Keith Heitzman is probably the only player in the history of either program to decommit from Vanderbilt in favor of Michigan, so even if he gets buried on the depth chart and emerges from his eligibility totally anonymous but well-educated he'll always have a special place in the hearts of recruitniks everywhere.
Can he be more than an answer on Extreme Sports Nerd Jeopardy? Well… probably not. Disclaimers about star rankings and Jerry Rice apply, but the odds are the odds even if the occasional player beats them. The odds are stacked against Heitzman.
Scouting reports and rankings make this clear. ESPN($) breaks out "adequate" like a seriously depressed Lloyd Carr:
He gets off the ball well. He can be a physical kid at the point of attack, but needs to be more consistent especially with his hands. He displays the ability to maintain some leverage and hold his ground. Will flash the ability to shoot his hands and create separation, but needs to be more active with his hands and use them to not only protect his legs…. Displays adequate speed in pursuit and needs to be sure to utilize good angles and also secure when tackling. Does an adequate job of taking on pulling lineman. Needs to keep working on his recognition skills…. Needs to be more active with his weapons, develop his pass rush arsenal, and not attack the whole man. Heitzman is a solid defender who will flash some tools to be tough versus the run and pass.
This is the same scouting service that said Isaiah Bell stands for BIG PLAYMAKER, or something. They really loved them some Isaiah Bell. Here they very politely say "MAC." Touch the Banner is in the same boat:
Heitzman has some physical skills, including a willingness to hit and some pretty quick feet. But his footwork as a blocker and a defensive end are suspect. He gets by on having superior athleticism and size, but those advantages will disappear somewhat at the next level.
… Defensively, Michigan has a fair number of options at end, all of whom have superior size and equal athleticism. Even if the Wolverines suffer an injury or two at DE, Heitzman should rest easily on the sideline for a year or two.
“Keith is a special kid,” he said. “Obviously, I’m a little biased, but he’s got terrific durability. He’s started every one of those (41) games. He’s never missed a game. I don’t recall him ever missing a practice.”
That is a good attribute to have, but when you read everything every high school coach says about his Michigan-bound players ("turns offensive linemen into tacos… the most delicious tacos you've ever had!"), "he was there" falls a little flat.
An excellent athlete, Heitzman lines up full time at defensive end and part time at tight end. He gets a nice jump off the line and has quick hands. He needs to get bigger and stronger in the weight room if he's going to play either tight end or defensive end on the next level. He's a good run after the catch player because of his athleticism and does a good job with a speed rush at end.
Offers and ratings concur; Heitzman is just hanging on to his third stars at every site. His other offers were the dregs of the Big Ten and SEC. Late involvement from Illinois, a team that recruits decently and has actually seen a bowl game in the last decade, is encouraging in context.
HOWEVA, our most recent data points are encouraging ones. He was unanimously voted his district's defensive player of the year:
Lineman, KEITH HEITZMAN (Hilliard Davidson) 6-4, 250, sr. A unanimous choice as the Central District Division I Defensive Player of the Year, Heitzman used his brute strength and athleticism to overwhelm opponents. He also was one of Davidson's top blockers at tight end. "He was a game-changer on both sides of the ball," White said.
District DPOY might not sound that amazing but when the district includes ND recruit Eilar Hardy and OSU recruit Ron Tanner it's not nothing.
Then Heitzman was a standout on the Ohio Big 33 team that laid waste to Pennsylvania:
While Teague, Ohio's Mr. Football, was grabbing the attention on one side of the ball, it was Hilliard Davidson grad and University of Michigan-bound defensive end Keith Heitzman that set the tone for the Ohio defense.
His combination of quickness and power was too much for Pennsylvania, as he spent most of the game in the opposing backfield.
The other starters on the Ohio line were OSU commit Steve Miller and a pair of guys headed to Michigan State, FWIW. Heitzman collected a sack or two sacks or an interception or maybe all of the above; he definitely forced an interception on Pennsylvania's first drive of the day. He even finished the Ohio scoring with a one-yard TD run.
He’s been consistent, giving great effort on every snap of the ball. When talking with Ohio coaches about Heitzman they mention the word “motor”. It’s his motor that has caused him to be so disruptive coming off the edge although he’s also done some damage working inside out. He uses his hands well, and has surprising strength at the point attack.
That's from Michigan's Scout site and is probably biased, but local observers were also impressed. As a bonus, Heitzman claimed to be up to 250 pounds at the event.
That's hopeful in the same way Greg Brown's strong spring performance was. It gives a prospect most people had written off as a backup or special teamer some new life. Heitzman's new upside seems to be an avearge-ish starter, but here's hoping we read one of those articles about "shutting up the critics (and by critics, we mean people who think critically)" in a few years' time.
Etc.: Davidson beat Glenville for the state championship in 2009. Enjoying his new status as a hater:
“I grew up an Ohio State fan, but I wasn't a die hard or anything, but I’m gladly hating them right now. It’s been mainly joking around. Everyone is pretty proud, and it’s just that it’s going to a big time school and things like that.”
"Coach Rodriguez had begun recruiting Keith in late December, about a week or two before he got fired," Davidson coach Brian White said. "He left behind all the phone numbers of the players he was looking at. Coach Hoke, who I have known for a long time, got back with me as a courtesy, and I encouraged him to keep Keith on his list and sent along some film."
Eventually, the combination of Michigan's football and academics won over Heitzman and his mother, both of whom, according to White, "were gung-ho about Vanderbilt and the prestige of education there."
Why Jake Frysinger? Heitzman's reasonable long term upside is as a rotation SDE or three-tech who gives the starters a blow and contributes here and there by not getting run over. Frysinger, who appeared in 44 games while starting two, is the quintessential Michigan rotation DE. He may have been a bit taller and was definitely a bigger recruit, FWIW.
Guru Reliability: High. Healthy player at a high profile school; recruiting services are in agreement.
General Excitement Level: Meh. Would be "low" but the flicker of hope provided by the Big 33 performance raises it a bit.
Projection: Obvious redshirt and unlikely to work his way past the competition in the race to replace Ryan Van Bergen next year. May emerge into a depth defender in a few years.
"It would be a travesty, it would be ridiculous to all of a sudden come back and get the feeling back, get the health back, feel good again and then all of a sudden go throw some other colors on my shirt and go coach."
That is actually a nice way to look at it. There is a tendency to look at every recruit and say "well if this guy isn't going to be a starter / playmaker / regular contributor, why take him?" But, the reality is that the team takes approximately 20-25 recruits per year, and at most 1/2 start or get full time playing time during their careers. The remainder end up being special teams players, rotational players or back-ups. It's just reality. Obviously, you want the best back-ups you can get, but it is unrealistic to expect that every kid is going to be the next Brandon Graham / Charles Woodson / Tom Brady / Jake Long. Nice perspective.
I hope that this kid contributes, but sadly when you look at a kid like this, Tim's projection of possible rotational player seems likely.
I sort of feel for the kids in the 2010 class - many were recruited by the former coach, yet stayed on. Unfortunately, because we were in a down period, some of these kids are not ideal fits for the new system and way lower ranked than some of the 2012 commits, and therefore may never find the field.
Obviously, you never hope for attrition, but reading a few of these profiles, it is hard to imagine that some of these kids that Tim is projecting as career back-ups will not go elsewhere where they will have a chance for more playing time.
Note: the second and third paragraphs are not specific to Keith - more just a general comment on this past class.
My hopes for Keith Heitzman: I think most of us have competed against guys who don't look like shit, all the while kicking our ass. After a good spell of ass kickin', we have to grudgingly admit, "damn, this guy is much better than I thought."
Wish the kid the best, and I am happy he is here. It does sound like he'll struggle to see meaningful field time until late in his career, if at all, but if he went from Vandy to UM, my sense is that he has designs on an education while here. So for the next 4-5 years, he'll study at one of the best schools in the country, live in one of the best college towns around, and be a member of the winningest football program in CFB history. Sounds like a win for me.
I wouldn't be surprised at all if Heitzman ends up better than advertised. He played in the OCC, which is one of the toughest conferences in Ohio and Hilliard Davidson won the Division I (largest schools for those not familiar with our system) state title in 2009. One of his high school position coaches is an assistant wrestling coach too. I like d-linemen with wrestling skills. Good luck Keith.