I did not make this headline up
After a couple players tweeted the news, 247's Steve Lorenz confirmed that freshman linebacker Michael Ferns will transfer to West Virginia. Ferns, a 2014 four-star recruit from St. Clairsville, Ohio—very close to the West Virginia border—redshirted last season after enrolling early.
While Michigan loses a once-promising recruit, this is a transfer that shouldn't have a huge short- or long-term impact. Desmond Morgan, Joe Bolden, Ben Gedeon, and Mike McCray projected to fill the two-deep at inside linebacker in 2015, while Ferns's 2014 classmates Noah Furbush, Chase Winovich, and Jared Wangler provide options for the future. Michigan also returns James Ross, Royce Jenkins-Stone, and Allen Gant; as position groups go, linebacker is one of the deepest on the roster.
Ferns is the first member of the 16-man class of 2014 to depart the program.
|Saint Clairsville, OH – 6'3", 230|
|Scout||4*, #179 overall
#8 ILB, #9 OH
|Rivals||4*, #211 overall
#14 ILB, #7 OH
|ESPN||4*, #129 overall
#7 ILB, #2 OH
|24/7||4*, #198 overall
#7 ILB, #9 OH
|Other Suitors||Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, 'Bama, MSU, Stanford, Wisconsin|
|Previously On MGoBlog||Ace gets a big ol' I See What You Did There for his Hello post.|
|Notes||Twitter. Enrolled early. Participated in UA game.|
Hudl also has stuff from the first half of his senior year.
Michael Ferns is the recruit most likely to be known by random people who watch Good Morning America or read the kind of sports blog that's mostly pictures of taut young ladies. The former know Ferns because he did a very nice thing.
…Ferns took a sweep 52 yards down the left sideline and had nothing in the way of him and a touchdown.
But he slowed down as he approached the end zone and walked out of bounds at the 1-yard line. …
Two days earlier, freshman Logan Thompson’s father, Paul, died from a sudden stroke. Once McLean learned that Logan would indeed suit up for Friday’s game against Edison, McLean began to formulate a plan to help his freshman wide receiver “honor his father.”
Secretly, McLean instructed Ferns and the other skill players, if given the chance, to stop short on a touchdown so they could get Logan in. … McLean simplified the isolation play call with three words: “Just follow Ferns.”
“Mike and the line opened up a huge hole for Logan and he ran it right in,” McLean said.
The latter group of people knows Ferns because he's a baller, as Ferns posted Mississippi State's best effort to his Instagram account.
He did not appear to be swayed.
He was not even moved when Mississippi State asserted that they had a truckload of swag in Stark-Vegas.
Before he was twice-viral, Ferns was a big-time prospect playing at a small high school near the Ohio-West Virginia border who was picking up offers super early. Notre Dame issued him his second before he'd finished his sophomore year of high school, with Stanford, OSU, PSU, and Michigan following suit within a few weeks. After a round of visits, Ferns was down to Michigan, ND, and Penn State. He pulled the trigger in early August, with almost 20 months to go before signing day.
This early recruitment has taken off in the last few years, but the difference with Ferns is that teams were eager to have him on campus and have him commit—these days an "offer" often deserves scare quotes. Ferns was a sure thing, though:
“He showed up at 6-3, 220,” Saint Clairsville coach Brett McLean said today of Ferns, who is up to 235 pounds. “He played junior high football for us as a quarterback in the seventh and eighth grade. We knew we had a special player.”
He'll gradually add 10-15 pounds over the course of his career, but he's about as physically ready as you can be as a freshman, and he has been for years.
As a result, Ferns was placed in everyone's top 100 early before dropping about a hundred spots most places. (ESPN, as per usual, moves people less.) Because of the early commitment, small school, and inopportunely timed injuries, there's surprisingly little scouting out there for a consensus top-200 guy. But here goes anyway.
Ferns gets described as a "throwback" a lot, and while any highly-touted white linebacker is going to get hit with that term Ferns earned it. He played through the state playoffs his junior year severely compromised by injury. Bucknuts' Mark Porter:
“He is a throwback type. He is very physical. Obviously, everyone watched him play hurt in the playoffs and play through the pain and show off his toughness there. I think he could be an All-Big Ten linebacker up at Michigan.”
Mike Farrell of Rivals didn't quite invoke "throwback" but offered a slightly backhanded compliment in that vein:
"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."
It was when Ferns struggled through the early part of the Rivals Five-Star challenge before withdrawing with a leg injury that Rivals dropped him, stating the backhanded part of the above quote directly:
…at his best when he is playing downhill and stuffing the run. Camp/7-on-7 settings do not showcase that element of the game, but they give a good sense of how a player moves in space and plays coverage. Those are the aspects of Ferns' game he needs to work on. He had trouble changing direction and turning to run with backs and tight ends down the field.
They also mentioned that flaw after an earlier Rivals camp that got Ferns his invite to their fancycamp, saying he was "stiff" in one on ones and such.
While both of those evals came in situations where only one set of eyes was there, there are echoes of that criticism a couple other places. ESPN mentions that he is "not real fluid opening his hips" as he attempts to get depth; they do credit him for being instinctive and "athletic enough to get to his spot" in zone. Allen Trieu puts in a mention that he "needs to work on coverage" in a brief scouting report.
That is the main—seemingly only—drawback. Everyone else praises his "great size and good closing speed," or things along those lines. Trieu's report mentions his track career and loves everything except the coverage:
…ready for the college game. As a track kid, he has the straight line speed to run down ball carriers and is great when he’s coming forward… he’s a great blitzer and run defender.
“He is a guy who gets into his drops quickly. He can survey what’s going on in front of him quickly. He can get to the ball quickly. He is a great athlete and a lot of top schools were recruiting him as a tight end. … He brings great size to the linebacker position.”
Tall, well built with great bulk and solid functional strength. Possesses good range and straight-line speed to go sideline-to-sideline.
Is at his best filling downhill inside the tackles. Plays smart, reads keys and sees plays develop leading to very few false steps. Quick to get off the mark and fit his inside run gaps. Generates good short-area power. Plays square with adequate leverage and is difficult to turn out of the hole at his size. …appears much more effective pursuing downhill than laterally.
He has the mass to stop runners dead in their tracks, but is also athletic enough to make plays on the edge of the line. He has good hands and is very knowledgeable between the lines. … not the type of player to chase running backs down outside the box. … classic run-stuffer more so than a spread-capable linebacker at this stage in his development."
… baller. Balls out with truckloads of swag. When balling out, balls further, reaching new frontiers of balling. Skee Lo was thinking of this guy. …Swagtruck baller. Six-hundred star recruit.
Thanks, Mississippi State.
So… Ferns is a guy who goes and hits people hard if they don't run away from him.
Ferns enrolled in January. Alarmingly, a hamstring injury slowed his progress. Count up the "injury" mentions in this article and… yeah. Two is probably a coincidence. Four is getting a bit alarming.
As a result of the hamstring, Ferns was held out much of the spring and did not seem particularly close to breaking into the two deep what with Michigan returning five players with meaningful experience.
Given that depth chart it would make sense to redshirt Ferns. Michigan has Ryan, Gedeon, Morgan, Bolden, and probably Mike McCray in front of him at the MLB and WLB spots. Linebackers tend to play on special teams, though. He's a strong candidate for Argh Why U No Redshirt of the year.
Etc.: Graduated high school in three years. Had a 4.0 at one point. The Pattern: yup.
Why Desmond Morgan? Ferns is a high-IQ thumper that limits YAC and played all over the field as a high school player at a small school. This fits closely with Morgan, who was actually the QB for his high school team. Both are at their best reading and going hard in restricted spaces.
Ferns is much higher ranked but Morgan has clearly outperformed his recruiting rankings in college; while no one will confuse Morgan with a coverage specialist he has generally gotten to the right spot at the right time for Michigan. He's adequate or maybe a little bit better there.
A potential area where this comparison falls down: a lot of people say Ferns is an excellent blitzer and has some of that vertical explosion Jake Ryan does.
Guru Reliability: Medium. Near-consensus on the rankings but injury held him out or slowed him down at some critical points where he could have confirmed his early offer flood and top-100 rankings. Played for a small school against iffy competition.
Variance: Medium. Advanced physically (thus the early offers), little positional projection, high IQ. On the other hand, low level of competition and he has had a lot of injuries, to the point where he may actually be injury-prone instead of just unlucky.
Ceiling: High-minus. Seems to lack the bit of athleticism necessary to warrant a "high"—like Morgan may top out as a B+ player. Does have that A- upside if he can blitz.
General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. I'm a little down on Ferns relative to his rankings because he can't seem to stay healthy. If that recedes there's a good chance he contributes.
Projection: Doesn't redshirt, causing my mandibles to clack angrily every time I look at a depth chart by class for the next four years. Sees special teams time almost exclusively.
In year two, backs up either Gedeon or Bolden at MLB; will take a run at a starting spot vacated by Bolden in year three, and then has another shot a year after. Pretty much exclusively an MLB/WLB prospect, with MLB more likely since it somewhat limits exposure to coverage issues.
OR: JABRILL PEPPERS AND COMFORTING UNCERTAINTY
Three receivers make this post. This guy isn't one of them.
For the first time in years, Michigan's depth chart isn't patched together with duct tape and hope, so the incoming freshmen of 2014 don't have as many opportunities for early playing time as past classes. This is worth celebrating, especially when one particular freshman is poised to make a big impact at a position with some experienced depth anyway.
After Jabrill Peppers, there isn't a clear role for any of the incoming freshmen, and getting this list up to five involved a few reach picks. Again, this is good. Without further ado, here's the list.
1. JABRILL PEPPERS, CB/KR/PR (6'1, 210; 5*, 247 Composite #1 ATH/CB)
Surprise! Despite the presence of four older cornerbacks with significant game experience (Blake Countess, Raymon Taylor, Jourdan Lewis, and Channing Stribling), Peppers is simply too talented to keep off the field. He should see immediate time in Michigan's nickel package, either as the nickelback or playing on the outside with Countess in the slot, and as the season progresses he'll challenge Taylor for a starting spot—with his size, athleticism, and ability in run support, Peppers is an ideal fit on the boundary.
With apologies to Fearless Leader, I believe Peppers will make an instant impact in the return game, as well. While Dennis Norfleet consistently threatened to break long returns, they rarely materialized last year. Michigan had just one kickoff return of 40+ yards (T-89th nationally) and none of 50+; just two punt returns went for 20+ (T-58th), one 30+, and zero 40+. Averages were middling at best: 49th in kickoff returns and 91st in punt returns. Fielding kickoff returns, at the very least, would be a great way to get Peppers the ball without overwhelming him with too much responsibility. If he has a role on offense this year, it'll likely be limited to just a handful of plays.
2. FREDDY CANTEEN, SLOT (6'1, 170; 4*, #41 WR)
Canteen is the player going solo/the one with insanely quick feet
Slot receiver is one of a small number of spots with total uncertainly on the depth chart. Just two players return there: Norfleet (six career "catches" that were actually end-arounds) and sophomore Da'Mario Jones, who only saw time on special teams last year. While Doug Nussmeier may have a different outlook, thus far the coaches have been hesitant to give Norfleet a significant role. A relative unknown committed to Central Michigan before Michigan came calling, Jones never rose above middling three-star even after flipping his commitment. This spot is wide open.
Enter Freddy Canteen, who went from completely off the radar when his high school didn't play actual games in 2012 to a hot camp commodity with ever-rising rankings in 2013. At 6'1, he's got the size this coaching staff covets, and his route-running is very advanced for an incoming freshman. On top of that, he's got speed to burn and a phenomenal name. What more can one ask for? It wouldn't surprise me at all if Canteen, an early enrollee, is the starter in the slot from day one.
3. IAN BUNTING, TE/FUNCHESS (6'7, 233; 4*, #11 TE)
Photo credit: J. Geil/Chicago Sun-Times
Bunting wouldn't have cracked this list a couple weeks ago; then Jake Butt went down with a torn ACL. Now Michigan is down to one tight end that actually catches passes, and that's only if you believe Devin Funchess is still a tight end. AJ Williams is almost exclusively a blocker (and he's still working on that), while Jordan Paskorz is a former linebacker without a catch to his name. Khalid Hill comes off a redshirt and could factor in as an H-back, but that's about it as far as tight end depth goes. There's room for another pass-catcher.
The question is whether or not Bunting will be at all ready to put his hand in the dirt; even in high school, he did most of his damage split out wide. At 233 pounds (on a 6'7 frame), he needs to bulk up significantly to be able to hold his own as a blocker. As an enormous receiver with great hands, however, he can at least see the field as a third-down/red-zone specialist; putting him on the field with Funchess poses major matchup problems for opposing defenses.
4. BRYAN MONE, NT (6'4, 328; 4*, #8 DT)
Another player on the list due to injury on the current roster, Mone could be forced into duty at nose tackle if Ondre Pipkins is limited in his return from a torn ACL. The only other true NT on the roster is redshirt freshman Maurice Hurst, who was listed at 270 pounds on last year's roster.
Mone's stock fell from near-consensus top-50 player to borderline top-100 prospect (or, in Rivals' case, flat-out three-star) after he looked overweight and out of shape at the Under Armour game. Mone put on a ton of weight in a short period of time before his senior season and it clearly affected his conditioning. Luckily for Michigan, he's enrolled early, so efforts to turn bad weight into good are already underway. It's highly unlikely Mone is ready to play a major role, but Michigan might need him to hold his own in sporadic rotation snaps and short-yardage situations.
5. MICHAEL FERNS, ILB (6'3, 235; 4*, #6 ILB)
Another early enrollee, Ferns isn't likely to see much early action on defense. James Ross and Desmond Morgan have the two ILB spots locked down, and both have viable backups with playing experience in Ben Gedeon and Joe Bolden. If there's an injury, however, Ferns is the incoming linebacker best suited to see the field with his size and status as an EE.
Ferns also fits right in on special teams—with his athleticism, he could make an immediate impact on coverage units. This will be a frustrating way to burn a redshirt if Ferns doesn't get some in-game experience at linebacker, but it's inevitable that the coaches will burn a linebacker's redshirt for special teams, and it may as well be the one most ready to see the field.
HONORABLE MENTION: WRs DRAKE HARRIS & MOE WAYS
Both Harris and Ways look like college-ready receivers; Harris benefits from enrolling early, while Ways has the bulk and blocking ability to see the field as a freshman. They'd be higher on the list if playing time on the outside wasn't so hard to come by. Funchess and Jehu Chesson should lock down the starting spots, Amara Darboh is another starting candidate now that he's healthy, and two other options come off redshirts in Jaron Dukes and Csont'e York.
Harris is coming off a hamstring injury that cost him his entire senior season. Ways made great strides from his junior to senior seasons but could still use some, er, seasoning. It'd be great if Michigan was able to redshirt both of these guys, especially if Canteen can also contribute on the outside.
Damien Harris Fallout: Back In It For Mike Weber?
2015 five-star RB Damien Harris decommitted from Michigan this week. After Al Borges—his primary recruiter—was fired, Harris decided he needed to take a step back and explore his options, though his mother says Michigan is still on top, per Sam Webb ($):
“The reason he came to this decision is he felt like when he committed, at the time, we felt like it was the right decision even though it was early,” she explained. “Months later he has been thinking and thinking, ‘I didn’t really go and look at other places probably like I should have. I didn’t consider other places like I should have.’ Even though Michigan is #1, and that hasn’t changed, he just wants to make sure he doesn’t have any regrets when he gets ready to enroll. He just wants to make sure that he didn’t leave any stone unturned and wants to make sure he didn’t miss out on anything, even though he knows Michigan is still his #1. That’s all. He is just making sure that if he was to visit other places, he wasn’t going to regret not taking the full experience.”
Meanwhile, a certain despicable portion of the fanbase* isn't helping Michigan's cause. Harris has taken a lot of heat on Twitter for his decommitment and his coach told TomVH that could be a factor in his ultimate decision ($):
“People need to back off of him [on Twitter]. He’s a 16-year-old kid. People are attacking him on there,” [Madison Southern coach Jon] Clark said. “You have grown men who are way out of line, and Michigan fans better ease up or they’re going to push him away from Michigan. The coaches aren’t; the fans are.
“The only impact a fan ever has on a kid is a negative one; that’s it. There’s not a fan out there that has a positive impact on this kid.”
To state the blitheringly obvious: DON'T DO THIS. I realize/hope this doesn't apply to 99% of you, but nothing you're going to do as a fan—positive or negative, in person or on social media—is going to make a positive difference in a prospect's recruitment. Leave the recruiting to the coaches and, as a general life rule, leave harassing high school students to... nobody. Nobody should do that.
Anyway, with Harris opening up his recruitment, Michigan has rekindled their interest in 2015 four-star Cass Tech RB Mike Weber, per GBW's Josh Newkirk ($):
“I talked with (Nussmeier) for a half-hour on the phone. He is real excited about recruiting me,” Weber told GoBlueWolverine. “He told me it was crazy that Michigan stopped recruiting me. So when he got there he was telling me how he really wanted me (at Michigan). It made me open my eyes back up to Michigan.
“Michigan is back on the radar.”
Weber named a top five of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Tennessee (in no particular order); the Spartans and Vols have been the presumed favorites for a while now, though the renewed Michigan interest could change that. It didn't take long for Weber to recipricate that interest, too—he was the only prospect in attendance at last night's Iowa game, which he seemed to appreciate. Whether or not things work out with Harris, Weber would be a great addition to the class; he's been very productive against solid competition for the last two years and looks great on film.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Malik McDowell, new 2015 offers—including a long-awaited one to a California DE—the final Rivals250, 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.]
The Foolproof Way To Avoid Senioritis
Michigan has its first official signee of the 2014 class. Impossible, you say? Not if you're Michael Ferns, who can sign because he graduated from high school in three years, according to WRTF.com. Ferns is finishing his senior season of football at St. Clairsville while taking classes at Ohio University-Eastern and will enroll at Michigan next semester—the normal time for early enrollees to hit campus.
Other recruits planning to enroll early include Wilton Speight, Bryan Mone, Drake Harris, Mason Cole, and the ECA duo of Freddy Canteen and Brandon Watson.
Froholdt, Weber To Visit This Weekend
The M Block's Eric Rutter caught up with 2015 DL Hjalte Froholdt, who's playing his junior season in a semi-pro league in Denmark; he's been able to come back across the Atlantic for visits, however, and after visiting Arkansas last week he'll be in attendance at the Big House this weekend—it'll be a big one, as he's getting close to a decision:
Froholdt has already announced a final top group of Arkansas, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State and intends to choose from those schools soon- as in within the next couple months, although an official date has not been set. Froholdt visited Arkansas on Saturday to watch the Razorbacks host South Carolina for a 52-7 beating. Michigan will get the next crack at impressing Froholdt as he will be in Ann Arbor on October 19 to watch the Wolverines host the Indiana Hoosiers.
Head on over to the original post to read Froholdt's comments about his relationship with Greg Mattison, his primary recruiter. SPOILER: He likes Greg Mattison. Michigan is very much in the hunt to land Froholdt and an impressive visit experience this weekend could put them in the driver's seat.
2015 Cass Tech RB Mike Weber talked to The Wolverine's Branden Hunter about his relationship with Michigan and upcoming visit ($):
"His commitment really didn't affect me at all," Weber said of [Damien] Harris' pledge. "I grew up liking Michigan, and I'm not scared of competition, so if that college is the best fit for me, that's were I'm going.
"I talk to Michigan a lot," Weber said. "I'm supposed to go to their next home game I believe, and coach Singletary wished me luck before the game. Michigan always shows love."
Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Tennessee are also mentioned as teams showing serious interest in Weber. The issue with his recruitment may not be one of interest as much as it is space in the class; with Harris already committed, I'd be surprised if Michigan takes two running backs unless more spots open up, and by that point they may have a hard time catching up to schools that have the room to tell Weber they can take him at any time.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest 2015 offer and the weekly commit stat wrapup.]