...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
Pickerington (OH) North junior DE Jake Butt is a member of the ESPNU 150 Watch List and has already earned a four-star rating from 247Sports. Though he grew up in Ohio State country and is a Buckeye fan, he's open to Michigan ($, info in header) and made it to campus for the Notre Dame game, which (as you'll read) made quite the impression.
Butt currently holds offers from Bowling Green, Buffalo, Kent State, Northwestern, Syracuse, Toledo, and UCLA, and has interest from Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, and Indiana, among others. I caught up with Jake last night to discuss the early stages of his recruitment:
ACE: I know you got a couple offers in recently. How is your recruitment going right now, and which schools are showing the most interest in you?
JAKE: I just got offered by Northwestern and Syracuse. I've been getting a lot of letters from a bunch of different schools, all the way from USC and Oregon, up north to Syracuse, all the down to Miami, I've been getting letters all over the place. It's going pretty good right now, but I know I've got to work hard and try to get some more offers.
ACE: Of the teams that have been contacting you so far, do you have some early favorites, or is it too soon to say right now?
JAKE: It's too soon. I haven't got a chance to go check some of the campuses, go to a game, or go to a junior day or something—I'll go to a lot of those this year, and I'll probably be able to narrow it down based on the campuses and atmosphere.
ACE: I know you were up at Michigan for the Notre Dame game. What was that experience like for you, and what did you take away from that visit about Michigan?
JAKE: Going up there was just amazing. The game spoke for itself. We were part of a record attendance, 114,804 people, just a crazy atmosphere and the game comes down to the last play. It was just unbelievable being there. Michigan's campus is beautiful. We went with my dad and one of my friends, and he loves Michigan, so it was cool to take him up there too.
ACE: Have you been in contact with any of the coaches from Michigan specifically, and have they said what specific position they're looking at you for?
JAKE: I haven't been in contact—I'm hoping to get friend requests on Facebook or our team game tape site, hudl.com, so I'm hoping to get a friend request from Michigan. It's going pretty good, I'm just hoping to get that.
ACE: What are you looking for in a prospective school?
JAKE: Definitely a good football program with good tradition. Academics, of course, and then location—once I go up there to see what the different college are like I'll be able to narrow it down.
ACE: So would you say distance is a factor in your recruitment? Would you rather stay closer to home?
JAKE: That would be maybe the tie-breaking decision. If I get a good opportunity academic-wise and football-wise, I'll go there no matter how far it is. If it has to come down to it, it'll most likely be location.
ACE: For people that are unfamiliar with your game, how would you describe your strengths and weaknesses on the football field?
JAKE: I'm 6'6", 225 and I'm pretty athletic for my size, so I use my speed coming off the edge to get the quarterback and make plays for my team. Then on offense, my strength is probably my hands. I'm a big kid, and it helps that I have good hands. I go down the field, the quarterback throws me the ball, and as long as I can get my hands on it I've got a catch for him.
For my team, each week I find something that I did wrong in the previous game on film and I go work on that all week long. It just depends on the game, what I'm doing well and what I'm doing wrong at the time. I just talk to my coaches and work on it in practice.
ACE: I know your team got off to a strong start this season. How has the year gone for the team and for you personally?
JAKE: We're 5-1, and we were the first ever North team to start off 4-0, and almost pulled it off against Central, the closest we've been since our playoff run two years ago, so there's a lot of good going on with our team right now but we've got to work because we've got tough games the rest of the season if we're trying to finish off 9-1. Individually, I think I'm leading the team in touchdowns, receptions, and reception yards and I'm leading the team in sacks.
ACE: It seems like most schools are recruiting you as a defensive end. Is that where you think you project best at the next level?
JAKE: I really don't care what I play. I just love the sport of football. I play both sides of the ball, so wherever the school wants me, wherever they need me, I'll play anywhere.
ACE: Do you have any visits set up for the rest of the season?
JAKE: Yeah, I'm going to probably get up to the Northwestern-Penn State game and the Michigan State-Michigan game, maybe go to one other Penn State game or another Ohio State game.
Above: Camp highlights from Michigan, courtesy of Allen Trieu. His defensive highlight reel, which inexplicably cannot be embedded, is available here.
One of the fastest-rising prospects in the state of Ohio is 2013 Cleveland Shaker Heights athlete De'Niro Laster. Despite being a part-time JV player as a sophomore, he recorded 65 tackles and six sacks at linebacker and tallied over 600 yards and six touchdowns as a receiver in 2010, according to Scout, and he's off to a strong start to his junior season. At around 6'3", 215 pounds and still growing, I think Laster projects as either a linebacker or tight end at the next level, although all four recruiting services currently list him as a wide receiver.
De'Niro currently holds offers from Akron, Bowling Green, Duke, and Temple, and already has interest from schools such as Alabama, Indiana, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Oregon, Pitt, Syracuse, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and, of course, Michigan. I caught up with the rising junior last night for an interview, and he showed a lot of interest in the Wolverines:
ACE: How's your recruitment going so far? What teams have shown the most interest in you?
DE'NIRO: Everything is going really good. I've been getting a lot of interest from almost every school in the nation, and for different positions. I've been talking to a lot of coaches, a lot of coaches like me at linebacker now, outside linebacker, which I thought I could play at the next level. A lot of coaches still like me at receiver, but I play [well] at both, so I don't mind playing anywhere.
Some top programs that have been showing interest are Ohio State, Michigan is starting to show more interest, and I really like them, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, USC, Michigan State, it's really a lot. Notre Dame…
ACE: Do you have any early favorites out of that group?
DE'NIRO: I don't have a top [list], not in order. I like Michigan a lot. I've been trying to get in contact with them, but I know they're busy. The week of the Notre Dame game I talked to somebody and I was supposed to go up there for a game, and they wanted me to bring some film too from this year, but I wasn't able to make it. But I like Michigan, I like Ohio State, Indiana, West Virginia, [and] Tennessee, right now.
ACE: You mentioned trying to come and visit. Do you have any plans for visits this season, or are you just focusing on your season right now?
DE'NIRO: Our team isn't doing so well, so I'm just trying to finish up the season, but I do plan on making it up to the Ohio State-Michigan game. We play a lot on Saturday, so I haven't made it to any college games this year yet.
ACE: Which specific Michigan coaches have been in contact with you, and what position are the Wolverines recruiting you for?
DE'NIRO: I think [my Michigan recruitment] got started because I went to a camp, it was a Michigan camp, with Raw Talent, the people I work out with. I did really good, I shined there, I showed my talents up there. Coach Jeff [Hecklinski], he's the receivers coach, I talked to him once and I've been trying to contact him some more but he's been very busy. I don't know [regarding position]. They just want me to bring film up so they can decide. A lot of teams, they're recruiting me for different positions.
ACE: You've mentioned playing wide receiver and linebacker. Where do you think you'd fit best at the next level?
DE'NIRO: To be honest, at the next level, I think linebacker, just because I think I have a lot more to go. I'm 6'3", 215 right now, and I've been gaining 20 pounds every offseason, so I just think linebacker would be the best fit. I'm having a real good season at linebacker.
ACE: I know your team hasn't been doing too well, but how have you been doing personally this year?
DE'NIRO: On defense, I have 77 tackles so far and six sacks, and we've got four more games to play, so I've been doing real good as far as on defense. On offense, I'm versatile, I play anywhere my coaches want me to. They've moved me to receiver, then they moved me to tight end, run me some routes at tight end, so that's going good too. But our team hasn't been doing what we're capable of doing, so I haven't been able to really excel like I want to on the offensive side. I have three touchdowns, and somewhere around 25 to 30 catches, but I'm not sure exactly.
ACE: In terms of your game, what do you think are your biggest strengths, and what are you trying to work on before you get to the college level?
DE'NIRO: My biggest strengths, I know a lot about football, I think I have a high football IQ. I take pride in the game. I go study film by myself all the time, and I think that's been really helping me out a lot this season. As far as physically, I'm a lot stronger than a lot of people, so that makes a lot of stuff easier. During the offseason, I always work on speed and quickness, and I will always want to increase that some more. You can never not want to increase that.
ACE: Any idea when you'd want to start wrapping up your recruitment? Do you have a timeline in mind, or are things pretty open?
DE'NIRO: Things are pretty open. I wanted to, maybe if everything is going well, try to get it done before my senior year, but for right now everything is pretty much open.
Thanks to De'Niro for taking the time for the interview. One thing to keep an eye on in his recruitment is that he's teammates with highly-touted 2013 defensive tackle Donovan Munger, another recruit on Michigan's radar. There's been some talk the two could be a package deal, but it's very early on in the process and those things have a way of falling through pretty often. Ohio State is also going after Munger, so this could once again become a battle between the two fierce rivals, possibly for both Shaker Heights prospects.
Tyrone (GA) Sandy Creek cornerback Shaquille (Shaq) Wiggins is a quickly-rising prospect in the class of 2013, earning ESPNU 150 Watch List and Future Top247 honors. He has a high interest in Michigan, and even had a visit planned for the Notre Dame game that unfortunately fell through, though as you'll see, that had no impact on his desire to come to Ann Arbor.
After an outstanding performance at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp this past summer, he earned a scholarship offer from the Wolverines ($, info in header) to go along with offers from Ohio State, Cincinnati, Ball State, Ohio, and Toledo. Wiggins has already taken visits to Auburn and Florida this season, and also has interest from Clemson, Georgia, Illinois, and Mississippi State, among others. I caught up to Wiggins on the phone after his practice today to talk about his recruitment:
ACE: First of all, you've got an offer from Michigan. Are they an early favorite in your recruitment, and what other teams are recruiting you right now?
SHAQ: There's a lot of schools, including Indiana, Miami, LSU, Notre Dame, Florida State, Tennessee, Oklahoma - there's a few I could name.
ACE: Do you have an early favorites list? Where does Michigan stand with those schools?
SHAQ: Once my other offers stop coming in, I'll probably end up making a top ten or a favorites list then. But yeah, Michigan is one of my favorite teams.
ACE: I know you tried to come up for the Notre Dame game and that didn't end up working out, but have you had a chance to watch the Wolverines at all this season?
SHAQ: Yes, I watched the Notre Dame game, and I liked the way they played defense. I'm 100% sure I'm coming to the game, I think it's November 26th, when they play Ohio State. [Ed-Ace: He nailed the date off the top of his head after a football practice. Impressive.]
ACE: Who have you been in contact with on the coaching staff at Michigan?
SHAQ: Coach Mallory.
ACE: Have you been talking to any of the recruits who are currently committed?
SHAQ: Yeah, I talk to T-Rich [Terry Richardson] now and then. He congratulated me on making the ESPN Watch List, the top 150 watch list. That's about the only Michigan recruit I've talked to.
ACE: Focusing on your high school season, your team is 3-0 right now. What are your stats so far, and what are your goals for this season?
SHAQ: Well I'm trying to get at least eight [more interceptions] so I can get 13 picks. Right now I have five picks this season after the third game.
ACE: I know it's early on in the process, but do you have any idea about a timeline for your recruitment?
SHAQ: I would probably want to commit to a school during my senior [season] so I can get the recruiting process over with.
ACE: For people who may not be familiar with your game, how would you describe how you play on the field?
SHAQ: I would say I'm quick, with good man coverage, and I'm very physical at the line.
ACE: Are there any areas where you're looking to improve right now to get ready for the next level?
SHAQ: Yes. My overall cornerback coverage and just my overall technique, staying with the receiver and turning my hips.
The "Introducing" series, which features interviews with up-and-coming junior recruits, continues with a look at Crete-Monee (IL) wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. The 6'3", 183-pound junior has a great deal of interest in Michigan, and will make a return visit for the Notre Dame game after coming to Ann Arbor for this summer's BBQ at the Big House.
Treadwell is teammates and good friends with 2012 commit Anthony Standifer, who will accompany him on his visit this weekend. As a sophomore, Treadwell tallied 58 catches for 811 yards and seven touchdowns as a wideout while also recording ten tackles for loss, six sacks, and five forced fumbes as a defensive end. I caught up with Treadwell on the phone last night, and here's what he had to say about his recruitment, Michigan, and his goals for his junior season.
ACE: What are you looking for on your visit to Ann Arbor?
LAQUON: I'm looking to meet with the coaches, the guys who committed there, and just being down there with Anthony and seeing the game.
ACE: Have you talked to any of the other recruits besides Anthony?
LAQUON: No, I haven't.
ACE: Do you have any early favorites of the teams that are recruiting you?
LAQUON: Yeah, Michigan's a favorite.
ACE: What other schools have been looking at you?
LAQUON: Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Vanderbilt, schools like that.
ACE: What does it mean for you to have your teammate, Anthony [Standifer], already committed to Michigan?
LAQUON: I think it's great. He thinks it's a great program, and I also think it's a great program, so I think it would be fun for both of us if I do commit there. I'm just looking forward to going down there.
ACE: What sticks out to you about Michigan? What do you like about the school?
LAQUON: I just like the whole new coaching staff, and they're all fun to be around and outgoing. [I also like] the fans, the fan support.
ACE: What would it mean to you in terms of your recruitment if Michigan were to extend an offer to you?
LAQUON: I think it would be great. It would be a big step in my recruitment. I think my family would be happy for me, and we'd sit down and talk about it.
ACE: I know it's early on, but do you have any idea about a timeline, when you'd be thinking about making a possible commitment?
LAQUON: I'm not sure right now.
ACE: Your team [Crete-Monee] is 2-0 right now. What are your goals for finishing out your junior season, and what are you trying to work on in your game to take it to the next level?
LAQUON: The team goal would be beating Moline this week, and if we get the win going undefeated on the season, winning the state [title]. The biggest thing I would have to work on this year, well, I'm not sure.
ACE: Well, what would you say are your strongest qualities as a player?
LAQUON: Making people miss and catching the ball in traffic.
Thanks to Laquon for taking the time after his practice to do the interview, and I'll keep you updated on his visit and recruitment -- it certainly sounds like Michigan is in great position to land a commitment if (and likely when, considering the early interest from both parties) they extend an offer.
Pickerington (OH) Central DE Vidauntae "Taco" Charlton is a member of both the ESPNU 150 Watch List and the Early Top 247 for the class of 2013. The 6'6", 240-pound junior tallied over 40 tackles with 7 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 2 forced fumbles as a sophomore last year in just his second season playing defensive end. On top of early offers from Cincinnati, Purdue, Syracuse, and UCLA, Charlton has drawn interest from Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, LSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, and several other schools as his recruitment gains some serious steam.
Taco will be one of several recruits at the Notre Dame game this weekend for an unofficial visit, and he took the time to answer a few questions about his recruitment, Michigan, and, yes, his name.
ACE: I know it's early on in the process, but which schools have been in contact with you so far? Do you have an early list of favorites?
TACO: Well I have offers from Cincinnati, UCLA, Purdue, and Syracuse. I've talked to all the Big Ten schools, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Virginia, N.C. State, and more. [My] early favorites would be the teams that offered me already because they showed me a lot of love.
ACE: What's your interest level in Michigan, and who from the coaching staff has been in contact with you? What will you be looking for when you visit this weekend?
TACO: I like Michigan a lot, it's somewhere close to home and the people there love their football and that is one thing that attracts me. The coach I've talked to is Coach Singletary. This weekend I'm just looking forward to enjoying the good game, seeing how crazy the crowd is, and geting to meet some of the coaches.
ACE: Have you been in contact with other recruits who will be at the Notre Dame game? If so, who?
TACO: Nope, I haven't really talked to anyone that I know that will be at the game recruit-wise but I'll probably meet some of them while I'm there.
ACE: For people who are unfamiliar with you, describe your game. What position do you think you'd fit at best in college, and what are you working on to improve as your recruitment picks up?
TACO: Well to round it up I'm a real big guy that's athletic and can move. I am still learning the position, I've only played it for two years. Most people say I am a great pass rusher but I believe I can stop the run also. In college I will most likely be a DE and I am just working on just dominating and taking over a game with my play.
ACE: I apologize in advance for asking the question that I'm sure you get from everyone, but I think the MGoBlog readers will revolt if I don't: How did you get the name Taco?
TACO: Yeah I get that a lot. It actually came from my grandma. My mom was having me real early so my grandma used to always send cards to the hospital [saying] don't let the baby come down south and sign it Taco. So once I was born my nickname became Taco and it stuck.
Thanks to Taco for taking the time to do this interview; he's definitely a player to keep an eye on for a potential offer, perhaps in the near future, as it looks like he'll be one of the top players in Ohio in the class of '13 -- Duane Long listed him as the #3 rising junior in the state back in April. He's looked at as a raw player (again, he's only played DE for two years) with a ton of athletic upside, he impressed over the summer at Ohio State's junior camp ($, info in header), and he should be a very hot commodity as the recruiting process wears on.
Tristan Nickelson on an unofficial visit to Auburn. [Photo courtesy of the Nickelson family]
League City (TX) Clear Falls offensive tackle Tristan Nickelson projects to be one of the top offensive tackles in the nation in 2013, and it looks like Michigan will be a serious player in his recruitment. The 6'7", 280-pound prospect is an ESPNU 150 Watch List candidate and could receive consideration for five-star status when the 2013 class is ranked. Excelling in the classroom as well as on the field, Nickelson carries a 4.1 GPA (!) and plans on studying mechanical engineering in college. His father was kind enough to update me on Tristan's recruitment as he prepares for his junior season, which kicks off tomorrow against the Hitchcock (TX) Bulldogs.
ACE: Who has been recruiting Tristan from Michigan? What is his interest level in the Wolverines, and are there any plans to take a visit at this point?
MR. NICKELSON: Coach Funk personally sent Tristan a hand-written invitation to attend one of the summer camps in Ann Arbor last June -- unfortunately we had a conflict in scheduling and were unable to attend. Based on NCAA rules, Tristan can’t receive any recruiting information until September 1st, 2011.
At this point (still very early in the recruiting process) Michigan would be his top choice, based on the new coaching staff, Coach Funk, the engineering department, and the incredible facilities. Tristan asked me several years ago, “Which top-25 program also has a world-class engineering department?" I answered Michigan, so since that time Michigan has been his favorite college team, even though I played for coach Jim Wacker at TCU (4-year letterman 1984-1988) and his mother played volleyball for Texas A&M. (Our daughter Taylor is a freshman at Texas A&M.)
We would like to explore taking an unofficial visit to Michigan to expose Tristan to the game day environment, and we're thinking that invitation will happen -- but again, most likely after Sept. 1st. It would be Coach Funk’s call or the recruiter assigned to the greater Houston area.
Tristan also plans on attending the Michigan Football Camp in June 2012.
ACE: What other schools have shown interest, and does Tristan have an idea of which programs are among his favorites?
MR. NICKELSON: Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Auburn, LSU, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, TCU, West Virginia, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas A&M -- basically everyone on the list has started showing interest in recruiting Tristan by inviting him to games and unofficial campus visits.
His top three at this point (in order) would be: Michigan, LSU and Texas A&M.
ACE: Does Tristan have a timetable in mind for his recruitment? How has he handled all the attention so far?
MR. NICKELSON: We plan on attending a number of college football games this season, then continuing with unofficial visits throughout the spring and summer. Tristan is being considered for the U.S. Army All-American Game (Jan. 2013) and could wait until then to announce his final choice. I guess the timeline is still undetermined at this point. Schools can start contacting him directly on April 16th, 2012 -- I’m sure it will get crazy at that point.
ACE: This might be tough to answer, being his father, but how would you evaluate Tristan's strengths and weaknesses on the field? Is there anything specific he's working on in his game right now?
MR. NICKELSON: Although several publications have him listed at 6’6”, 255 lbs. [and playing for] Clear Springs High School, the correct information is 6’ 7 3/8”, 281 lbs. (with a shoe size of 17) at Clear Falls. So we need to improve on his “feet work” along with his 40 time; at the Under Armour Combine he was timed in the 6.4’s, which he has since improved to under a 6.0. Based on the top 10 OT numbers, Tristan really needs to be under a 5.2 by spring football (March 2012). His shuttle times have also continued to improve, and I would say at the point in his career, he is a much better run blocker than he is on pass protection. On over 50% of the run plays, he ends up with a “pancake block.”
From a positive standpoint, he is very strong and increasing weekly as he matures. Several programs, including Auburn, feel like Tristan will play in the 310-320 range. He has a wingspan of 82.5” and extremely large/strong hands (Tristan had the strongest hands at the UA Combine -- 165 lbs. on pressure). He is also on the wrestling team, placing 4th in district last year as a sophomore in the 285-pound class (his weight was 241 during the season). He is being trained by one of the top Olympic lifting coaches in the country, Tim Swords.
ACE: You said that your son is planning to study mechanical engineering in college. What qualities is he looking for in his future college choice?
MR. NICKELSON: As I mentioned, the combination would be a top-25 football program with has a top-tier engineering school; it’s only a handful of schools that have both. In addition, we have talked about playing for an offensive line coach that played the position in college or in the pros, along with a head coach that will have some level of flexibility in regards to the engineering curriculum.
Based on recent events, it will also be very important that the program is in good standing with the NCAA, and not under any type of current investigations.
If Tristan has the opportunity to play in the NFL that will be great, but we have always stressed the need for a great education, which he has done a great job of managing to date. So from our perspective, the pursuit of the [mechanical engineering degree] should always be equally as important as playing for a major university.