"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
As recently as yesterday, it appeared all but assured that Michigan would take a running back in the 2014 class, whether it be Jeff Jones or newly offered Marlon Mack or perhaps a reinterested Kalen Ballage.
Not so fast, my friends. This morning, Sam Webb said on his WTKA recruiting segment* that he doesn't expect Jones or Mack to end up in the class—a change from his earlier stance—and he reiterated that in a board post on GBW (link $). 247's Steve Lorenz confirmed that report this afternoon and added that he believes it also applies to Ballage ($).
As of now, the reasoning behind this shift from the coaching staff is unclear. There's an optimistic take out there, though; Doug Nussmeier visited 2015 RB commit Damien Harris last week in the midst of rampant speculation—including from his fellow commits—that a decommitment was on the horizon. Harris has been quiet of late; it's possible that Nussmeier felt more comfortable with Harris' status—and Michigan's depth chart at RB—after the visit and felt a scholarship could be better used at another position (or in the 2015 class). It may also help Harris' commitment status if he's reassured that there won't be extra competition from a running back in the class ahead of him.
It appears it's Malik McDowell or bust to round out the 2014 class; given the needs already filled and the small projected class size for 2015, banking a scholarship or two isn't a bad idea, even if it means a less exciting Signing Day (again) this year. For what it's worth, while Sam Webb continues to be optimistic that McDowell will stay close to home, at least one reliable Florida State insider likes their chances after McDowell took his official to Tallahassee last weekend.
[Hit THE JUMP for info on Michigan's two most recent 2015 offers, the final Rivals 100, the DetNews Blue Chip list, and more.]
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.
Jabrill Peppers Is Fast, Part Whatever
Oh, just Jabrill Peppers fielding a kickoff at the 0:21 mark, hauling down the far sideline—I like that sideline—and reaching the end zone at the 0:32 mark despite high-stepping the final few yards. 96 yards. 11 seconds. In full pads.
He's okay, I guess.
This weekend marks the time when just about every 2014 commit will take their official visit to Ann Arbor, including Peppers, who'll presumably have a nice chat with Brady Hoke about taking other visits—if he hasn't already been talked out of them by the coaches and his family, who've reportedly expressed their desire for Peppers to stick to his commitment.
According to multiple outlets, one uncommitted 2014 prospect will also take his official this weekend: three-star TX RB Vic Enwere, a current Cal commit. Enwere committed to Cal without ever visiting Berkeley—he's slated to visit there in January, and otherwise has no officials set up, so this is looks to be a two-team battle that could go either way. Enwere is now the only feasible target at running back to hold an offer, as CO ATH Kalen Ballage made a surprise commitment to Arizona State this week; he'd been expected to pledge to either Boise State or Michigan State.
The other visitor to keep an eye on is 2015 commit Shaun Crawford, who's recently stated an interest in visiting Ohio State. He's maintained all along that he's "100% committed" to Michigan, so hopefully a quick discussion about Hoke's job security—like Peppers, Crawford cited rumors about a potential coaching change as reason to look around—will dispel any desire to visit the Buckeyes.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Malik McDowell, Tim Settle, a couple of four-star 2015 tackles, and more.]
Beards Require No Context Or Reason
— Tim Sullivan (@TimS_Wolverine) October 30, 2013
Tim did this because he's still a blogger at heart, obviously.
Consider that George Campbell's treat, accompanied by this nifty trick:
Da'Shawn And The Battle Of Academic Departments
As more details emerge from Da'Shawn Hand's official visit to Alabama, it's clear that (1) the Tide are very much in the running, and (2) Professor Needs A Raise has a Southern counterpart, per Rivals's Adam Friedman ($):
"The engineering dean is the man!" Hand exclaimed. "He is that guy! I met with the business professor too and he was good. The academic support is amazing. They have individual tutors and that's good to help you manage your time."
In talking with TomVH, Hand revealed this his decision may in fact come down to his choice of major ($):
Hand says that if he wants to go into sports management it will be Michigan, and if he wants to go into engineering it will be Alabama. Florida offers both, so he will be spending time with professors in both fields on that trip to see if that has any impact on his decision.
The 6-foot-4, 262-pound defensive end says for right now he’s just focused on Florida, though, and will head out to Gainesville on November 9.
One of the Michigan coaches may want to alert him to this.
In other pursuits of 2014 blue-chip prospects, Oregon has become a major player for CA ATH JuJu Smith after he visited Eugene in place of a planned trip to Ole Miss; he told Rivals's Adam Gorney($) that the Ducks are "another top team to beat." Smith already had very positive official visit experiences at Notre Dame and Ohio State, has USC and UCLA under consideration, and has two officials left: Alabama (vs. LSU) and Michigan (vs. OSU). With that much competition, it's tough to peg Michigan as anything but a longshot, even with whatever edge they might get from receiving Smith's final official.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on the 2014 running back situation—there seems to be a situation—plus Freddy Canteen makin' moves, evaluations of a couple M commits, and more.]
Bye Week Visits: A Trip To Colorado (No, Not For That)
Well played, Maison Bleue.
Last weekend's bye afforded the coaches an opportunity to hit the recruiting trail, and Michigan coaches checked in on the likes of top 2015 MN DE Jashon Cornell, 2015 four-star NC OL Mason Veal, 2015 four-star RB Nasir Bonner, 2015 NJ WR Irvin Charles, and several others.
The most interesting prospect to receive a visit, however, is 2014 ATH Kalen Ballage, as Coach Funk stopped by his school last week, per Sam Webb ($). Michigan originally recruited Ballage as a running back, and it's been long thought that the Wolverines had cooled on him—that obviously isn't the case, even if Ballage is simply a backup option, and the fact that he can also play linebacker or safety is likely fueling at least some of Michigan's renewed interest. With a few spots left in the class and only a handful of prospects under consideration, his versatility could be the key should he want to end up in Ann Arbor.
[EDIT: Per Brandon, Michigan may not have talked to Ballage at all:
Just talked with 2014 ATH/RB Kalen Ballage and he tells me that the #Michigan coaches did NOT visit him.
— Brandon Brown (@CoachBrown3) October 28, 2013
Webb is pretty plugged in and I can't find any sort of retraction from him; since there are rules about contact with recruits, it's possible Funk stopped by Ballage's school but never actually was in contact with him. I'll try to clarify the situation when more information is available.
UPDATE TO THE EDIT: Per 247($), school was not in session when Michigan dropped by; the Wolverines are still recruiting Ballage but obviously didn't talk to him first-hand when they were out there.]
Another visit recipient that caught my eye: 2015 NC jumbo athlete Anthony Rush, who told 247's Steve Lorenz that Michigan is "leaning towards" extending an offer ($). Rush is listed at 6'4", 280 pounds as a junior, and the Wolverines are recruiting him as a tight end. Clearly, the coaches would like more blocking and size up front—most schools are looking at Rush as a defensive tackle.
Prepare For PANIC
(Aw, crap, it's already started.)
As you're probably well aware, Da'Shawn Hand took his official visit to Alabama over the weekend, and reports from the trip have been quite positive. Here's Hand himself:
This visit couldn't of been any better. Had a great time in T-Town
— Da'shawn Hand (@TheHand54) October 27, 2013
Despite the good visit experience for Hand, Alabama insiders around the internets seem to think the Tide still have ground to make up if they're going to catch Michigan; if that's the case, the Wolverines just have to survive Hand's official to Florida—just five days before his Nov. 14th announcement—and they should be in the clear. Still, Alabama is a serious contender, and that's always a frightening opponent to face on the recruiting trail.
To keep the good times rollin', Malik McDowell took a surprise visit to Ohio State for their evisceration of Penn State; he was his usual verbose self in the aftermath:
On my way home from Ohio State. Good game.
— BIG LEEK SOSA (@D1_LEEK) October 27, 2013
At this point, I might be more confident in Hand ending up at Michigan than McDowell, for the sole reason that we have some idea about what Hand thinks about Michigan, while getting information out of McDowell is like breaking into Fort Knox. If I had to bet, I'd wager both land at Michigan, but there's plenty of uncertainty.
[Hit THE JUMP for commit stat updates, the newest 2015 offer recipient, and more.]
It’s been assumed for a while that Michigan would not take a running back in the 2014 class but after talking with ATH/RB Kalen Ballage I’ve learned that the coaches may still be in the market for a ball carrier. Ballage is a bit of a wildcard being a multi-purpose Colorado kid, but his measurables and physical attributes are on an elite level. He was a very unique young man to speak to and he had some good things to say about Michigan as well as another program in the mitten.
Being a Colorado kid, pretty far from Michigan and the midwest, we don’t necessarily hear a ton about you, so what have you been up to this summer, football or non-football related?
A lot of both really. I believe that you can’t be wrapped up in a sport for too long, I think that hurts you as an athlete. I never understood when guys play basketball year-round or anything like that. Do something different, I think it helps you as an athlete. I’ve been just hanging out with friends, going swimming, you know bonding with my teammates outside of football but it also helps with football. We’ve spent time doing workouts and getting it in on the field as well.
I know a little bit about you, as much as is posted on the recruiting sites. Tell me your most recent and accurate height, weight, and speed because what’s listed is pretty impressive.
Right now I’m 6’2”, 225 and I run a 4.37, and yes that is laser-timed. I haven’t ran it since I got that time and that was last summer. I haven’t really ran a 40 since and I think I’m a lot stronger since then and I believe faster as well, with putting on 10-15 pounds. I’ve just tried to better myself as an athlete.
You’ve mentioned the word “athlete” a couple of times now and most sites list you as such, but Michigan is looking at you purely as a running back correct?
Yes sir, actually most teams are now. A couple of schools have offered me at linebacker, but the more and more they see my film they start to see me as a running back even though I’m capable of playing an outside linebacker position. Running back is the place that I’d like to be personally, and some schools that have offered me at linebacker have switched to linebacker, and those who haven’t still do see me as a linebacker.
You talked about the different positions you can play, what do you think you bring to the field as a player, either at running back or linebacker? In other words what do you think you do well on the field?
One thing I definitely bring is a winners mentality. If a coach tells me to do something, I just do it. I don’t have a problem doing it if it’s about the team. That’s what I’ve always been about, that’s just what I’ve been taught, my parents have raised me well. Whatever I can do to help the team, that’s what I want to do. If you want to stick me at corner or safety, I actually have an offer at strong safety, Vanderbilt wants me to play there. If you wanted to put me at O-line or D-line, that has never happened (laughs) but I’d do it to the best of my ability if the coach needed me to.
That pretty much leads me into my next question and you sort of answered it already, but headed into your senior year what do you think you bring to the team or the field as a teammate or as a coachable person?
Yeah, the thing about me is that I didn’t become a leader just this year. I’ve been a leader since I stepped onto the field on varsity as a freshman. I’ve just always been that guy, you know? No matter how young or old I am I’ve tried to be a leader and leadership-wise I don’t think much will change just because I’m a senior.
Most schools around the country have started practicing in some capacity so what has your high school team done so far?
Yes sir, we started actually on Monday and we’re easing into it like every other team I’m sure. First we had to go helmets, then helmets and shoulder pads, then full pads without much hitting, and then we actually got to bang a little bit today. That was definitely fun, first hitting of the season is always hype. We’ve got music playing and doing Oklahoma’s and stuff so that was a lot of fun. Our first game is on August 30th, so we’re getting there.
How has your recruitment been going this summer? Run down your offers a little bit and just tell me in general how it’s gone.
To be honest I can’t name all of them. I know some of my main guys right now are Michigan, Michigan State, Boise, Nebraska, Washington and ASU. You know those schools are up there. I also have offers from Arizona, Colorado, Colorado State, Georgia Tech…man, I can’t remember all of them and I know that’s probably bad, but.
Not putting words in your mouth but would those “main guys” you named make up your top group at this point?
Definitely. Those are the schools that I’ve found out more about and I’ve been in contact with them. I just know a little bit more about them and what they have to offer me.
I can’t remember where I saw it, maybe Twitter or something, but you are planning on taking an official visit to Michigan now correct?
I believe so, I believe so. I actually don’t have a Twitter so a lot of people do twist my words up. It’s definitely a school that I’m considering taking an official visit to more than some others so, yeah.
Who are some of the others that you are juggling around with Michigan right now for your officials?
Michigan State, Boise, Nebraska, and ASU or Washington, still kind of looking for a 5th there, but still not even completely closed to any school to be honest.
I’m curious, as a Colorado kid, why so much interest in the Michigan schools?
Their ability to produce big running backs. Michigan State the past couple of years, more than Michigan (he said it with a “with an all due respect” tone), I mean I’m a big running back and people think that if you’re big you just shouldn’t be in this position, but I like to prove people otherwise. That’s not me being cocky that’s just me feeling that I can do anything I set my mind to. Michigan State produced Le’Veon Bell and now he’s in the NFL playing with the Steelers. You know if you don’t have the desire, or don’t want to play in the NFL, I don’t think you should be playing college football. Guys want to get to the league, you know, that’s been their dream ever since they were little. I think that’s going to be a factor in deciding what school you want to go to.
You mentioned that you did a little more research and found out more about Michigan. What do you know now and what did you find out?
Oh man all of the attributes they have! I still have not taken a visit there, but I speak with the coaches as often as I can. You know The Big House, the facilities, they just have so many things to offer a football player beyond football and academics to take care of you as an athlete.
When you think about the other schools you mentioned earlier what are some other factors that are going to help determine where you’ll play in college?
Like I said Michigan State and their ability to produce big backs and be a team in the Big Ten that runs the football a lot. If I go to a school I don’t want to sit back and watch the ball get slung around, you know like Texas Tech or something. I’d like to tote the rock a little bit and that’s what I like most about them. For Boise State, a lot of people ask me, “Why Boise State?” It’s just their ability to win. They’ve been winners, they have the best win percentage in college football for like, the last 10 years. You definitely want to be on a winning football team. Nobody wants to be on a team where there’s nothing there for them. Also their ability to put people in the NFL. These last couple of years you know, Doug Martin, DJ Harper, they have some DB’s and wide receivers in there. And you know, Boise was my first offer and that holds some kind of sentimental value because when nobody else looked at me, and no one else thought I was anything, they did and they offered me. They’re kind of the reason I have these other big offers from Michigan and the other big schools, they kind of blew me up. That first offer is just special.
So you’re about to start your senior year, you seem to have a top 5 or 6 and some officials in mind, when would you like to make a decision and end the process?
To be honest, ideally, I’d like to make my final decision soon after my football season. I’m one to focus on what I’m doing and I don’t want any distractions out side of football even though it’s more football, I just want to focus on the season at hand and then focus on my commitment. It’s my last high school football season ever and I learned from the seniors on my team last year that your senior season is one of your most special seasons of your football career. No matter if you’re still in high school, college, or even playing in the NFL, no one ever forgets their high school senior year.
I’ve been impressed with your answers and you seem to be a pretty deep thinker, so I’m curious as to how you see your own decision going. What will Kalen Ballage’s commitment look like?
I actually spoke with Tom Lemming and I might end up making my decision on his show so I can talk about why I made that decision over others. That’s more like a 10 minute thing, you know at the Army game I won’t be able to really announce why I went to this school, you kind of just pick up your hat and they move on from it. I’d really like to explain why I make the choice that I make.
Ballage is yet another well-spoken, intelligent young man who seems to be taking his recruitment very seriously so he can make the best decision for himself. The Michigan coaches seem to value these types of attributes more and more with each kid that I speak to. It will be interesting to see if Ballage does schedule an official visit to Michigan or not given the fact that most people believe there will be no running back taken in the 2014 class. Personally I’m all for 6’2”, 225 lb. athletes that clock laser-timed 4.37 forty’s, but that’s just me.