valuable if he ends up at Michigan given Greg Mattison's proclivity for moving players around depending on the situation.
Cass Tech's major standout was 2015 RB Mike Weber, who scored two touchdowns and had another brought back due to a penalty. While it's unclear if Michigan will have room for him in their class with Damien Harris already on board, Weber told Scout's Josh Newkirk that he's still got U-M under consideration ($):
While Michigan already has a running back Damien Harris committed in its 2015 class, Weber said he’s still looking at U-M as an option and he isn’t afraid of a little competition in Ann Arbor.
“I’ll go compete anywhere,” Weber said. “If I want to go there and it’s a good fit for me, I don’t care how many running backs go there -- I’m going to try to beat them all out.”
Weber visited for the Central Michigan game and enjoyed seeing several of his former high school teammates on the field, per Steve Lorenz ($). Michigan, Michigan State, and Tennessee are the three schools currently standing out for him; there's a large overlap between his top schools and those of 2015 teammate Joshua Alabi, who told Scout's Mike Wilson that he and Weber share a top two ($):
“Me and Mike, we liked Tennessee,” he said. “That’s our number one, but our number two is both Michigan State, so it’s kind of like even. … We were planning on going to Tennessee’s first night game, so whenever that is.”
Alabi's quotes about the rest of his top five—Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin—indicate that the Wolverines are still under consideration, and may in fact have a good shot if they seriously pursue him:
Michigan: Michigan, that’s a home school. Who wouldn’t want to play for Michigan? If I wind up there, it would be a blessing.”
Michigan State: “With Jayru Campbell, he just committed there so I wouldn’t mind going there with me, Mike and Jayru. We were planning on all going to one school, so that could work out.”
Reading into quotes from high schoolers is a dangerous exercise, but that sure looks to me like Alabi is hoping for a spot to open up. At this point (even with an offer out) I think the coaches are in wait-and-see mode, and Alabi reportedly didn't impress with his play on Friday.
[Hit THE JUMP for the full roundup of Michigan commits in action, including Damien Harris posting mind-blowing numbers, a look at the Rivals250 Watch List for 2015, and more.]
Overkill Is Underrated
You've seen the run. You've seen it twice. You've seen it a thousand times. You've seen the picture pages. Now let's see the analysis; 247's JC Shurburtt gives his take on where Michigan should play cornerback/safety/tailback/receiver/savior Jabrill Peppers, per Steve Lorenz ($):
"We think he's probably as good or better at defensive back, but there aren't a lot of teams that want to test him in that manner, so there's not as big of a sample size," he said. "That doesn't mean he won't turn out to be Patrick Peterson or Jimmy Williams, but those guys are exceptions to the rules and because of the unknown factor, it's hard to project him higher on defense [than running back]. We saw Peterson, for example, in high school cover and cover and cover some more. There was no doubt about it. With Peppers, we just don't know. What does it for me, though, and why I say offense is this- if he's a safety (which I think he will be- and probably one of the best in college football from the moment he steps on the field if that's what happens), then you have to think Michigan will have or can go find other great safeties."
Shurburtt goes on to say that Peppers is a more "electric and dynamic" running back than Derrick Green or De'Veon Smith (no argument here), and that's why the Wolverines should play him on offense—go for the Auburn-under-Borges embarrassment of riches strategy.
I think Shurburtt is hampered here by a lack of knowledge of Michigan's defensive depth chart, as I read the last part of the above blockquote and thought, well, they have these two great running back recruits—and another coming in Damien Harris, an explosive big-play threat—and much less certainty at safety (and corner, as well), so Peppers could help the team out more in the defensive backfield. The difference between Peppers and Green/Smith/Harris is probably not going to be as great as the difference between Peppers and his competition at safety or corner, and that's no knock on Michigan's defensive backs—the talent level at running back is just getting a little ridiculous.
Then there's the fact that an all-world safety—or a lockdown corner—is more rare and valuable than even a great running back, and I think Michigan is doing the right thing by planning to start Peppers on defense. Plus, it's not like they won't let him see a few snaps on offense, not to mention as a returner, and putting the ball in his hands just a few times a game may be enough for him to make the desired impact on the scoreboard while still being a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. I'd rather see him paired with Dymonte Thomas at safety for every defensive snap, or locking down half the field across from Blake Countess or Raymon Taylor or Channing Stribling, than getting 10-15 touches a game in a running back platoon, especially since he should still get his hands on the ball anyway a la Charles Woodson.
Regardless, this is, like, the best of problems. Hoke über alles. Swag Mattison fo' life. Etc.
Speaking of Finding Safeties...
Michigan appears much less likely to do so in the 2014 class after telling PA S Montae Nicholson—long thought to be a very likely candidate to end up in the class—that they're no longer actively recruiting him because (and this part strikes me as odd) injuries have affected the numbers for this class, per The M Block. Unless Courtney Avery's injury is much more serious than expected, or the coaches aren't telling us about a season-ender for another player—even for The Fort, that seems unlikely—then I'm not sure what's really going on, because the current listed injuries shouldn't affect next year's scholarship count.
Sam Webb posted on The Victors Board($) that Michigan hit a numbers crunch, and while they're not currently pursuing Nicholson they're still leaving the door open if the scholarship situation changes—though, given Nicholson's impression that he's essentially being dropped, it could be tough to get back in the race. Webb also debunked a rumor that Nicholson's situation was affected by any changes in 2015 defensive back recruiting; there was a Twitter rumor going around this week that five-star junior corner Minkah Fitzpatrick was transferring to Paramus Catholic, Jabrill Peppers' school—and that was taken as a good sign for Michigan—but that transfer isn't happening.
At this point, it looks like Michigan's 2014 class will wrap up with Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell, and they'll try to grab a safety if another spot opens up or one of those two players goes elsewhere. With Nicholson looking to make an earlier decision, that could mean Michigan's top priorities at safety are now CA ATH JuJu Smith and OH S Erick Smith, who are planning to choose later in the recruiting cycle; by then, Michigan should know if they've got the space to take another defensive back.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Leonard Fournette's official visit plans, game film (finally!) of Freddy Canteen and Brandon Watson, unoffered four-star juniors coming out of the woodwork with plans to visit, and more.]