in town for free camps
You Know The Drill
Michigan's latest 2014 offer, Warren De La Salle linebacker and current Penn State commit Jared Wangler, will visit campus today along with his father, former Michigan quarterback John Wangler, per Jared's Twitter. Wangler plans to decide between sticking with PSU and flipping to Michigan before the start of football season, and while many expect him to choose the Wolverines today, that's not coming from Wangler — he told Scout's Allen Trieu($) that he's "not planning on committing today," and you can read into that however you like.
I think Wangler will end up at Michigan, but it's certainly not guaranteed; don't count out the fact that Penn State was the first major program to offer him. He even passed up an offer from LSU that came in a couple weeks after his initial commitment. That said, his father and brother didn't play for the Tigers, and the Wanglers being something of a Michigan institution should factor heavily into his final decision.
A 150+ Comment Thread Suggests I Should Talk About This
Michigan State's hiring of Curtis Blackwell as their de facto recruiting coordinator paid immediate dividends yesterday when 2015 Cass Tech quarterback Jayru Campbell committed to the Spartans. Campbell was one of several top in-state juniors in East Lansing yesterday — Technician teammates Mike Weber and Josh Alabi, Saginaw athlete Brian Cole, Oak Park athlete John Kelly, and Saint Clair Shores lineman Kyonta Stallworth (who may or may not have committed, and almost certainly will eventually) were also present. Getting that many key local targets on campus — and pulling in commitments from two of them, most likely — is a big step for State, and the credit should rightfully go to Blackwell, who has a relationship with all of these players from his time running Sound Mind Sound Body and coaching the Maximum Exposure 7-on-7 squad.
HOWEVA, the consternation among Michigan fans in the wake of Campbell's commitment is unnecessary for a couple of reasons:
- Campbell, in all likelihood, was never going to get a Michigan offer. CA five-star Josh Rosen is the only 2015 QB with an offer, and I don't believe Campbell was even in the next group of signal-callers being considered by the Wolverines. Having watched Campbell play many times over the course of the last two years, I don't think he has the pure arm strength — especially on short-to-intermediate routes — that this coaching staff wants in a quarterback. You can watch the tape and judge for yourself.
- Michigan's projected to take a very small class in 2015, and so far they're pursuing elite national prospects to fill those coveted spots. Weber's potential place in the class was taken by Damien Harris, a higher-ranked running back; Kelly wasn't under serious consideration for an early offer; and the Wolverines may only take two offensive linemen — with Jon Runyan Jr. already in the fold and Michigan looking good for PA four-star tackle Sterling Jenkins, I don't think Stallworth was going to get one, either. Cole and Alabi are the only two guys among yesterday's MSU visitors who could be counted as real head-to-head losses for Michigan, and neither is guaranteed to end up at State by any means.
Is Campbell a solid pickup for State? Certainly. He's made great strides as a passer in the last two years while quarterbacking CT to back-to-back state titles and he gives MSU a commitment from the state's best talent factory.
Is this a major blow to Michigan? Nope. The Wolverines could strike out on every top in-state junior and still put together one of the best classes in the country; in case anyone has forgotten, they're already off to a very good start in that regard.
[Hit THE JUMP for perhaps the worst recruiting pitch ever, the latest on Malik McDowell's transfer to Southfield, and more.]
The answer is still no, and that's excuse enough to post this again.
More specifically, HANDOCALYPSE MID-NOVEMBER:
I will be committing on Nov 14 at my school. Can't wait to get this over with!
— Da'shawn Hand (@TheHand54) August 4, 2013
That, of course, is arguably the #1 overall prospect in the country, VA DE Da'Shawn Hand, who now has a decision date in mind — not coincidentally, his 18th birthday — with his field now narrowed down to his top three schools, per Rivals's Adam Friedman ($):
"I just decided that there is no need for all of this to get drawn out," Hand said. "I was interested in USC and LSU but I know a lot about Michigan, Alabama and Florida and I'm just going to let them be."
Lane Kiffin reacted to this news by drinking a six-pack of Mike's Hard Lemonade and tearfully sending Hand a slew of angry texts that all ended in "im so sorry plz come visit". Les Miles chewed on fieldturf — the rubber pellets really add texture — and contemplated the meaning of... fieldturf, probably.
Hand will officially visit Ann Arbor for the Notre Dame game; he has yet to set up officials to Alabama or Florida, though both he and his coach say those visits will happen as well.
Whether or not those officials happen, Michigan appears to be in very good position — especially since Alabama's marquee home game, against LSU, occurs just five days before Hand plans to announce his choice. Given that Hand seems like the type of recruit who's going to be very well-versed in each school before he makes a decision, I'd be surprised if he waited that long to make the trip to Tuscaloosa. It's also still possible, of course, that he's blown away at the Notre Dame game and never ends up taking those last two officials. We'll see — it's never safe to count out Nick Saban.
Michigan could also see Hand's 2015 five-star buddy, VA DT Tim Settle, on campus in the relatively near future, per 247's Michael Bohlin ($):
"I am supposed to be going to Michigan but I don't know when," replied Settle. "I will be going to UVa for the Oregon game, I want to go to the Virginia Tech vs Alabama game but that one is in Atlanta so we'll see. I am also planning on taking a visit to USC at some point."
I'd speculate that Settle would visit for the Notre Dame game, in order to be on campus with Hand, but that Virginia-Oregon game is slated for the same day. We'll see if he ends up making the trip, but at the very least there's another five-star considering Michigan, and that's never a bad thing.
[Hit THE JUMP for more recruiting news, including Michigan attempting to snake-oil a legacy recruit, Bruce Feldman on what it'll take to keep the momentum going, and more.]
For being arguably the top prospect in the country from the 2014 class, Da’Shawn Hand isn’t talked about a whole lot, and that’s exactly how he wants it. As Hand prepares for his senior season at Woodbridge Senior High School in Virginia, he has managed to lay low this summer despite being one of the most coveted prospects in the nation. I was lucky enough to catch up with Da’Shawn to ask him about his summer, visit plans, and timetable among other things.
So how has your summer been going? What camps have you attended and how do you think you performed at those camps?
I went to two camps this summer, I went to The Opening and the Rivals 5-Star Challenge in Chicago. I think I did pretty well man, it was a lot of fun. I went for the gear, for the experience, and just to meet a lot of people and make some good connections for a lifetime.
I read somewhere that you didn’t even lose a rep for a few days at the Rivals challenge?
Yeah, I didn’t! That was at the Rivals camp and I was ballin! (Laughs) When I went to The Opening, at first it was really cool, but I got a little camped-out and by the end of it I was definitely ready to just focus on my season.
With football being such a huge part of your life year-round, how has your summer been as far as non-related football activities goes?
It’s been good man, just been chillin’ with family, seeing my family, hanging out with my friends, and just traveling. Oh, and I’ve been…even though it has to do with football a little bit, I’ve been helping out and coaching kids in little kid camps.
When do you start practice for your senior year and what have you done to prepare yourself for a senior season that is going to be very closely watched by a lot of people?
We start practicing August 1st. You know it’s always possible to get better. I’ve been training like a dog. I’ve been doing cross-fit training, I’ve been doing yoga. I do a lot of running in a gas-mask, I’ve just been doing a lot of things to improve in as many areas as I can.
I talked with your coach about how you decided to lay low a little bit with the recruiting aspect and just focus on getting ready for your season. How come?
Yeah, and honestly I think that was the smartest decision I’ve made with my recruitment. I just wanted to lay low. I haven’t really talked to any coaches or anything, maybe once in a while I’ll call them but I have really been focusing on myself and just working.
With all the work you’ve put in what are your goals for your last year in high school, team-wise and individually?
Well of course team-wise I just want to get to the state championship and win it, I want a ring. I want to go out on top. My individual goals are, I want have over 100 tackles, 40 or more tackles for loss and 30 sacks.
Pretty lofty, you think you can get there?
You mentioned your recruitment a little bit but that you did take it off this summer, but how has that been going? Same top 3? Other coaches still hounding you? Just give me an insight as to how it goes for you.
Yeah my top 3 is still the same, Alabama, Florida, and Michigan. Other coaches still try to recruit me for sure, but I really don’t know about it. Me and Coach Harris, we have a system. When I was younger I would talk to all the college coaches as much as possible you know? I told a lot of coaches that I was interested and found out their interest and started to get offers. Then after that we started doing our research. Then after the research was done, he wouldn’t tell me to cut off any schools or anything, he would just say to start chopping my list down, take my time, give me advice. It was fun during my sophomore year, I got like 50 offers or something, it was crazy. The summer leading up to my junior year, that’s when it got like really hectic and it’s been pretty hectic ever since. That’s why I cut it down to three, it’s gotten easier and easier.
How much do you pay attention to the stuff that’s written about you? With all the articles, blogs, Twitter, rankings, videos, etc…how much do you pay attention to it and what is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen about yourself?
Honestly this year, I don’t really care about all of that stuff. When I was younger, like during my freshman and sophomore year it was really cool being told I was the #1 player in the nation and all that, but then during my junior year I really stopped paying attention to it because I mean everyone is good. I mean the top 100 kids in the nation are all top-notch athletes, I really don’t see a need to rank them and they are all going to play in college. As far as untrue stuff, all the time! (Laughs) I don’t really say anything about it, I just let them do them. That’s how they make their paycheck I guess, I don’t really care. One time when I went on a visit someone wrote that the school was now my top school and that they had nothing to worry about, that I was locked. I was like, I never said that? That doesn’t even sound like me. So yeah, there are always things about me that just aren’t true.
What have the Michigan coaches told you about a specific position? Have they discussed where and how they’d like to use you on defense?
Michigan has told me that they want me at end. That’s all, they didn’t really say what side. They like to mix it around and use different combinations. Alabama said they want me to be a JACK kind of like Courtney Upshaw was. Florida was like Michigan, they want me to play just the end since they’d like to mix it up a lot.
I remember watching a video interview you did where you seemed to get really excited about a certain professor at Michigan. Tell me what was so different, unique, or special about that professor to get a reaction like that from you.
That dude was amazing! (Laughs) Goodness, gracious! He just blew us away. I can’t pronounce his last name, (laughs) he has like a long last name, but he just….oh my goodness! Just the way he presented everything was amazing. He talked about what we’re going to learn, he told us that it’s not going to be easy. It even made my dad want to go back to school again, it was just wild, it was insane.
So as your season begins and fall is getting close, what are your plans for your official visits?
Right now I know for sure I’ll visit my top 3 schools but other than that I don’t really know.
Your official visit for Michigan is against Notre Dame for the Under the Lights II game. What are your expectations for the game itself?
I have never been to a game at Michigan so I just want to see how the crowd is, the whole atmosphere, how it feels on a gameday, what does the town do, you know those little things. I also want to see how the coaches face adversity.
So you’ve got your top 3, you have a basic idea about your official visits. What are going to be the deciding factors when you finally decide to commit?
Just my personal evaluation I guess, that’s all I can really tell you. There are so many things that I think about and I just keep that personal you know?
It’s been made public that you have a bit of a relationship with Jabrill Peppers, is that at all something that might factor in to your decision?
Oh, that’s my man! He’s cool, he’s cool people.
How about your decision timeline? Do you have an idea when you are going to commit?
Nothing has really changed. Whenever I feel like the time is right I am going to commit. I want to do it before December but whenever it feels right, it’s right.
Commitments these days can get pretty crazy. How do you plan on doing it? You seem pretty humble and don’t necessarily need the limelight, so how’s it going to go down?
I’m going to be at my school, in the auditorium or in the gym or wherever it needs to be. I’m just going to do it the classic way. I’m not going to have the three hats, I’m just going to have one hat and announce it, and that’s about it.
Talking with Da’Shawn was a pleasure and he’s another testament to the types of kids that Coach Hoke and staff are trying to recruit. Not only is he immensely talented but he genuinely cares about his education and was a really pleasant kid to talk to. He didn’t really dodge any questions which is refreshing, but he didn’t take the Jabrill question completely head-on. He perked up about him when I asked, but he didn’t mention at all if playing with Jabrill would factor into his decision. One thing I did notice, and I don’t know if it was a Freudian Slip or if it was nothing, but he spoke about the professor at Michigan as if he has already decided that he will be his teacher. The fact that a non-football related experience has made that much of an impact on him has got to be a great thing. I expect his official visit against Notre Dame to make a big impact on him and honestly wouldn’t be shocked if he thought about committing while in Ann Arbor for his first game at The Big House among that atmosphere and many other recruits and commits.
Ace: off. That is not a John Woo movie, but rather a state of things. Fearless Leader steps into the breach. I probably shouldn't call myself that.
Kiss the baby
For some reason, that's what MD WR commit Freddy Canteen wants to make defensive backs do. I don't know why, but I do know I've watched the footwork video another three times. Stupid mesmerizing footwork video.
Anyway, Canteen's team is continuing to tour camps and 7-on-7 events. Last week's event was a good one for baby-kissing coercion. Scout's Brian Dohn:
…like he did so many other times in the last few months, covering him at the 7-on-7 was virtually impossible.
Canteen used his speed and route-running technique to set up cornerbacks all day en route to Eastern Christian Academy (Elkton, Md.) winning the title. If he wasn’t catching 5-yard in routes, he was using his speed to blow past the cornerback and beat the safety for deep scores, and it should come as little surprise.
Tennessee was actually recruiting him as a corner; Scout's now listing him at 6'1", and Rivals says he's 6'2" and change now. His role in the offense:
“I did what I regularly do; route running, technique, speed, hands,” he said. “I’ve worked on everything. I think I got better everywhere. (Michigan) liked my route-running. With them having all the 6-4, 6-5 commits, I offer a different game. I can play the slot and I can play outside. I can return kicks.”
I was always fine with Canteen's addition to the class and each new report amps the enthusiasm. Could be a sleeper of the year… d'awww he's got four stars on Rivals. I think I have to relax that requirement: with four sites to track, dang near everyone who ends up at Michigan is going to look shiny in someone's eyes. Canteen might not even make the sleeper cut with relaxed requirements, though, as Dohn said Canteen has "a very good shot" to get a fourth star as soon as his team plays some, you know, games.
Minor downer: MD CB commit Brandon Watson "good, not great" in Dohn's eyes.
Merph: Tranquill Moving Towards Happy Trails
I was all about the possibility of adding IN LB Drue Tranquill after he had great performances at both SMSB and Michigan's camp, but it seems like Noah Furbush dropping has pushed Tranquill out of the class. Without an offer from M or ND, Tranquill looks to be taking his talents to West Lafayette:
While Tranquill doesn’t have his mind made up just yet, he is certainly leaning toward one school.
“I have a good idea [about the decision],” Tranqull said. “Obviously, Purdue has been my top school. Unless something jumps out, they’re the one to beat.”
I like S/LB hybrids who can play nickel or WLB, and don't see one in this class. Maybe Gedeon in the last, I guess?
It is possible that Michigan could come back later in the year and flip the kid. Sounds like the door isn't totally closed:
Notre Dame and Michigan were also in that top group to start the month, though neither has offered. Michigan picked up a linebacker commitment shortly after Tranquill camped with the Wolverines. Communication is still ongoing there, but the timetable for a potential offer has been pushed back.
If they end up with a spot late they could do worse. Yes, Purdue, we can drink your milkshake like that.
HANDPOCA—actually a rather small Hand item
— Tim Sullivan (@TimS_Wolverine) July 16, 2013
A Man Who Knows How To Travel
CA S JuJu Smith is a man with many traits to envy, like his nickname and ability to run and tackle a deer. But near the top of the list is his knack for scheduling official visits:
The 6-foot-1, 206-pound athlete had official visits scheduled to Michigan on Sept. 6 and Notre Dame on Oct. 18. Recently, he added to those with trips to Ohio State on Sept. 27 and Alabama on Nov. 8. He'll see the Wolverines host Notre Dame, the Irish host USC, the Buckeyes host Wisconsin and the Crimson Tide host LSU. Smith also will take an official visit to Mississippi, though he hasn't set a date for that trip at this point.
Dang son. UCLA and USC are also in the mix. Wisconsin is claimed to be, but the team that isn't local and doesn't get a visit is not actually in contention. Smith's all over the place with his quotes. This article has one that is unfriendly to M's chances, maybe:
"Everybody says it's the best league, and you get a chance to compete against the best of the best," Smith said. "Staying home is good too, but I feel like going out and competing against the best will make me a better player."
"It" is the SEC, of course. That does sound like a guy leaving the West Coast, at least.
Smith just lit up a 7 on 7 out west:
Smith turned in arguably his best performance this offseason. Early in the day against powerhouse Serra, the four-star standout caught two touchdown passes at receiver and picked off a pass playing safety. There are times when Smith gets lost in the shuffle, but he has the ability to dominate on both sides of the ball. He looked unstoppable at receiver and safety.
Michigan's hired a track coach. Why is this in a recruiting roundup? CA CB Adoree Jackson and his Olympic long-jump hopes. Let's check the new guy's bio:
During Clayton's 15 seasons at Auburn (1998-2013), the Tigers won the 2006 NCAA Women's Outdoor Track and Field championship. He helped Auburn to 18 top-10 finishes at the NCAA Track and Field Championships (indoor and outdoor), including 10 top-five finishes. Clayton personally coached 10 NCAA national champions, had his student-athletes earn 51 All-America honors and 34 SEC individual titles. He had 79 performers qualify for the NCAA Track and Field Championships.
Wait, what? Michigan hired Auburn's head track coach? Weird. So… the guy's established, has a lot of success, and married a long-jump All-American. If Michigan won't let Jackson run track as a freshman that's probably all for naught but it sounds like short of importing Baylor's program Michigan's done as well as they could with that hire, in both Jackson-acquisition and hey-this-guy-runs-the-track-program departments.
Not likely to matter in the end, though. FWIW, Jackson gave an interview to ESPN in which he says little except he's going all the way to Signing Day with his decision; he told Rivals his list has actually expanded by adding Oregon and Oklahoma.
2015 OH S Tyree Kinnel was reputed to be a guy who might drop for Michigan the instant he got an offer. An offer has not come yet, and he seems a bit frustrated:
"I’ve heard a little bit from Michigan since I camped there,” he said. “I know they want to follow me this fall. But I don’t know what is holding them back from offering me as they’ve told me they really want me with them.”
Kinnel's a little small for Michigan's tastes but camp observers thought he played very well.
Mayor this commissioner, water general
Sam Webb hits up uber-2015 WR George Campbell:
"Me and Tay grew up together ever since we were little kids, so we’re like brothers and we have a close bond,” Campbell said. “So it’s kind of a big impact what he chooses, but at the same time I have to do what’s best for me and choose my school for me."
Stupid Clemson. Campbell is planning on being at the BBQ, so there's that. He plans on waiting a while.
Soon-to-be-retracted Malik McDowell leader opinion
This one comes from his dad, so may have some staying power:
“In my opinion I believe [Michigan and Michigan State] are the front runners,” Greg McDowell, Malik’s father told 247Sports. “By us being here located in Michigan and him getting to those schools as much as he has, those are the ones heavy on his mind.
“He’s had the opportunity to go to both schools and everything they do to invite him out to games and practices, they’re top contenders and rank right up there. But he wants to visit other schools and get a feel for what they’re about and get a sense for the direction he wants to go.”
They're headed south to some SEC heavyweights in the fall, and they may provide some competition. It has long seemed like McDowell is just waiting around to commit to M, but Treadwell and etc etc etc. I'll eat my hat if he goes to State, though.
PA S Montae Nicholson has made an exciting cut to… twelve schools. Nevermind. Michigan is on said list. He's planning on taking all his officials. He did say he's "built really good relationships pretty much the entire staff up there."
Michigan to make 2015 FL RB Jacques Patrick's top ten. 2015 MI RB Mikey Weber will hit the BBQ. Michigan's sole 2015 QB offeree is CA QB Josh Rosen, and while he says he's willing to look outside of California if you read between the lines Michigan's going to have to offer some more dudes to find a QB. Bizarrely, his team went 8-5 last year with four forfeits.
NJ CB commit Jabrill Peppers is going after Hand and Leonard Fournette. Godspeed, Jabrill. Next time you talk to Borges make sure he brings up Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown in re:
"The best part is that [having Derrick Green around] would preserve him more because he's not gonna have to take on the whole load by himself. He'll get a blow and we won't lose productivity on the field. Getting those breaks will allow him to have a longer career than most running backs."
Though I'm sure Borges has already thought of that.
Catching Up, Three Commits Later
Michigan hauled in three 2014 commits in the last three days in Freddy Canteen, Brandon Watson, and Noah Furbush — if you missed any of their Hello posts, simply click on their name. While I initially couldn't find any film of Canteen in game action, a poster helpfully noted (though I forget where and can't find the link) that he shows up plenty in ECA quarterback David Sills' highlight tape. The focus of the video is obviously on Sills, so we don't get to see Canteen's vaunted route-running; he does, however, make several impressive grabs — look for him in the #19 jersey:
That's a solid body of work for just three games, and is evidence that Canteen has the hands and ball skills to complement his footwork.
In a post-commitment interview with Sam Webb, Watson revealed that despite talking about committing together, he and Canteen actually decided to pull the trigger independently; he also threw out a juicy morsel about another offer ($):
“We’ve been talking about (committing to Michigan) since we got the offer,” said Watson. “Freddy was looking at a couple of schools, and I was kind of leaning toward USC and Michigan. I just wanted to go out to SC and see what that felt like. When I came back I talked to coach I just said, ‘I want to go to Michigan.’ Freddy called about two minutes after and said, ‘yo, are you committing tomorrow?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ He said, ‘oh yeah? Me too!’ We basically told Coach Hoke ten minutes apart.”
“It’s funny I just got the Tennessee offer this morning,” Watson later added. “I told him ,’it’s a little too late… I’ve already made up my mind to go to Michigan.”
Watson's coach had previously mentioned that a USC offer was forthcoming until he committed to Michigan, adding to the growing pile of evidence that he and Canteen are better prospects than their rankings would indicate.
Landing two prospects from Eastern Christian Academy gives the Wolverines a potential edge with 2016 ECA LB De'le Harding, whose coach said he earned rave reviews at camp, per Sam Webb ($):
“He is the best rising sophomore in the country,” ECA coach Dwayne Thomas said. “I took him to Tennessee’s camp he was dominant and he got an offer. I took him to Michigan’s camp and no one would have even known he was 14 years old unless I told them. They’re going to offer him. Brady told me, ‘coach, we love that dude.’ The defensive coordinator told me, ‘we love that dude.’ I’ve been doing this a long time. I coached in college for 17 years and I don’t blow smoke. He will be the best player I’ve ever had. I’ve coached a lot of great ones. I’ve got two at USC and one already committed; I’ve got them at Auburn… I’ve got a lot of kids over the last three years at a lot of places, and he will be the best one, no doubt.”
Harding already has offers from Tennessee and USC after dominant performances at their respective camps; he's poised to be one of the top players in his class, and a Michigan offer should come sooner or later. Canteen and Watson both say they'll be giving their younger teammate their best recruiting pitch.
With the commitment of Furbush, meanwhile, Michigan is looking for one more linebacker prospect, specifically an outside linebacker, to complete their 2014 recruiting of that position group. Four-star CA OLB Dwight Williams is rumored to favor Florida, though Michigan also has a good shot; he told 247 that he's locked in officials to Florida, Michigan, and Hawaii, and the Wolverines are speculated to be the Gators' biggest competition ($). Three-star MO OLB Jimmie Swain, the other most-likely target, told Rivals that he's looking to cut two schools from his top five to ensure he can take officials to each of his finalists ($). Michigan is joined in that group by TCU, Michigan State, Oregon, and Stanford; the two Pac-12 school have yet to offer, and it appears the Horned Frogs currently hold the edge:
"TCU is the only one of the top five I've visited already. When I went down there, I just enjoyed the campus and the team and the way they practice. Coach Patterson and I talk on a regular basis. I just loved what I saw when I went down there. Ever since then, I have just been all about TCU. I just loved the atmosphere and everything about that school."
Swain says he hopes to decide in September; his visit, should he make it, will obviously be of great importance if Michigan hopes to land him.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on a trio of five-star prospects, an overview of the 2014 running back situation, and more.]
2013 Eastern Christian Academy prospect Kenny Bigelow has already enrolled at USC.
I initially planned on covering football and basketball as well as recruiting in this mailbag, but enough of you sent in questions (thanks!) that I had to go recruiting-only; I may do a separate mailbag to cover the rest later in the week. On to the questions...
For a number of reasons, I'm not worried about this. If you haven't read the SI article on Eastern Christian Academy, it's highly recommended, and should allay some of these concerns [emphasis mine]:
Strictly speaking, Eastern Christian is not even a school but rather a club, with members who attend an online private school called National Connections Academy. "There is a lot of confusion," says Steven Guttentag, president of Baltimore-based Connections Learning, which is the parent company of National Connections. "Eastern Christian is not a school. It's a football training program that provides a site. National Connections Academy is the school. They're our team." Connections Education counts more than 45,000 students among its accredited private and public schools. Its students include everyone from prodigies at New York City's prestigious Juilliard School of Music to Olympic hopefuls, but Eastern Christian represents the company's first foray into team sports.
[T]he reputation of National Connections, and the fast-growing digitalization of U.S. education, affords Eastern Christian a degree of insulation from skepticism. The growth of charter schools and homeschooling have pushed the number of students in grades K-12 taking online courses well into the hundreds of thousands. "What you're describing is definitely unusual," says Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who spent 11 years investigating diploma mills. "But this sounds like a proctored setting, with adults watching over kids as they do their work and take their exams, and in today's world that's becoming normal."
The NCAA, according to the article, considers National Connections "an approved nontraditional course provider," so there should be no issue passing their academic requirements. ECA and its predecessor, Red Lion Christian Academy, have produced several D-I recruits in the last few years, and as far as I can tell there's been no issue with the NCAA or the recruits' respective schools. An incomplete list:
- 2011 Red Lion DL Angelo Blackson is entering his junior year at Auburn, where he's expected to start for the second straight season.
- 2012 Red Lion DL Eli Ankou was accepted by UCLA and redshirted last season.
- 2013 ECA five-star DL Kenny Bigelow enrolled early at USC, so he's already passed admissions and gone through a semester of classes.
- Fellow 2013 ECA prospects Khaliel Rodgers (USC) and Jahmere Irvin-Sills (Miss. St.) signed with BCS programs. Michigan's coaches reportedly contacted Rodgers after David Dawson's decommitment last year, but he was solid to USC and did not receive an offer.
Michigan admissions could be a different animal — though UCLA and USC are both fine schools — but here's where my final point comes in: Brady Hoke, quite simply, doesn't take academic risks. None of his recruits have failed to qualify and the line of communication between his staff and the admissions department is strong; let's just say the athletic department learned from the Demar Dorsey debacle.
While we're on the subject of Canteen and Watson...
Ace! Love your writing, dude.
Question on Recruiting. I trust the coaches, I love the coaches. They've earned the right to pick who they want. But do you think it's a little weird to go so hard after a few guys so off the radar at this point in the process (the past 3 days), or do you think the coaches truly see that much potential in these guys, and got some steals? I know - hard to know when a guy only plays 3 games a year, but curious for your take.
The longer I cover recruiting and, on occasion, happen to stumble into some insider-y info, the more I realize that the coaches do everything — everything — for a reason. In fact, you don't even need insider info to know this. Just look at how the wide receiver recruiting shook out over the last few weeks:
- Artavis Scott visits Clemson for their camp, which runs from June 12th-14th.
- Freddy Canteen picks up his offer at Michigan's camp on June 18th.
- In an article released on June 24th, K.J. Williams tells 247 that his top three is Syracuse, Michigan, and Mizzou, in that order ($).
- On June 26th, ESPN's Brian Stumpf reports that Scott has moved up his announcement and will decide at The Opening, which is going on this week. Clemson immediately becomes his presumed destination.
- Freddy Canteen commits to Michigan on June 29th.
Even if we presume that Canteen is the third option among those prospects — and I'm not sure the coaches would put Williams above him, especially since they wanted a slot receiver — it's clear that the coaches saw the way things were trending with Scott and Williams and decided to make a move instead of waiting, which could've left them coming up empty on all three prospects.
Then we get into the fact that Canteen, along with Watson, had very good reasons for being under the radar, and earned their offers by performing for the coaches in person. The Wolverine's Michael Spath posted a great rundown of recruits who were offered at camp and committed to Michigan; there have been 23 such players since 2002 ($). Of those 23, just six ended up as four-star prospects, and given that fact Michigan has been quite successful in identifying overlooked talent:
Among the 23, 21 have already completed their eligibility, and of those, 10 started at least one season for the Wolverines. Multi-year starters include: LB David Harris (2002 class), [OL Jake] Long, [DL Will] Johnson, [OL Alex] Mitchell, P Zoltan Mesko (2005) and OL David Molk (2007).
Yes, the list of camp-offered commits includes such luminaries as David Harris, Jake Long, David Molk, and the Space Emperor (Of Space). NOT BAD.
With the increased pace of recruiting, it's easy to forget that the current rankings will look wildly different come February; the recruiting services still haven't had a look at every available prospect, obviously, and there's still a good chunk of camp season, next fall's actual football season, and the postseason All-American games to go. Especially at this stage in the recruiting process, it's best to trust the coaches, at least until there's any shred of evidence that they're not good talent evaluators (and all of the available evidence points in the exact opposite direction).
It's not as simple as this with most prospects — the coaches do their best to use everything at their disposal to evaluate a recruit, and how much they weigh each factor is largely dependent on the specific recruit. Camp allows the coaches to not just judge a player's size, potential, and technical ability in person, it also gives them insight into how quickly a prospect picks up on their coaching — they can judge coachability and character in a way that they obviously can't do with a highlight tape.
The problem with camp, of course, is that it isn't actual football — they're running drills without pads, not lining up and playing 11-on-11. That's why game film is still quite valuable. With guys like Canteen and Watson, who simply don't have much film available, the coaches have to lean more heavily on how they did at camp, but for most prospects that's not the case. I wouldn't say camp trumps film, nor the opposite; this answer is a bit of a cop-out, but it goes on a case-by-case basis, as the available information differs — sometimes dramatically — from prospect to prospect.
I know people pay probably too much attention to stars when it comes to recruits, but the recent conversation about what coaches saw in certain players bothered me because it was based on an inexact rating system. If you think about a previous QB battle, mgoblog has this to say:
"Projection: Even if Robinson doesn't pan out Michigan won't be moving him for at least two years and doesn't have the quarterback depth to redshirt anyone this year, so at the very least you'll see him reprise the Feagin role from last year's Minnesota game except with a definite possibility he'll throw. Going forward it'll be a battle between his electric athleticism and Forcier's polish, with Forcier having the obvious early edge because of his spring enrollment."
And remember the recruiting hubaloo around Kevin Newsome and Shavodrick Beaver. This got me thinking, of those who have pledged to Michigan in the past few years which player(s) do you think have far outperformed their ranking?
I'm not sure the example used here is the best one for the question, since both Forcier and Denard were highly-regarded prospects, but there are a few from Hoke's first couple classes. In the 2011 class, Frank Clark looks poised to outperform his three-star rating; he may have done so already simply by seeing the field and contributing early. 2012 signee Devin Funchess was a borderline 3/4-star recruit and he showed tantalizing potential as a freshman; when a freshman gets put on school record watch — in this case, Jim Mandich's career mark for receptions by a tight end — it's safe to say he's performing at a very high level. Ben Braden is another player from the 2012 class who could easily surpass his three-star expectations; Braden has a good chance to start at guard as a redshirt freshman and eventually make his way out to left tackle. Jehu Chesson, Willie Henry, and Mario Ojemudia are a few other candidates from that class to make a bigger splash than their recruiting rankings would indicate, potentially as soon as this fall.
So, with the three recent commits and the 2014 class already up to 14 guys, does this mean it's all quiet on the (mid)western front? I know this class was projected to be in the teens, maybe up to 20 guys, and I feel like we've gotten there quickly. Is Michigan kind of done for the time being on the recruiting scene or will there be another push right before the season?
I'm tempting fate by saying this, but I think the pace of recruiting for the 2014 class is going to slow down now that camp offers have gone out (and been accepted) and most of the remaining targets are high-profile players — those guys are more likely to utilize the full process, take their officials, and make a late decision knowing that programs will leave a spot open for them. Da'Shawn Hand, Adoree' Jackson, Malik McDowell, and JuJu Smith all fall under this category, and I'm surely forgetting a couple other targets either slated for late decisions or taking the process slowly. It's possible that Michigan picks up a couple more commits before the season starts, but for the rest of the summer I'd expect as much action (if not more) from the 2015 class.
How do you see the 2014 recruiting class finishing up based on what we know today? — AC1997
I'm operating under the assumption that Michigan makes it to 20 spots in the class, even though for now there aren't that many scholarships available. With 14 current commits, that leaves six open spots. I'd expect those to be filled by:
- VA DE Da'Shawn Hand (not a lock by any means, though)
- MI DL Malik McDowell
- A safety, hopefully JuJu Smith (a longshot) or PA ATH Montae Nicholson (a much more realistic option).
- An offensive tackle. There isn't an obvious candidate here with Jamarco Jones committing to Ohio State.
- An outside linebacker. Of the players currently holding offers, three-star Jimmie Swain and four-star Dwight Williams are the most likely candidates. I'm skeptical of Michigan's chances with Williams (a presumed Florida lean), though, and Swain named Oregon and Stanford to his top five recently despite not holding an offer from either; if one of those two comes through, that could spell trouble for Michigan's chances. We could see a late offer go out here.
- The best player available that doesn't match the above. That could be Jackson, though I highly doubt he ends up at Michigan, or perhaps a running back — CO three-star Kalen Ballage is the back they appear to have the best chance of landing with Jonathan Hilliman leaning towards Ohio State.
I did not overlook Parrker Westphal, though that's not based on any insider info. The longer his recruitment stretches out, the less I think he ends up at Michigan, especially since he seems like a better cornerback prospect than a safety and the Wolverines just took a pure corner in Brandon Watson.