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I Have To Praise You Like I Should
High School All-American week is officially over. Jabrill Peppers unofficially won the week. Just ask ESPN's Tom Luginbill, who wrote this in response to a question about the most impressive Under Armour practice performer [emphasis mine]:
[Peppers] is more than capable of playing both ways if needed, but as far as cover corners go, he is a more explosive version of Dee Milliner, and we love that he welcomes contact too. He is mature and knows that there are high expectations for him to perform.
Or ask his Team Nitro coach, former NFL head coach and defensive back Herm Edwards—and his friend, some guy named Deion:
"It’s not even close. He’s the best [UA All-American defensive back] I’ve coached. I called Deion [Sanders] over and said look at that guy, and Deion saw the same thing," Edwards said. "[Robert] Nkemdiche was really good last year, he was a big guy who could run and [Peppers] is comparable to that as far as skill level at the position he’s playing. I played that position and coached that position for a long time and he’s a special talent."
Or ask Scout, which named Peppers the top practice performer of the week on either team while noting that this year's crop of defensive backs was particularly strong.
Rivals stands as the least bullish outlet on Peppers after the UA game, and all they did was name him Sunday's #3 performer, Monday's #1 performer, and Tuesday's #5 performer, and the actual game's #9 performer for Team Nitro before giving him the third spot overall for Team Nitro on the week behind Da'Shawn Hand and Ermon Lane ($):
Playing in his first national-level event, Peppers was surrounded by intrigue from the moment he arrived in Florida. As it turned out, it didn't take him long to live up to his billing. Peppers, the No. 2 overall prospect in his class, was dominant in every practice and was as aggressive and spirited as any player on the field. He struggled a bit in Thursday's game but didn't allow a big play all week. Peppers also blocked a field goal that was ultimately negated because of an all-star-game specific rule.
In addition to the negated blocked field goal (above)—illegal because rushers on kicks weren't allowed to go inside their man in the UA Game, which... okay—Peppers had a couple passes defended, returned two kickoffs for 65 yards (one a 41-yard burst to midfield), and took a few snaps as a wildcat quarterback, though he couldn't break anything big offensively in a pretty ugly game overall, as high school all-star games tend to be.
Interestingly, Scout omitted both Hand and Lane from their top ten overall list, with neither cracking the top two of their respective position groups. It's safe to say Peppers made a strong argument that he deserves consideration for the top overall spot in the 2014 class.
[Hit THE JUMP for a whole lot of content from the All-American games, Michigan's latest 2014 offer, an update on George Campbell, a potential second quarterback in the '14 class, and more.]
NITRO EXPLOSION NEON HIGHLIGHT CHROMETACULAR
This week marks the start of high school All-American bowl practices, which are already under way and feature eight Michigan commits: Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Michael Ferns, Drake Harris, Bryan Mone, Jabrill Peppers, Wilton Speight, Jared Wangler (Under Armour, all on Team Nitro), and Mason Cole (Army, Team East). At the start of day two, we've already had some Michigan-on-Michigan crime:
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) December 30, 2013
And subsequent trash talk:
Peppers screamed, "That's all day next year, Wilt" after his interception.
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) December 30, 2013
The No. 2 player in the Rivals100 Presented by Under-Armour had never participated in a national-level event until now, so there was some intrigue surrounding his arrival in Florida.
So far, so good. Peppers was one of the top performers on Day 1. He was a nightmare in coverage and was beaten only once during one-on-one reps. He showed the speed to stay with smaller wide receivers and the strength to press larger ones. Peppers was aggressive without gambling and stood out like the country's No. 2 player should.
And today he received some lofty praise from former NFL head coach and standout defensive back Herm Edwards, especially when considering the spectacular performance of current Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves in the same game last year:
Herm Edwards told me in his three years coaching in the #UAALLAMERICA game, Jabrill Peppers is the best DB he's seen.
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) December 30, 2013
There will be much more coverage of both All-American games in the next two roundups; the UA game—which may be difficult to watch without protective eyewear—kicks off on Thursday at 4 pm on ESPN, while the Army game is set for Saturday at 1 pm on NBC. Maize n Brew has an informative primer for both games, and MGoUser MJ14 posted a nice roundup of first-day practice reactions from the UA game.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest 2015 offer, updates on Malik McDowell, Cassius Peat, and Keisean Lucier-South, and more.]
Keeping His Hand To Himself
This week's edition of "First and 17" features Da'Shawn Hand's coach telling Mike Farrell, "I don't know if he knows for sure for sure. I feel like he really likes Michigan. He's gonna go feel the flavor of the SEC because of everything everyone's talked about, but... you know, I don't even know. I think he knows. I don't even know if pops knows yet ... At this point, none of where he picks will surprise me, because they're all great schools." (2:25 mark.) He also tells Roy Manning, who stopped by Woodbridge during the bye week, that he thinks Hand is leaning towards Michigan—but also that he likes Alabama, and this is before Hand's official to Tuscaloosa. (7:25 mark.)
Later, Hand discusses why he likes to keep his thoughts to himself (9:44 mark): "When I take one visit, everyone thinks I'm committing to the college ... I just don't like showing people my full hand, because then everyone can pick out your every move. Everyone tries to get in my head, but that'll never happen."
So... your guess is as good as mine. We'll know in ten days when he makes his announcement.
Michigan Still In Mix For Glenville Duo
Rivals's Josh Helmholdt caught up with highly-touted 2014 Glenville teammates Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith to discuss their respective recruitments. Like Hand, both are playing it coy when it comes to naming a leader, even though Ohio State is the presumed destination for both (especially Lattimore; fitting Smith into the class could get difficult for OSU). Both have four official visits left to schedule—Alabama is already on the docket for each—and Michigan is in the running for both. Here's Lattimore ($):
"I am going to take all of my officials. I have to plan them with Marcelys Jones and Erick Smith," Lattimore said. "Ohio State, probably USC, I might try to get out to Oregon, probably Michigan and Louisville. I was always interested in all those schools, and will give them equal opportunity."
And Smith ($):
Alabama assistant coach Bobby Williams was at Glenville on Friday and Smith is looking at rescheduling that trip for sometime in December. He has a group of a half dozen schools who are in the mix for his remaining four official visits.
"I am not for sure, but I know Ohio State, Michigan, Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan State and Georgia Tech too - those are all up there," Smith said. "You could say those are the schools I am really looking at right now."
With Lattimore and Smith planning their trips together, it's fair to guess that OSU, Michigan, and Louisville (along with Bama) have an edge—those schools are mentioned by both prospects. It's tough to see Michigan beating out Alabama and Ohio State given how the season is playing out and the fact that neither are sure they'll take another trip to Ann Arbor.
Meanwhile, four-star MI DL Malik McDowell has scheduled his official visit to Florida and tells GatorCountry.com that he's in frequent contact with head coach Will Muschamp. He's another prospect who's very difficult to read; the very frequent trips to Ann Arbor—and playing on the same line with commit Lawrence Marshall—suggest Michigan holds an edge, but it's clear that he's serious about looking around.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Sheriron Jones, a must-read feature on a current commit, and a roundup of last weekend's high school action as playoff season gets under way.]
Free Hugs: Not An NCAA Violation
The Washington Post series "First and 17"—following VA WDE Da'Shawn Hand as he goes through his senior year—continues with a look at his first day of school, Woodbridge's second game, and his official visit to Michigan. Watch to see Hand hug seemingly every student and faculty member at Woodbridge, drop a hint about potentially knowing his college destination at lunch*, lay into his teammates (physically and verbally) during practice, help his team to victory, and then discuss his Notre Dame visit. The positive vibes for Michigan continue unabated, and Hand also comes off as a genuinely pleasant and likable guy—as long as you're not facing off against him in a game or loafing on a practice rep, that is.
*If you can't/won't watch the video:
Girl in cafeteria: Do you have any idea?
Girl: For real?
Girl: So you know and you're just not saying it.
Hand: (slight pause) I have an idea about where I'm going.
Yeah, you have permission to feel good about that. Meanwhile, random Woodbridge girl just locked down a job at the recruiting service of her choice, as that's the most telling quote anybody's got from Hand in months.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on the Glenville duo and a wrapup of Michigan commits in action over the weekend.]
Yes, A WOW Experience
— Justin Hilliard (@1Justinhilliard) September 8, 2013
I deign to use Dave Brandon's favorite phrase in any non-sarcastic context; when you've got Beyoncé on the big board introducing the halftime show, Eminem up in the booth, and a record-setting crowd rocking the Big House in a rivalry win, however, it's appropriate, especially when talking about how UTL II came off to a large contingent of high school recruits.
From L to R: Mason Cole, Matthew Burrell, Damien Harris, Tim Settle, Da'Shawn Hand, Wilton Speight, Drake Harris, George Campbell (photo courtesy of reader Canzior)
According to his mentor, five-star WDE Da'Shawn Hand came away very impressed on his official visit, per Scout's Sam Webb ($):
“It went very well,” said Hand’s mentor and former coach John Harris. “The boys got to hang out with (Wilton) Speight after the game. The atmosphere at the game was electric also.”
"The boys" also included 2015 five-star DT Tim Settle and 2015 four-star OL Matthew Burrell. Despite their high ratings, neither holds an offer; if one comes for Burrell, it sounds like Michigan will be at or near the top of his list, per Steve Lorenz ($):
"This was by far the best visit I've been on," Burrell said. "The people, the coaches. It was just a well-rounded visit. I felt like I was on top of the world I was having so much fun and I wasn't even a commitment."
Based on Coach Funk telling Burrell that he "hope[s] that [Burrell] will be a Wolverine," I'm guessing an offer will come sooner or later; Burrell and PA four-star OT Sterling Jenkins are two quality options for what is, for now, Michigan last O-line spot in the '15 class. Thanks to friend of the blog Canzior for sending along several photos from the Virginia crew's trip, including this fantastic shot of Burrell on the field with John Beilein:
Canzior mentioned that a parent of one of the prospects went so far as to say that Ohio State "didn't even compare" to Michigan.
In a late surprise, four recruits from Glenville—2014 ATH Marshon Lattimore, 2014 S Erick Smith, and 2015 WRs Milan Golden and Trevon Story—made the trip to Ann Arbor; their assistant coach, Robert Andrews, told 247's Steve Wiltfong that all four came away very impressed ($):
“Those guys they were blown away by Michigan. Michigan has treated them special. Our kids come from the inner city and a lot of times they lack the little things in life, and people making a big deal about the little things for them, and Michigan makes everything they do big and important.”
Ohio State still has to be considered the favorite to land Lattimore and Smith, though it's unclear if they'll have room to take the latter; if they don't and Michigan does, the Wolverines are in very good position for him.
2014 five-star DL Malik McDowell ended up staying the night after the game—obviously, a positive sign—and his father told Wiltfong that the visit went very well ($):
“I know [staying the night] was a big plus for him,” Greg McDowell, Malik’s father told 247Sports early Sunday afternoon.
“I just got off the phone with him. He said it was crazy in the Big House. It was roaring. He enjoyed the game and everything.”
Michigan top target in the 2015 class, five-star WDE Jashon Cornell, gave quite a lofty comparison when discussing the atmosphere, per TomVH ($):
“We all thought it was crazy that they had Beyonce on the big screen and Eminem and all the famous people. It was like the Super Bowl,” he said. “All the recruits thought it was special, too, because that’s the last time they will play each other there.”
Cornell won't name any leaders but said that the Wolverines "stand up there" to Wiltfong ($). He'll be back in Ann Arbor in November for The Game.
2015 four-star OH LB Justin Hilliard was impressed with the festivities, as you can see at the top of the post, and told Scout's Dave Berk that Michigan is among a group of schools standing out to him early ($):
“Right now programs like Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Ole Miss and some others are sticking out,” said Hilliard. “It’s getting a little overwhelming, but not too much. So I’ll probably be narrowing my list down after my season.
Iowa is also a major factor in his recruitment; his brother, C.J., is committed to their 2014 class.
2015 four-star Cass Tech RB Mike Weber came away from the game with a rediscovered love for Michigan, per Scout's Josh Newkirk ($):
“When I was little I loved Michigan,” Weber said. “Then I still loved Michigan. But when the other guy (Damien Harris) committed, I kind of put my head down towards it. But after I went there last night – it’s back to where it had been when I first even thought about Michigan.
“I know what college is the best fit for me, there is people there. I know I will have to beat them out. I’m not scared of competition.”
If Michigan has room for him, Weber seems like a good possibility to end up in the class.
Per Steve Lorenz, 2016 IL OT Erik Swenson—one of the top prospects in the class and a heavy Michigan lean—had an "insane" time at the game and will be back for the Ohio State game ($). He has no other visits lined up. JPTTA.
Despite the lack of commitments, it's tough to say that last weekend was anything but a roaring success from a football and recruiting standpoint.
[Hit THE JUMP for a roundup of Michigan's commits in high school football action from last weekend.]
Commitments Come In Pairs, Volume [I Lost Count]
Michigan's 2015 class grew by two highly-regarded Ohio defensive backs over the weekend; if you missed them, here are the commitment posts for cornerback Shaun Crawford and safety Tyree Kinnel. The pair represent the fifth and sixth commits in the '15 class; to say the pace of recruiting has increased is an understatement:
Commitment no.5 for class of 2014 was Drake Harris, 4 months ago. No.5 for 2013 was on The Weekend that killed @AceAnbender
— Brett Thiessen (@The_Mathlete) August 23, 2013
Adding to that, Michigan's sixth commitment for the '14 class came when Ian Bunting pledged on April 23rd of this year; their sixth for '13 also occurred during The Greatest Mid-February Weekend In The History Of Mid-February Weekends.
Crawford and Kinnel aren't just highly-touted players from Ohio; they're both lifelong Michigan fans, which played a part in each of their commitments. Here's Crawford's post-commitment reaction to Tim Sullivan ($):
"Just being able to run out the tunnel and jump up and touch the sign, I've always seen it on Saturdays and finally getting the opportunity to do it is something I've always wanted to do," he said. "I can't wait to make the Michigan family happy."
And Kinnel talking to Scout's Dave Berk ($):
“We’re all Michigan fans because my dad grew up in Jackson, Michigan,” he said. “He just loved Michigan and ever since I was born, he just brained washed me on Michigan.”
They've been groomed for the Maize and Blue; now, do they fit The Pattern™? Of course they do. Crawford to 247's Mark Zakrajsek ($):
"I will bring my effort, that's the only thing I can promise right now," Crawford said. "With great effort all the great things I do on the field will come. I will play every down like it's my last because it's my dream to play on national television on Saturdays. My goal isn't to win the Heisman or any personal awards, I just want to be the best teammate I can be and make sure my team and coaches know I won't let them down."
And Kinnel's high school coach to Berk ($):
“Tyree comes from a great mom and dad,” said Minton. “He’s from a great close knit family and he’s not your typical high school kid that goes out and hangs out.
He’s much more like Braxton [Miller] was as they don’t mind staying in and playing a video game or something like that. He knows there are a lot of bad decisions that are out there and he doesn’t want to get caught up by anything like that.”
As for on-field ability, I posted my favorite Crawford clip as a GIF and forgot to do so for Kinnel; Kinnel's coach talked up his instincts and play recognition, and this is a fine example—watch him play bracket coverage underneath the slot receiver while managing to keep his eyes on the quarterback, then come screaming from the opposite side of the field to stop the QB's scramble cold when it looked like an inevitable first down or even touchdown:
Making that play wasn't Kinnel's responsibility; he made it anyway after taking away the deep crossing route. Add that to the quote from his Hello post about Kinnel's coaches trusting him to call defensive audibles as a rising junior and we get an idea of his level of football smarts—he's very advanced in that regard for a player his age and it shows in his play.
Crawford and Kinnel were each Michigan's first offered prospects at their respective positions; their commitments add to an impressive trend in Brady Hoke's '15 class:
Worth noting that #Michigan has gotten commits from their first offers at CB, WR, RB, S and K now. That's five of six positions committed
— Steve Lorenz (@TremendousUM) August 24, 2013
That is a remarkable stat considering four of those players—Crawford, RB Damien Harris, WR George Campbell, and K Andrew David—are considered among the very top prospects (if not the top) at their position, and only David didn't hold offers from multiple BCS powers when he committed.
[Hit THE JUMP for updates on Da'Shawn Hand's and Leonard Fournette's official visit plans, highlights of several Michigan commits from last weekend's high school action, and two reasons you're definitely going to want Hjalte Froholdt to end up at Michigan.]