"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Wrenches keep getting thrown into the system when it comes to Michigan’s 2014 running back recruiting. Until about two weeks ago it didn’t really look like Michigan had any realistic running back options in the 2014 class, then there appeared to be one, then he recommitted to Cal, and now there could be two and maybe a long-shot third.
On January 3rd Jeff Jones was offered after a stellar performance at the Under Armour game and it was quickly learned that the interest was mutual. He told me that it was a big deal to get the Michigan offer and he was excited to have it. Jones has been on campus before but wasn’t recruited very aggressively immediately following his brief visit to Ann Arbor. I’ve had limited conversation with Jones and he basically just told me that he has to finish all of his visits before he can make a final decision. The good news for Michigan is that he will take his final visit, to Ann Arbor, on January 31st, just five days before signing day. It’s believed that Jones is considering only Michigan, Florida, and the team he’s currently committed to, Minnesota, so with Michigan getting the last crack at him, there’s reason for optimism.
Just two weeks after Jones was offered another name was thrown into the hat when the coaches decided to offer Marlon Mack, coincidentally on the same day he decided to decommit from UCLA.
Jeff Hecklinski was at Mack's house and stayed for about an hour, with that visit culminating with an offer. Mack said that he was feeling Michigan quite a bit after meeting and talking with Coach Heck and news of his decommitment followed later that evening. He obviously has a lot to mull over and didn’t give me much about what he was going to do. He told me that Michigan definitely has a chance but right now he has no leader, no top group, and no timeline for when he’ll make his final decision.
Kalen Ballage is a name that Michigan recruitaholics are very aware of but fell by the wayside after he, somewhat surprisingly, committed to Arizona State on December 11th. I was able to confirm with Ballage today however that Michigan is indeed actively recruiting him again and that he has been in contact with Coach Funk.
Before Ballage committed to ASU he was always a bit tough to read and today was no different. I asked him if he was solid to Arizona State or if he was considering Michigan again and he cryptically said, “I’m not sure right now.” To me that means he’s at least entertaining the idea of reopening his commitment but right now there’s no real reason to think he’ll decommit or flip to Michigan or anyone else for that matter.
I feel confident in saying that Michigan will definitely add a running back to the 2014 class but right now it is very tough to predict who. Jones seems like option #1. He will officially visit Ann Arbor just five days before National Signing Day and that bodes well for the Wolverines but also leaves them little time to deal with surprises.
Mack is likely option #2 if Jones doesn’t pan out although Coach Heck being in his house and offering in person shows a high level of legitimate interest. Neither Jones or Mack was able to specifically tell me if their offers were committable, but with just 18 days until signing day one would assume that they both are. I never thought Michigan had a great chance with Ballage and I still don’t. He doesn’t appear to be solid to Arizona State but I just don’t think Michigan can suddenly become his leader and flip him within the next two weeks.
It’s been tough to get a good grasp on this situation. The vibes I’m getting suggest it’s about 60/40 in favor of Jeff Jones being Michigan's running back of this class, with Mack a possibility to join regardless of that decision, and the most likely to commit if Jones doesn't.
Ht/Wt: 6'1" / 215 lbs.
Location: Martin Luther King High School (2015) – Detroit, MI
Offers: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, NC State, Northwestern, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin
Ranking: ★★★ .8792 (247 Composite)
The Michigan coaches were all over the country today checking in with commits and targets but when the dust settled only one new offer was extended, the recipient being linebacker Tyriq Thompson. The in-state product already held multiple B1G offers including Michigan State, the school most people think could provide the most competition for Michigan to reel in Thompson. In a very mature, politically-correct tone, he had a response for that thought. “I think people must’ve forgotten about Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Pitt and NC State.”
Without being able to see him I’m certain he said it with a grin. Despite his rebuttal, one would think that the chance to play at Michigan carries a little more weight for Thompson. A legacy, his father, Clarence, playing defensive back for the Wolverines in the early 90’s.
Greg Mattison was the coach assigned to visiting Thompson at Detroit King yesterday, and he and Tyriq were able to have the first of likely many in-depth conversations, ultimately leading to the offer. “I’m feeling pretty good about it. I got on the phone with Coach Mattison after he left and he let me know that they really like what I can do on the field and that they want me to come and play linebacker at Michigan.” Tallying 142 tackles as a junior generally pleases a defensive coordinator looking to recruit you. Mattison specifically offered Thompson at the WILL position.
Thompson was able to tackle everything moving during his junior campaign and I asked him about what made him able to rack up such gaudy numbers. “My coaches do a great job with our defense and they put me in a position and expected me to make plays and that’s what I did.” He wasn’t certain but he thought he might’ve tackled more people than anyone in the state of Michigan. “It just might have been the top in the state, I’m not sure. The way I see it though is that I can only get better and I think I can get even more next season.”
As previously mentioned Thompson has a unique connection to Michigan being the son of a former player. I asked him how his dad was feeling after the offer came through and if it would factor into his decision. “I think he’s just proud. He basically just congratulated me. As for him playing there affecting me, not at all. He’s even told me that it’s totally my decision to make and to make the best move for ME.”
With the unique opportunity to look at this from the perspective of a former player, who happens to be the father of an offered prospect, I reached out to Clarence Thompson to get his thoughts. “I think it’s great that he has the opportunity to continue the legacy. Tyriq knows that I’m Maize and Blue through and through, but ultimately he has to make a decision that’s best for him for the following four years.” I also took the opportunity to ask Clarence what stuck with him as a former student-athlete at Michigan that he would promote to any recruit, his son included. “First and foremost the tradition and respect that comes along with being a Michigan football player. The family atmosphere and supportive community is unmatched.” Clarence was proud about where his loyalties lie, but wanted me to stress the fact that Tyriq’s final decision will be his and his alone. You’ve got to respect the informed, fatherly support.
It was very clear that Tyriq and his father have a strong relationship and Clarence has done a good job instilling priorities in his son as evidenced by the factors that will lead to his commitment. “Number one will definitely be education. After that playing time, the bond with the coaches, and the potential to win championships fall in.” Thompson admitted that it will take some time to figure all of those things out. “I can’t really put a timeline on when I’ll commit. I just know I’ll commit when I’m 100% sure about where I want to spend the next four years of my life. As far as my announcement goes I’m not really caught up in the whole, big announcement thing with the hats and stuff.”
Finally, what exactly did Tyriq have to say about that strong relationship with his dad? “Yeah, he’s where I get my cool from.”, followed son-ishly by a laugh.
That last sentence included, there’s a lot to like about Tyriq. He’s a legacy offer which means he understands what it takes to succeed at Michigan. He’s a tackling machine. He’s an in-state kid and gets the passion involved in Michigan’s big games. He has a good head on his shoulders, and fits The Profile(tm) for the kids Coach Hoke recruits. You’d have to think Michigan is in really good shape with him and you know dad is going to be in his ear, but Michigan State offered a long time ago and that always means something to recruits. I picked Michigan for my Crystal Ball prediction with Sparty being the most likely alternative.
Position: Running Back
Ht/Wt: 6'0" / 190 lbs.
Location: Booker High School (2014) – Sarasota, FL
Offers: Ball State, Florida Atlatntic, Florida Intl, Indiana, Iowa State, Marshall, Middle Tenn St, Northern Illinois, Ohio, South Florida, UCLA
Ranking: ★★★ .8365 (247 Composite)
The coaches have made it quite clear that they’d like to take a running back in the 2014 class. Unfortunately every running back they’ve offered is already committed elsewhere. That didn’t stop the coaches from offering Vic Enwere, who ultimately re-committed to California, and Jeff Jones who remains committed to the Golden Gophers but is definitely flirting with other schools, including Michigan. The most recent name to pop up on the RB radar is current UCLA commit Marlon Mack. I posted a forum about him the day Enwere reaffirmed his commitment, but things have advanced even further since then.
With the dead period ending on Tuesday the coaches are wasting no time to strengthen their relationship with Mack. I talked with him Tuesday evening and he informed me that Coach Jeff Hecklinski will be visiting him Thursday. Mack was honest in saying that he really doesn’t know if an offer will come his way or not and he also wasn’t really sure what to expect from Coach Heck’s visit.
Mack has rather impressive film but it was discussed by several commenters on the forum that he might not play the best of competition. He plays at a “big-ish” school in Florida for a team that enjoys moderate success, evidenced by a 7-4 overall record and a 2nd round exit from the Florida state playoffs. Running back is a position where competition level obviously makes a difference in how a player looks on film, but you can’t teach big and fast.
My guess would be that Coach Heck is heading to Florida to get a feel for Marlon and hopefully shoot him straight on what their plans are at the running back position for 2014. It seems pretty easy to figure out that Jeff Jones is the top target right now, but if he decides to honor his pledge to the Golden Gophers or flips to somewhere else, Mack will probably receive an offer. Even though his commitment to UCLA seems to be chinchilla-fur soft at this point, I don’t think an offer from Michigan automatically means a flip is imminent. Coach Heck making that trip to Sarasota does show that the interest is legitimate though. I will attempt to catch up with Marlon after his visit with Coach Heck on Thursday.
Position: Tight End
Ht/Wt/40: 6'6" / 245 lbs. / 4.85
Location: Columbia Central High School – Columbia, TN
Offers: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Louisville, Memphis, Mississippi State, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech
Ranking: ★★★ .8704 (247 Composite)
Coach Nussmeier recruited Jackson Harris while still employed at Alabama, and on his first full day as Michigan’s offensive coordinator he messaged Harris with a simple message: “Go Blue! I’ll be in touch soon.” just to let him know that he’s still a priority. Nussmeier has been recruiting Harris since early fall, has visited Columbia Central multiple times, and he and Harris message back and forth quite a bit. Luckily for Michigan, big-bodied tight ends with a propensity to block work in Ann Arbor just as well as they do in Tuscaloosa.
On film Jackson doesn’t jump off the screen as an elite athlete, but he’s big and strong and drives on his blocks like some elite linemen you watch on film. He doesn’t possess great speed but he seems to have a knack for getting open and catches the ball smoothly. At 6’6”and 245 lbs. he could easily grow into a jumbo tight end, primarily used for blocking, with the ability to catch passes. He also looks pretty good at defensive end for what it’s worth.
Nuss is basically the reason Harris is even considering Michigan. “I hadn’t heard much from Michigan before so they weren’t really on my radar. I haven’t seriously considered them until now. Now that Coach Nuss is there I’m definitely going to look into them quite a bit. I honestly don’t know too much about Michigan so I can’t say too much yet.” Harris really appreciates that Coach Nussmeier thought enough of him to reach out so quickly. “He’s a good guy. He’s pretty straightforward for the most part, he seems all business but I really like him.”
With Jackson now paying attention to Michigan he says that an offer from the Wolverines would be something to take seriously. “Yeah, if they offer I would definitely like to check it out. I’ve heard good things about them and it would be cool to visit.”
Jackson obviously means something to Coach Nussmeier as he wasted no time in reaching out to him. With little attrition and few seniors next season the 2015 class is going to be small, and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. remains the most likely candidate for one obvious tight end spot. If things don’t pan out with Wheatley Jr. or Coach Nuss is given the opportunity to offer another TE, expect Jackson to be at the top of that list.
With the season in the rearview and a new playcaller on the payroll the coaches have wasted no time in putting some new names on the offer board. Five new scholarship offers were extended within the past week, three from the 2015 class and two from 2016. Four of these young men will be recruited primarily by linebackers coach Roy Manning and from all accounts that is a positive thing. I was able to chat with each new offeree about the offer among other things.
Position: Wide Receiver
Ht/Wt: 6'4" / 187 lbs.
Location: Randleman High School (2015) – Randleman, NC
Offers: Clemson, Duke, East Carolina, Georgia Tech, Michigan, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Ranking: ★★★★ .9163 (247 Composite)
If the Michigan coaches had a machine that created wide receivers, one might walk out that looked like Juval Mollette. He’s built a lot like Drake Harris, Csonte’ York, Jaron Dukes, and Moe Ways. At 6’4” he’s your typical long-striding, high-pointing type of receiver. He has good straight line speed but won’t lose anyone in a phone booth. He definitely does know how to use his frame to get position and make catches in traffic.
Coach Manning was the coach to offer the junior over the phone and Juval feels like Michigan is a good offer to add to his list. “My interest in Michigan is pretty high, but I really have the same interest in all of the schools that have offered me at this point.” Growing up in North Carolina, a state without much college football success, Juval didn’t really have a favorite team growing up and admits to not even really watching football until his freshman year. Because of that, and as you might expect he doesn’t know much about Michigan just yet. “I honestly don’t know too much. I know they have a great tradition of winning. I’m sure I’ll start to learn more.” Juval said Coach Manning made it a point to emphasize how important he was and that they don’t offer just anybody.
Based on his lack of interest in watching football and not really being a fan of anyone I’d say his recruitment is wide open. He has a solid offer list already with Michigan and Ohio State being the only non-ACC/SEC teams to show that level of interest. He’s never been to Michigan in any capacity and until he visits I think there’s a low probability of him becoming a Wolverine.
Ht/Wt: 6'0" / 185 lbs.
Location: St. Peters Prep (2015) – Jersey City, NJ
Offers: Alabama, Boston College, UConn, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Mississippi State, Nebraska, North Carolina, NC State, Ohio State, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, South Carolina, Stanford, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wisconsin
Ranking: ★★★★★ .9859 (247 Composite)
Jabrill Peppers 2.0? Like Peppers, Minkah Fitzpatrick hails from New Jersey, plays a myriad of positions, looks far better than almost everyone else on the field, and is just a special athlete. I first made contact with him during my M Block days and honestly wonder why it took so long for the coaches to offer this kid.
From Fitzpatrick himself he says he already draws comparisons to Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and prides himself on his Sherman-like physicality. Completely different from Sherman, Minkah thinks he needs to be more vocal on the field with communication and leadership.
Coach Manning once again was on the job and spoke to Minkah and his coach deciding to extend an offer to play at Michigan. I have heard great things from many recruits about Coach Manning and Minkah was no different. “Yeah I talked to him a lot. he seems like he would be a great leader and a great coach.”
Coach Manning won’t be the only person trying to bring Fitzpatrick to Ann Arbor as the aforementioned Jabrill Peppers reached out to Minkah immediately following his tweet about the Michigan offer.
— Breez (@JabrillPeppers) January 9, 2014
Jabrill and Minkah do have a bit of a relationship, he explained to me with a laugh. “We communicate a little bit but not too often. He’s tried recruiting me before though. I might ask him a few questions about Michigan but that’s about it. Or we’ll see how much he tries to recruit me.” And all Michigan fans rejoice.
With a look at his offer list Fitzpatrick has Michigan among many others to choose from and I asked him how the Maize and Blue stack up against the rest. “It’s a great program and I always liked the way they play. I’m really excited about the offer! I always try and do my research with every school and now that I have an offer I can start learning a lot more.” Part of that learning process will involve a first visit to Ann Arbor that Fitzpatrick hopes to take in the spring.
Fitzpatrick is going to have scads of options to weigh before he makes his decision but he really doesn’t want it to drag out if he can help it. “I would like to get it done before my senior season but if I don’t find the school that fits me best before then, I would probably have to wait until signing day.”
Fitzpatrick seemed genuinely interested in Michigan. He did admit to me that he also likes the Buckeyes quite a bit. I couldn’t help but notice him tweeting about them during their bowl loss. That being said I think Michigan has a real shot with him. He’s going to be able to go wherever he wants but the coaches have done well in New Jersey as of late and with Peppers in his ear that can’t hurt. Coach Manning appears to have made a great early impression and if he makes that visit in the spring I expect Michigan to be in it until the end.
Position: Weakside Defensive End
Ht/Wt: 6'6" / 235 lbs.
Location: West Forsyth High School (2015) – Clemmons, NC
Offers: Clemson, Duke, East Carolina, Florida State, North Carolina, NC State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, West Virginia
Ranking: ★★★★ .9553 (247 Composite)
Born and raised in North Carolina, defensive end Jalen Dalton was a name I was not very familiar with. After seeing his name attached to an offer I watched his film and liked what I saw. He has a fantastic frame for growing into a beast of an edge rusher and uses it to perfection against much lesser competition in high school. Dalton describes himself as a physical, pure pass-rusher with a knack for deflections.
In his area of Winston-Salem he’s often compared to local star Kareem Martin, a first team All-ACC’er that just finished his senior season at North Carolina with 20 TFL and 11 sacks. After looking at Martin a little bit I can definitely see it. Dalton does a lot of things very well for a young pass rusher.
Coach Manning has made another solid impression on a recruit and Dalton couldn’t say enough about him. “My coach called me on my way to school and told me that Michigan had offered. Later that day I had PE so we called Coach Roy and we talked for a little while. He is a good man, really down to Earth. He seems really cool and laid back. That’s what I like in a coach. I really don’t know a lot about Michigan but I know I like Coach Roy.”
Dalton really wants to take a trip to Michigan and hopes to do that as soon as plans can be made. He said he’s big on the “vibes” that he feels when he visits a school. “Schools in my top list just have to give me that good vibe. I’m not sure how my recruitment will really play out but I’m going to start working on a bit of a timeline and ideas for visits soon and might know some by Tuesday.”
Dalton kept things pretty short and sweet but it was clear that Roy Manning did a very good job with him. He seemed to be quite proud about being born and raised in North Carolina which makes me feel like he might be tough to pull away from ACC country, especially when you look at his offer list containing both in-state schools, Clemson, and Florida State. We’ll see just how much magic Coach Manning has as Dalton’s recruitment progresses.
I almost always approve of Michigan following suit when Michigan State and Wisconsin offer offensive linemen and that’s exactly the case with in-state product Thiyo Lukusa. At 6’6” and 310 lbs. he figures to be a future tackle prospect and has performed well in that arena at several camps to date.
Lukusa has been open about how much he wanted an offer from the Wolverines, telling me that it was indeed a big time offer for him. He was informed of his offer by a phone call from Coach Hoke and almost all of the rest of the staff.
He wouldn’t call Michigan his leader but he did say, “they’re at the top though.” To me that sounds like the same thing, but I digress. I mentioned to him that 100% of the Crystal Ball picks at 247 think he’s a future Wolverine and he responded with, “MSU had a great season though, so I can’t say anything.” Seconds later he admitted to growing up a huge Michigan fan, “for sure!”. He said growing up a big Michigan fan will factor in to his decision….but not as much as roses. “Roses smell so good.”
I am 99.9% sure this will be a Wolverine/Sparty battle all the way. He’s got just the four offers right now but the way he spoke about both in-state schools it just seemed obvious at this early stage of his recruitment. Michigan State’s on-field success has clearly impacted the big lineman prospect but if Michigan can right the ship over the next two seasons, I believe Lukusa will be joining fellow tackle prospect Erik Swenson in the trenches in Ann Arbor.
Another New Jersey product, Kareem Walker is the first running back to receive an offer in the 2016 class. This kid came off to me as incredibly humble and genuinely grateful for an offer from Michigan. From Jersey, he also has a connection with Jabrill Peppers and already relates to him. “I’m from Irvington, New Jersey, it’s not a good neighborhood at all, kind of like Jabrill. As it comes closer to me getting ready to commit it will be helpful to know Jabrill because he will already be there and he will be able to tell me certain things.”
Ok, don’t freak out but on the field Walker actually reminds me of Denard with how he runs the ball. It’s not just because he has dreads, although that helps, but he does a lot of the same insane cuts, displays similarly quick feet, and like Denard, when there’s an opening he’s to it and through it before the defense knows what happened. This is how he describes himself. “I’m a person who you can’t take your eye off or you will miss out. I won’t quit no matter what the score is. It can be 100-0 and I still won’t give up on a play. I will continue to play with intensity and try to make big plays.” His high school coach compares him to Eric Dickerson, but I’m going to stick with Denard.
Like a lot of kids, from Michigan or not, their Wolverine knowledge begins and ends with Charles Woodson and The Big House. “I know a little about Michigan, mainly Charles Woodson. He kind of changed the face of college football by playing both ways and just going crazy in The Big House. I know that stadium is live and I hear the atmosphere is like no other.”
It’s obviously very early in the process for Kareem and he plans to take as much time as he needs to make the right decision. “I don’t really have a set time frame. I plan on taking my official visits and then talking it over with my parents and family before deciding. It really could be at any point after that.”
I had already had limited contact with each of these young men in the past except for Jalen Dalton, but after some in depth conversation with them I wouldn’t mind if they all committed today. On film they look great, they all seem to be grounded guys, and some of their best qualities seem to be off the field.
I’ve also learned more about how good of a recruiter Roy Manning seems to be. First impressions aren’t everything but he appears to be a pro at them. Maintaining a solid relationship and closing with some of these guys will bring his skillset full circle and solidify him as a quality recruiter in my mind.
Position: Running Back
Ht/Wt: 5’11" / 196 lbs.
Location: Washburn High School – Minneapolis, MN
Offers: Minnesota, Florida, Iowa State, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Syracuse, Wisconsin
Ranking: ★★★★ .9454 (247 Composite)
This isn’t exactly breaking news at this point but it is something to watch as signing day nears. 2014 RB Jeff Jones is currently committed to his home-state Golden Gophers but after his MVP performance during the Under Armour All American game his recruiting is more hectic now than it’s ever been.
Jones committed to Minnesota back in March and has flown under the radar for most of that time period. Once he landed in Florida for the UA game, that all changed. He routinely caught the attention of coaches and reporters during the week of practice and took his performance to even another level during the actual game.
I was able to exchange just a few messages with Jeff about his Michigan offer and his revved up recruitment. He told me that his recruitment is a lot crazier now than it ever has been. He also said with a laugh that he thought all of that stuff was supposed to be over with once he committed. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your standpoint, his phenomenal performances have led to a late upswing in his recruitment.
Jones visited Michigan back in June and left impressed but wasn’t pursued very aggressively at that time. After his showing in St. Petersburg the Wolverine coaching staff wasted no time in extending an offer, one that Jones says is big news.
Michigan wasn’t the only school to take notice of Jones’ performance in Florida, as the Gators extended an offer as well. Jones isn’t certain whether he’ll visit anywhere else or not and didn’t offer up any information as to what his plan is moving forward. He currently remains a “soft commit” to Minnesota and I’m sure Jerry Kill and staff are working overtime to make sure he stays that way until February 5 when faxes start rolling in. I think Michigan has a slim, outside chance to make a late impression on Jones. I believe it would’ve been a very different story had the coaches chosen to really go after him following his visit to Ann Arbor this past summer.