I did not make this headline up
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.]
Oh, Right ... That
There hasn't been a recruiting roundup since Jabrill Peppers tweeted his intention to take official visits after the season, catching not only Michigan fans off-guard, but also his fellow commits and even his own coach, Paramus Catholic's Chris Partridge—notably, the man who sets up all of Peppers' visits. After the tweet set fire to this corner of the internet, Peppers released a statement through Partrige:
I am still 100% committed to the University of Michigan and that is the place where I want to go to college. With the rumors about Coach Hoke possibly not being there I need to make sure that I have options and have seen other places in case the University of Michigan decides to go in a different direction. For the sake of my future I need to make sure I have other options. No need to look into it any further! Go Blue and beat TDS
Peppers reiterated that he's not decommiting and just wants to use any potential visits as a "security blanket," to Scout (via Sam Webb's latest column in the Detroit News).
Michigan has already begun efforts to assuage Peppers' fears, certainly with an eye on keeping him from taking any visits, which would put Brady Hoke in quite the bind as he balances the massive need to keep Peppers in the fold with the possibility of angering other commits—and displaying what could easily be interpreted as hypocricy by Michigan targets and their coaches—by not enforcing his no-visit policy. Dave Brandon's statement in support of Hoke specifically mentioned Michigan's national recruiting "from New Jersey to California, from Michigan to Florida." I don't believe New Jersey is in there by accident; in fact, the whole statement seems to be as much a response to the Peppers situation as it is to any fan discontent.
There are a few things working in Michigan's favor. Peppers and his Paramus Catholic squad play in the state championship game this weekend; the following weekend he's set to take his official visit to Michigan. Peppers didn't talk to Hoke when he made his statement last week—Hoke had a few other things to worry about—but he'll definitely find out where things stand when he's in Ann Arbor; if the coaches (and Brandon) can convince him that the program is on stable ground, it's entirely possible that this whole thing blows over without him ever setting foot on another school's campus.
Even if Peppers still wants to explore other schools after his Michigan official, the timing is tough; an NCAA-mandated recruiting dead period goes into effect after next week's visit, so he wouldn't be able to visit any school until mid-January, just a couple weeks before Signing Day.
For his part, Peppers certainly seemed committed to Michigan during The Game on Saturday, tweeting out his support multiple times during the game and indicating afterward that he'd be taking part in it next season, and not as a Buckeye. While the fact that Peppers even needs reassurance that Hoke will still be at Michigan next year isn't a good sign regarding his recruitment or the program, I don't think there's a lot to worry about here unless Peppers actually goes on other visits—for now, only his trip to Ann Arbor is set to go.
[After THE JUMP, Michigan drops the 'grey shirt' distinction for Brady Pallante, visit reactions from The Game, and a roundup of the latest on Michigan's commits who are still alive in the playoffs.]
As reported on multiple outlets, including this one, Michigan is in line to get a commitment sometime this week. Brandon promised the prospect he wouldn't mention his position, class, or location (or name, obviously), so I'll say that he is a football player, and his pledge will come as welcome news. This post will self-destruct in 3... 2... 1...
Darn, I was really hoping that would get me out of writing the rest of this post. The above was the good news. Here's the bad, per Scout's Allen Trieu ($):
Michigan also recently offered Williams and he was considering a visit to Ann Arbor but he now says he is ready to shut things down.
"As far as right now, I'm done with recruiting. My top two are Notre Dame and Missouri and just want to decide between those two. I'm just trying to figure it out."
That's 2014 Berrien Springs (MI) DE Jhonny Williams, whom Michigan offered immediately after they missed out on Da'Shawn Hand. Williams took an official visit to Notre Dame last weekend, had a great time, and decided he'd either stick with his current commitment to Missouri or flip to the Irish. So it goes.
A potential backup option to the backup option is WI TE/DE Gaelin Elmore. Elmore is a Minnesota commit; 247's Steve Lorenz reported that Michigan's coaches got in contact with him last week ($). Brandon caught up with Elmore to get more details, and for now he doesn't sound like a realistic option:
I'm not sure exactly what the coaches are planning with Elmore but he was pretty clear with how he is currently feeling. "I'm not really interested in Michigan at this point. It'd just be interesting to see what they had to say."
I don't know if the coaches were caught completely off guard by Hand's commitment to Alabama; it sure looks like they're scrambling to find a suitable replacement in the class.
[Hit THE JUMP to see which pair of highly-ranked 2015 targets have Michigan among their top schools, updates from last weekend's high school football action, and where Wolverine commits and targets stand in the updated ESPN 300 for 2015.]
This GIS went much better than expected.
This feature on Wilton Speight has perhaps the least informative headline ever; that's okay, though, because it comes from The Goochland Gazette, and [keels over laughing].
Okay, pull yourself together, post rapturous blockquote:
Standing in a huddle on the sideline with his teammates just before kickoff, he towers over his running backs and offensive line by a good five inches. He gestures confidently, like a conductor fully in charge of an orchestra, wholly in tune with and in charge of his surroundings.
The next thing that strikes your attention is that beautiful spiral. Tight and wind-resistance, he hums the pigskin all over the yard, from sideline-to-sideline, completing every route in the playbook - hitches, curls, posts, outs, you name it — with uniform ease. Comparisons to Ben Roethlisberger are a given, not only because of his 6’6, 230 pound frame, but also due to his surprisingly nimble feet and his innate ability to prolong plays and spin productive downs out of would-be sacks.
CA ATH JuJu Smith was always considered a longshot to end up at Michigan, even though he'd previously scheduled an official visit for the Ohio State game. After very positive visits to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and new contender Oregon, Smith dropped the Wolverines from his list, citing their less-than-stellar performance:
JuJu Smith said he thinks Michigan is a great school, but not a fit for him. Cancelled his visit said losses caused them to drop on his list
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) November 5, 2013
Before PANIC sets in, please note that this is relatively unusual; yes, of course winning helps recruiting, but normally a team's win/loss record affects the next class more than the current one (in this case, Michigan isn't doing itself any favors for 2015). If you click through to Tom's tweet, you'll note that he responds to someone stating that Da'Shawn Hand may feel the same way with a straightforward "No, I don't think that." Along those same lines...
There is no way that I would change my mind over 1 loss, the future is bright! Go blue 〽
— Drake Harris (@drizzygetbusy01) November 5, 2013
Now, does Michigan's demoralizing loss to State potentially affect 2015 in-state recruits like Mike Weber, Josh Alabi, and Brian Cole? Absolutely. To Michigan kids who've now seen MSU take five of the last six games, the Spartans are now the state's top football program—and the most stable one. That doesn't mean they won't consider U-M—the flip side to this is a recruit sees plenty of opportunity to help bring a traditionally strong program back to the top—but at the same time, it obviously doesn't help.
Hand's Final Visit
Da'Shawn Hand's final official visit comes on Saturday when he watches 4-4 Florida take on Vanderbilt; while the Gators were once considered a potential dark horse, a season even uglier than Michigan's has robbed them of any momentum, especially with coach Will Muschamp squarely on the hot seat (while a team's record doesn't have a huge effect on most recruits, the coach recruiting them potentially not having a job next year usually does). Rivals's Mike Farrell, who's the recruiting reporter in closest regular contact with Hand, says in his latest column that he thinks Michigan holds a slight edge over Alabama ($). It's hard to see Florida jumping into the mix with Hand's announcement coming a week from today.
The M Block's Eric Rutter pens a lengthy, quote-filled feature on 2014 commit Chase Winovich, covering his season, playing both ways this year, his friendship with fellow Pennsylvanian Sterling Jenkins (both plan to visit for the OSU game), and his feelings on Hand and Malik McDowell:
Chase then went on to share his thoughts on how Michigan will close the 2014 class, focusing specifically on defensive line prospects Malik McDowell and DaShawn Hand. "I have a gut feeling that Malik McDowell will go to Michigan. I'm not to sold on [DaShawn] Hand yet, but people seem pretty, pretty, really, really confident that they know their stuff and say he's headed to Michigan. So I'm going to trust them and say, yeah, I hope he's going to Michigan. But like I said, I definitely have that gut feeling on Malik McDowell." This would put the finishing touches on a strong class that ranks among the best in the country for 2014.
Winovich is apparently taking his recruiting guru cues from Sam Webb.
If you've got a 247 subscription, Clint Brewster looks at five candidates to be Michigan's next 2015 commit ($).
247 released their Crystal Ball rankings; I'm currently ranked #40 (out of 194, so... I'll take it!) for 2014 and, thanks to Michigan's early efforts, am all the way up at #16 for the class of 2015.
Keeping His Hand To Himself
This week's edition of "First and 17" features Da'Shawn Hand's coach telling Mike Farrell, "I don't know if he knows for sure for sure. I feel like he really likes Michigan. He's gonna go feel the flavor of the SEC because of everything everyone's talked about, but... you know, I don't even know. I think he knows. I don't even know if pops knows yet ... At this point, none of where he picks will surprise me, because they're all great schools." (2:25 mark.) He also tells Roy Manning, who stopped by Woodbridge during the bye week, that he thinks Hand is leaning towards Michigan—but also that he likes Alabama, and this is before Hand's official to Tuscaloosa. (7:25 mark.)
Later, Hand discusses why he likes to keep his thoughts to himself (9:44 mark): "When I take one visit, everyone thinks I'm committing to the college ... I just don't like showing people my full hand, because then everyone can pick out your every move. Everyone tries to get in my head, but that'll never happen."
So... your guess is as good as mine. We'll know in ten days when he makes his announcement.
Michigan Still In Mix For Glenville Duo
Rivals's Josh Helmholdt caught up with highly-touted 2014 Glenville teammates Marshon Lattimore and Erick Smith to discuss their respective recruitments. Like Hand, both are playing it coy when it comes to naming a leader, even though Ohio State is the presumed destination for both (especially Lattimore; fitting Smith into the class could get difficult for OSU). Both have four official visits left to schedule—Alabama is already on the docket for each—and Michigan is in the running for both. Here's Lattimore ($):
"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 ($):
Alabama assistant coach Bobby Williams was at Glenville on Friday and Smith is looking at rescheduling that trip for sometime in December. He has a group of a half dozen schools who are in the mix for his remaining four official visits.
"I am not for sure, but I know Ohio State, Michigan, Louisville, Kentucky, Michigan State and Georgia Tech too - those are all up there," Smith said. "You could say those are the schools I am really looking at right now."
With Lattimore and Smith planning their trips together, it's fair to guess that OSU, Michigan, and Louisville (along with Bama) have an edge—those schools are mentioned by both prospects. It's tough to see Michigan beating out Alabama and Ohio State given how the season is playing out and the fact that neither are sure they'll take another trip to Ann Arbor.
Meanwhile, four-star MI DL Malik McDowell has scheduled his official visit to Florida and tells GatorCountry.com that he's in frequent contact with head coach Will Muschamp. He's another prospect who's very difficult to read; the very frequent trips to Ann Arbor—and playing on the same line with commit Lawrence Marshall—suggest Michigan holds an edge, but it's clear that he's serious about looking around.
[Hit THE JUMP for the latest on Sheriron Jones, a must-read feature on a current commit, and a roundup of last weekend's high school action as playoff season gets under way.]
Bye Week Visits: A Trip To Colorado (No, Not For That)
Well played, Maison Bleue.
Last weekend's bye afforded the coaches an opportunity to hit the recruiting trail, and Michigan coaches checked in on the likes of top 2015 MN DE Jashon Cornell, 2015 four-star NC OL Mason Veal, 2015 four-star RB Nasir Bonner, 2015 NJ WR Irvin Charles, and several others.
The most interesting prospect to receive a visit, however, is 2014 ATH Kalen Ballage, as Coach Funk stopped by his school last week, per Sam Webb ($). 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.]