Before I get into the recruiting roundup, I'm planning a recruiting mailbag post for tomorrow and could use a couple more questions. If you've got one (or more!) please send me an email or tweet it to me. Now back to your regularly scheduled Jabrill Peppers update.
Jabrill Peppers Heat Status: Infinity Chilli
If you somehow haven't watched this just do it already. Yes, all of it.
As the recruitment of Jabrill Peppers evolves, Michigan's chances of landing the five-star corner appear to be getting better and better. The latest news from Peppers is that he's moving up his decision timeline and putting Penn State back in the mix—he'll make a May 18th visit to Happy Valley per 247's Steve Wiltfong ($) [emphasis mine]:
“They never left the picture,” [Paramus Catholic head coach Chris] Partridge said of Penn State. “Them and Michigan were his top visits. He decided he wanted to move up his decision timeline. He doesn’t have any negatives about Penn State. Them or Michigan. He wants to go and stay overnight at Penn State.”
Peppers is still aiming to get to Stanford before deciding.
“He is looking to commit sometime in early June,” Partridge said.
Peppers previously visited Penn State on February 20th, and while his coach is now talking up the visit there wasn't nearly the same over-the-moon reaction in the immediate aftermath as he had post-Michigan. Securing a second visit from Peppers is remarkably impressive for Bill O'Brien and PSU considering the circumstances; it seems unlikely they'd be able to overtake Michigan. This is very important considering the next bit of visit-related news:
2014 DB Jabrill Peppers hasn't cancelled his Stanford visit but it is proving difficult to plan around his track schedule, per his coach.
— The M Block (@TheMBlock) May 8, 2013
Despite finding it difficult to reschedule his trip to Stanford, Peppers is moving up his timeline. Even the staunchest of pessimists has to take that as a very good sign for Michigan's chances.
As it stands, it's hard to see a scenario in which Peppers sticks to his new timeline and doesn't choose the Wolverines. Penn State—and, if he makes the trip, Stanford—is still a threat, but there's more than one reason for Peppers to take a final visit: not only does he want to make sure he's making the right decision, he's got a high school teammate—QB Steve Shanley—who visited Happy Valley with him in February and is still hoping for a Nittany Lion offer.
PSU insiders certainly seem less optimistic than their Michigan counterparts—for good reason, with the sanctions and all. If early June is really the decision timeline, the Wolverines are going to be very tough to beat here. The current commits certainly seem to think so—either Drake Harris knows something we don't or he's just a very confident recruiter, via Sam Webb ($):
When asked if he thinks Michigan has a good chance of landing Peppers’ after their private conversations?
Harris replied, “I’ll just say we have good chance.”
Do you feel good where things stand with Peppers?
“I feel great!” Harris replied with a coy smile confidently.
Go ahead, watch that highlight tape again, and allow yourself to get a little excited.
[Hit THE JUMP for more from last weekend's camps, this weekend's visitor list, notes on new offers, and more.]
"East Lansing's Big Ten Team" Doesn't Have The Same Allure, For Some Reason
It's been a quiet week, relatively speaking, for Michigan recruiting, so today's roundup kicks off with an update on the program making a serious run for the #3 spot in the Big Ten recruiting rankings: Northwestern.
Yes, you read that right.
No, seriously, you read that right.
The Wildcats built upon their on-field success under Pat Fitzgerald with a solid recruiting class in 2013, landing consensus four-star QB Matt Alviti, underrated RB Godwin Igwebuike, and a solid group of three-stars—not just Midwest kids, either, with signees hailing from Texas (3), California (3), Florida, and New Jersey.
On the heels of a ten-win season and their first bowl win in 63 years, Northwestern is now poised to put together their best recruiting class in... ever? The Wildcats have already hauled in another four-star signal-caller, Clayton Thorson, giving Northwestern future four-star depth at quarterback, a position where they've already managed to turn an array of middling recruits with varying levels of scrambling ability into competent (at the very least) conductors of their up-tempo spread in recent years. Now the Wildcats have jumped up to 19th(!) in the 247 Composite Team Rankings after reeling in MI OL Tommy Doles and OH ATH Dareian Watkins in the last week.
Doles, of course, was long thought to be a heavy Michigan lean—I lost count of the number of times the Grand Rapids Christian product has been on campus in the last year. Given his other offers—Army, Air Force, Iowa State, and Northwestern—and the fact that he seemed on the verge of committing for months, it appears Doles' choice has as much to do with Michigan backing off as Northwestern coming on strong; regardless, the Wolverines should be fine when it comes to O-line recruiting, and the academic-minded Doles found a great fit from an on- and off-field perspective in Evanston.
Watkins, who announced his choice this morning, is the more interesting example of a prospect choosing the Wildcats over several Big Ten (and beyond) options previously thought to be more desirable. Michigan State was his other finalist, and he also held offers from Illinois, Iowa, Louisville, Maryland, NC State, Penn State, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, among others. When Watkins' father explained his choice, Northwestern's academics were cited as a huge reason for the commitment, but the football reasons played a large role as well ($) [emphasis mine]:
"We're all very very excited about the chance to go to Northwestern. We think it's not just an amazing academic opportunity, but an amazing football opportunity. The academics overshadow the football part sometimes, but Coach Fitz has turned the program around. They were 10-3 last year, won the Gator Bowl against an SEC football team, and he was 2-0 against the SEC last year. We think it's undervalued what they are as a football program. As much he chose a life path, he's also very competitive. He wants to be part of a Big Ten Championship and compete for national championships and we think that can be done at Northwestern."
We'll, um, see about the national championships, but there's no question Fitzgerald has put the program in a position to contend for conference titles.
Unlike me, Brian is willing to wade into the shallow end* of the RCMB, and he passed along this glorious response to the usual unhinged ranting following Watkins pledging to Not Michigan State:
*There is no deep end, thankfully. It's actually an inflatable kiddie pool filled with horse manure.
[For the rest of the roundup, including updates on Jamarco Jones, Clifton Garrett, and Jae'Sean Tate, hit THE JUMP.]
Running back: I guess we should get one
Jonathan Hilliman has two Is in his last name.
ESPN's Jared Shanker reports Michigan was visiting NJ RB Jonathan Hilliman recently. Sort of:
Michigan was at the school of RB Jonathan Hilliman today, who at the beginning of the month put Michigan No. 2 on his top 10. He said today that he would no longer rank his top seven (his original top 5 of OSU, UM, Bama, Rutgers, Stanford plus Vandy and BC) but those are the schools he is focusing on. That is very subject to change, though.
He did not get to see the Michigan coaches today, however, as they came after school and Hilliman was already gone.
They were also checking out a couple teammates, one the a spectacularly-named 2015 CB named Minkah Fitzpatrick. Hilliman is a consensus three-star who claims mega offers: not only the midwest powers but Alabama, Georgia, Oregon, Florida, etc. Sometimes those lists are a little inflated—or a lot—but Hilliman is getting Florida coaches in and the Bama 247 site seems to think got a real offer, so…
In any case, with the Smith/Green duo of a year ago and a couple of promising 2015 kids waiting in the wings, tailback is not a huge priority for this class. They'll take one.
Hand continues giving interviews, not eating reporters
Unfortunately, VA DE Da'Shawn Hand didn't respond to an ESPN guy's question about how he feels about being #4 on the ESPN 150 with "TOO LOW /consumes reporter." He did talk his top five, sounding more enthusiastic about Alabama and Florida than he did previously but reiterating he's changing his major from engineering to sports management—Michigan has a whole school for that—and talking about the Wolverines thusly:
The coaches are genuine; the players love the coaches. The town itself. It's cold, but I can get used to that. Everything… the sports management professor was amazing; he blew me away.
Hand talks up South Carolina's food. On VT:
Bud Foster's my favorite coach. When I go there I feel like I'm at home. It's like going to your grandparent's house. And then you don't have to worry about any coaches changing positions or anything or getting fired. … nobody's leaving.
One point is awarded to whoever that kinesiology professor is. Here is some super-bonus deduction: Hand mentions that he still needs to talk to the Alabama guy in that field, says the South Carolina guy is a good guy but not "amazing," and seems to have changed his major plans after his Michigan visit. (He hasn't been to Florida yet.) That bodes well for M.
Here's a guy at OSU's ESPN site telling Buckeye fans to brace themselves as "Hand is likely gone to Michigan." /selfhighfive
Google Image Search for Chase Winovich: slightly terrifying
The M Block has acquired optimism in re: PA LB Chase Winovich, a consensus three-star that is nonetheless the subject of a heated recruiting battle between Michigan and Ohio State. Pitt is the other school in his top three($), and while the Panthers actually have a good track record against Michigan for WPIAL kids* it doesn't look like Winovich is going to stay in-state. He just made a second trip to Ohio State and is returning to Ann Arbor May 10th.
As for that optimism, the M Block:
The M Block has uncovered some information regarding the final linebacker spot in the 2014 class and we feel very confident that it could belong to Chase Winovich. Several sources close to the situation have informed us that Winovich will visit Michigan on May 10th and will have a chance to commit while on that visit.Obviously these situations are never 100% guaranteed but this one seems to be headed in that direction.
And a reiteration:
I talked to 2014 LB Chase Winovich last night...I'm standing by my prediction that he'll be a Wolverine.
HOWEVA, Rivals got a different vibe($) from their just-completed Pittsburgh camp, wherein Winovich said it was "always a dream" of his to go to OSU. Commit Michael Ferns was working on him and Winovich said that M visit "could be a watershed visit"—Rivals' words, not his—with a decision soon to follow. Momentum is with OSU, declareth Rivals.
Winovich would be an interesting addition to Michigan's class. At 6'4", 205, he's got a lot of filling out to do and likely projects to the SAM spot most had assumed the 6'3", 230 pound Ferns was headed for. If Michigan adds him they'd likely bring in Ferns as an MLB.
Winovich plans to pull the trigger in July.
@JabrillPeppers Bro Follow Back We Might Be Team Mates One Day ...
I'd be surprised if Watson is uncommitted into June.
Side note: Watson is about to be a father. In Let's Get Way Ahead Of Ourselves Theater, that provides plenty of motivation since it seems like the place he lives is not one he'd like to stay. If he does develop into a guy with significant NFL interest, he's probably not going to pull a Lewan. This has been Let's Get Way Ahead Of Ourselves Theater.
*[Jonathan Baldwin comes to mind most prominently.]
Between two Ferns: the camp
So Ferns showed out for Rivals and came away with an invite($) to the "Rivals Five Star Challenge," which is one of these nouveau invite-only camps like the Opening. Mike Farrell on Ferns:
"He is the stereotypical Big Ten linebacker," Farrell said. "He is explosive to the football and takes great angles. He is hard-nosed and physically impressive. He is exactly what you expect when you think of a major prospect from this area at that position."
I think that's supposed to be nice, but after this most recent NFL draft I am not entirely sure. The other guy to get an invite was PA S Monate Nicholson, who's taking his recruitment easy, man. Tim Sullivan notes that he's still in contact with Darrell Funk($) and tentatively plans a summer visit.
Speaking of that Peppers fellow
Not even the birth of TomVH's daughter (congrats!) could move NJ CB Jabrill Peppers's announcement date up to last weekend, but he did rumble about getting things over with a lot faster than anyone expected. Also via the M Block:
Jabrill Peppers head coach says "He is getting close to a decision. He will prob make his decision in early June to focus on Sr. year."
(Peppers retweeted that, FWIW.) That would be very good for Michigan. He's got a Stanford visit upcoming… in July($). Either that gets bumped up or it's all over but the awkward self-high-fiving at your computer.
TomVH also talked to Peppers on an ESPN podcast. He's noncommital for the most part, but does say he'll only take two officials… if he goes that long uncommitted.
UPDATE: Sam Webb talked to Peppers' coach($), who says that a Stanford visit will occur before any decision is made.
Show's over folks
WR commit Drake Harris:
I'm not talking to anymore coach's I'm happy with the decision I made, and nothing is going to change my mind
Send your missives, Mississippi State, and they will be ignored. Meanwhile, some guy asked Harris "do you even lift bro?" Harris said he just started a month and a half ago.
I am not paying attention to 2016 recruits($) until they are out of the womb, okay? If I was, I might mention that there's an instate WR kid at Farmington Hills Harrison named Desmond Fitzpatrick who is probably going to be one of the top five kids in the state. But I won't, because that kid is still in the developmental stage where he's got flippers.
Happy trails to NC RB Elijah Hood, who committed to Notre Dame, which makes me sad since it's basically irrelevant. Boo on you, end of ND series. Also happy trails to PA S Dravon Henry, who didn't include Michigan in his top four.
Michigan is still looking at($) MI TE Kyle Rachwal as a FB or LB after confirming to him that Ian Bunting fills their single spot at TE.
Grand Rapids (MI) Christian wide receiver Drake Harris announced his commitment to Michigan today on Twitter:
Just officially committed to The University Of Michigan!
— Drake Harris™ (@drizzygetbusy01) April 14, 2013
Harris, of course, initially committed to Michigan State as a two-sport athlete—he's also an excellent basketball player—but decided to open up his recruitment when he chose to focus on football in college, saying he wanted to compete for a national championship. It appears that Harris believes he's got a better shot of doing that in Ann Arbor than East Lansing.
Harris was in Columbus on Friday. As in, like, two days ago. But sure, Buckeye fans, there's no chance this ends in disappointment:
— mgoblog (@mgoblog) April 14, 2013
Something tells me that next trip isn't actually happening.
Anyway, informative update ahoy!
4*, #3 WR,
4*, #4 WR,
4*, 97, #3 WR,
Harris is regarded as one of the four best receivers in the country by each of the services that have released rankings; if he maintained his overall ranking on Scout and 247, he'd be in position to earn a fifth star by Signing Day (he's just one spot away on Scout as it is). All but Scout (6'3", 175 lbs.) list Harris at 6'4" and 180-185 lbs.—he fits the Borges ideal of a big, athletic outside receiver.
On Harris' Scout profile page, his strengths are listed as "Body Control", "Hands and Concentration", and "Route-Running Skills", with strength his only listed area for improvement. Midwest analyst Allen Trieu provides this free scouting report:
Has truly elite ball skills. Height, leaping ability and body control allow him to go up and adjust to passes most would not come down with. Is a glider on the field, and as a result, is faster than most will give him credit for. Can get deep, and is also good after the catch. Smooth, polished route runner who understands how to set up defenders and create separation. Willing and effective blocker, but must add weight and strength. - Allen Trieu
When putting together a list of each region's top prospects, Scout's staff mentioned Harris as one of the Midwest's best players ($):
Harris is a great athlete who is very natural at going up and getting the ball and does everything on the field as smooth as can be. He answered questions about his level of competition in the state title game, where he dominated despite being double teamed by a good team.
About that state title game...
Grand Rapids Christian’s Drake Harris set an MHSAA championship game record with 243 yards and one touchdown on eight receptions. Harris finished with over 2,000 receiving yards for the season; only the 12th person nationally to do so.
Grand Rapids Christian defeated a very solid Orchard Lake St. Mary's squad in that game; OLSM featured a very solid junior corner named Jalen Watts-Jackson, who has an Idaho offer and could see increased D-I interest. Harris, well, destroyed everything.
ESPN's evaluation echoes Scout's discussion of deceptive speed; again, strength and bulk are the only major areas of concern ($):
Possesses great height and wingspan with below average bulk, average strength and deceptively good top-end speed. Can build the speed off the line of scrimmage to run past defenders if given cushion. Can cover five yards in two strides consistently. Long-legged athlete with above-average quickness that will improve with increased strength, but he already has the initial quickness to escape press. Will run the short crossing routes and make catches with good concentration in contact situations. Has very good hand-eye coordination and focus. Snatches the ball out of the air in awkward positions. He is a natural hand plucker away from his frame, but will cradle some catches at times. Has shown quick feet and good body control to provide definition at the break point and to get his feet down on the sideline and end line. Not much wiggle, but surprising acceleration to outrun defender's angles.
His ability to haul in jump balls also comes in for high praise.
Tim Sullivan caught Harris last fall against East Grand Rapids; despite needing to add strength, Harris displayed good toughness, and Tim correctly predicted that he'd end up focusing on the gridiron over the hardwood ($):
His combination of height and speed made him an excellent deep threat for the Eagles, and though East Grand Rapids spent a lot of time bracketing him in coverage, he still managed to get behind the secondary on a couple occasions. Often, when an athlete considers himself a basketball player first and a football player second, you expect a bit of toughness to be lacking. That wasn't the case with Harris, who was willing to go over the middle and take a hit while still holding onto the ball. He also put in full effort on the rare occasion that he was asked to block. ... In all, it might not be long before Harris considers himself a football player first and a basketball player second - he's just that good on the gridiron.
Harris showed the ability to catch the ball away from his body, as well. To sum it up, Harris is a lanky, deceptively fast athlete who provides a solid deep threat, jump ball ability, and even the willingness to block and run routes over the middle. Once he gets into a college weight program, it appears he'll be the complete package at wide receiver.
In addition to Michigan, Harris held offers from Alabama, Cal, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Penn State, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, among several others.
Grand Rapids Christian won the Division 3 state championship last fall, led by Harris and 2014 offensive lineman Tommy Doles, who also holds a Michigan offer. Despite their recent success, GRC hasn't produced a BCS commit—or anyone ranked above a two-star—in the Rivals era.
According to 247, Harris caught 91 passes for 2015 yards (22.1 ypc) and 25 touchdowns in his junior season, numbers that are impressive to say the least. As a sophomore, he hauled in a mere 45 receptions for 950 yards (21.1 ypc) and ten TDs.
FAKE 40 TIME
Because of his focus on basketball until recently, Harris hasn't hit the football camp circuit hard, and there's not a readily-available 40 time for him based on a quick Googlestalk. His highlight tape lists a 4.39-second 40, which I'm giving four FAKEs out of five (that's an elite electronic time for an NFL wide receiver).
There's also a highlight package from last year's state title game:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
There's going to be plenty of opportunity for Harris to make an immediate impact when he steps on campus; in 2014, Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, and Jeremy Jackson will have graduated, leaving an as-of-yet unproven group of receivers, none of whom have Harris' blue-chip recruiting profile. It also helps that he plans to enroll early, per TomVH. If he lives up to the hype, Harris should at least compete with Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and perhaps one or more of the 2013 wide receiver signees for a starting role, and it'd be a surprise if he didn't see the field as a freshman. From there, he's got NFL potential and should be a big-impact player for Michigan.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Harris is Michigan's fifth commit—the first at wide receiver—in a class that currently is expected to have around 16 members, at least until that number goes up due to attrition. Harris fills the biggest need in the class as an elite, field-stretching receiver; other needs include strongside DE (where Michigan is in good shape for five-stars Da'Shawn Hand and Malik McDowell) and inside linebacker (Michael Ferns projects to the strong side, and M will take one more). Otherwise, the coaches can largely focus on bringing in elite talent regardless of position, as Brady Hoke and Co. have done an extremely impressive job of filling in the many holes on the depth chart in the last couple of classes.
Today's recruiting roundup attempts to catch on everything that's gone down in the Michigan recruiting world since last Tuesday, when certain other events precluded any coverage involving high school athletes.
Schembechler Hall Presumably Now Covered In Brains
As Michigan's basketball team made their run to the national title game, the football team hosted some big-time recruiting visitors over the past week. The biggest name on campus was five-star Paramus (NJ) Catholic CB Jabrill Peppers, the #2 overall player (behind Da'Shawn Hand) on the Rivals100 and a consensus top-ten recruit. Peppers told Rivals' Adam Friedman that the trip to Ann Arbor was his "best visit"($) and changed his expectations for any school he'll check out:
"Now I don't even know what to expect anymore," Peppers laughed. "Michigan just completely exceeded my expectations. I'm just going to have to see how Michigan and Ohio State pair up and it should be a great experience but Michigan was probably one of the best visits I've been on without a doubt. Everything felt right."
According to his interview with 247's Steve Wiltfong, Peppers plans to be back, too ($):
“All in all, it was a really, really great visit and they exceeded expectations. I definitely didn’t think it would be that mind-blowing. I’ll definitely have to take a trip back.”
Peppers was joined on his visit by Paramus Catholic teammate and four-star OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty*—after the pair checked out Ohio State following the Michigan trip, their high school coach gave the update on where both stand to Friedman ($) [emphasis mine]:
"I don't know about Jabrill," [Paramus Catholic head coach Chris Partridge] said. "He's still kind of evaluating everything, and he's got LSU and Stanford to look at. I know Juwan's top school is Michigan right now. He's pretty fired up about them. Ohio State didn't offer [Bushell-Beatty], so who knows. Jabrill is a pretty loyal guy, so I don't know if it left a sour taste in his mouth. I know Juwan loved Michigan and it's a great fit for him, too.
So Michigan is in the lead for Bushell-Beatty (whom they have offered, to be clear) and made a very strong impression on Peppers, at the very least. The only direct quote from Peppers on his Ohio State trip—the rest were handled by his coach—is from this Wiltfong article ($):
"I really think that the Coach (Kerry) Coombs is a great coach," Peppers said. "I love him and enjoy being around him. Obviously Urban Meyer is an incredible, smart, proven winner. They let me meet the athletic director and the president of the school and it's really cool to see how everyone is behind the Ohio State football team."
High praise, yes, but not the over-the-moon review that he gave Michigan. Of course, visit reactions often depend on the interviewer, the questions they ask, and what they choose to print—in this case, however, Wiltfong got two very different post-visit reactions from Peppers. Read into that what you will.
Four-star PA ATH K.J. Williams also checked out campus last week, and there's no need to read between the lines of his post-visit reaction:
Michigan is by far my top school now!! #BlewMyMind
— TheWorldsGreatest#2 (@KJWilliams2) April 8, 2013
Another young mind destroyed by Michigan's overwhelming recruiting tactics. They show no respect for these recruits, I say. /RCMB'd
Two familar names also made appearances in Ann Arbor. Detroit Country Day WR Maurice Ways was there for the second straight weekend and the coaches have him "very high on their radar," per an interview with Tim Sullivan ($). Ways doesn't have an offer but it seems like one will come sooner or later—if he gets one, Michigan should be in the driver's seat. Meanwhile, Southfield DE Lawrence Marshall (offer) told GBW's Josh Newkirk($) that "everything was good" as he checked out a spring practice, and he came away impressed with Frank Clark, who plays the same weakside DE spot that Michigan hopes Marshall will play for them.
[Hit THE JUMP for a rundown of Spring Game visitors, a new offer, the latest on Drake Harris, a couple happy trails, and more.]
Today's recruiting roundup covers the latest on Jabrill Peppers, a new 2014 offer, visit reactions, and more.
Must-Read Of The Week: Jabrill Peppers Feature
NJ ATH Jabrill Peppers is a state champion, honor roll student, and five-star prospect, with every major program in the country in pursuit of his signature come Signing Day. Read ESPN's Jared Shanker's feature on Peppers and his childhood in East Orange, New Jersey, however, and you'll get an appreciation for just how much he had to overcome to reach that point. His older brother, Don Curtis, was murdered in 2010 at the age of 20. Jabrill could only talk to his father, imprisoned since 2007 for a weapons charge, by phone. Peppers told Shanker that the street life in East Orange nearly sucked him in, as well:
"Oh man, I've seen people get stabbed, shot, beat up," Peppers said. "Saw my boys steal cars then crash into a light pole, other things at night, seeing guys selling the illegal products."
But ask about specifics, some of the things he has taken part in, and he clams up. He answers quickly. That smile so many people love to talk about leaves his face. He wants to move on to the next question.
"Too much to name that I got away with because of my athleticism," Peppers said. "I don't want to say too much more on that, but too much that I'm ashamed with."
Peppers has moved on to star both on and off the field; a perennial honor student, he currently holds Stanford—with their rigorous academic standards even for athletes—as his leader. Michigan is currently in his top five, joined by LSU, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. Peppers says he is a long way from a decision; wherever he goes, he's a player who will be easy to root for.
[For the latest on Michigan's most recent offer, plus visit reactions and Drake Harris's newest visit plans, hit THE JUMP.]