2011 Recruiting: Thomas Rawls

Submitted by Brian on August 16th, 2011 at 4:31 PM

Previously: CB Greg Brown, CB/S Tamani Carter, CB Blake Countess, CB Delonte Hollowell, CB Raymon Taylor, LB Antonio Poole, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Frank Clark, LB Kellen Jones, DE Keith Heitzman, DE Chris Rock, DE Brennen Beyer, OL Jack Miller, OL Tony Posada.

FWIW: I didn't forget Bryant, I just ended writing up Rawls first.

Flint, MI - 5'10" 210


Scout 3*, #77 RB
Rivals 3*, NR RB, #19 MI
ESPN 3*, 76, #84 RB
Others NR
Other Suitors CMU, Cincinnati, Iowa (sort of)
YMRMFSPA Mark Ingram… with more speed! Or Kevin Grady.
Previously On MGoBlog Commitment post from Tim.
Notes Head coach is Fred Jackson, son of Fred Jackson


If you've hung around here for the last six months you've heard of, and probably participated in, the gentle mocking of various people named Fred Jackson for their opinion of Thomas Rawls. You see, Rudy, people named Fred Jackson are all football coaches who redefine hyperbole when talking about running backs. Rawls's high school coach and college position coach are both named Fred Jackson because they are father and son.

The result of this unholy hyperbole combo follows. Go action son!

“Honestly, I did get a chance to watch Mark Ingram a few times,” Jackson said. “Mark is probably one of the best guys ever to come through here. Mark was great, but there’s something about this kid Thomas. If I was to compare them as high school backs, give me Thomas Rawls.”

Go action dad!

“Thomas Rawls can lift you - I call it the ‘hit and lift’ - and keep on going,” Jackson said. “That, to me, is a special talent. Chris Perry had that. Chris Perry had the ability to hit you and keep on moving, and this kid can move the pile.” …

“I know Mark [Ingram, again] and I know Thomas [Rawls],” the Michigan running backs coach said. “They’re a lot a like. … My son is telling me he’s O.J. Simpson. He’s not that, but he’s the real deal.”

I'm sorry if your clocks/pets exploded once you read that last bit. I'm even more sorry if the entrails combined with the gears to form a mouth that moaned "too… much… hyperbole" before collapsing in a pool of gore. But it had to be related. It's like the Ring.

OJ Ingram did rush for 396(!!!) yards against Bay City Central, breaking Plain Old Heisman Ingram's city record of 377 set against Bay City Western. (Bay City high schools, it's time to fire Greg Robinson.) He also put up an astounding 1585 yards on 150 carries in just six games before injury felled him. He probably would have stomped Ingram's records to dust if he hadn't picked up the dread high ankle sprain.

But come on, Fred Jacksons. We've heard this before, albeit in mono. Surely no one not named Fred Jackson would make the same assertion

"He's a great back," Trieu said. "He is one of the toughest runners I've seen. He's very compact -- a bowling ball kind of kid who can break tackles and has a good burst. While most people see him as just an inside battering ram, I think he proved to me over the summer and the course of this year that he has legit breakaway speed. He's also very underrated as a receiver out of the backfield. He might not be the tallest back, but I think we've seen recently that's an overrated quality for a running back." …

"I think Rawls compares favorably to Ingram," Trieu said. "They both have similar builds and running styles. I think Ingram picks his way and is more of a slasher, whereas Rawls really sees a crease and hits it. I don't think you want to say Thomas Rawls will win a Heisman, but coming out of high school there are definite similarities there."

Son of a bitch.

It's time to check the film because everyone is lying. Film says… he does have a few plays on his highlight reel where defenders ping off of his squat physique after grabbing and finding nothing but thigh. They're buried after the touchdowns where he takes off untouched, but they're there. 5:36:


So why did OJ Ingram have one BCS offer, that from Cincinnati, and nothing from Michigan until January 28th? Why does everyone rate him a generic three star?

"Grades" are the usual answer. In this case it's not entirely fanciful. Scout's Allen Trieu directly stated that Rawls's grades kept his rankings low:

"We rate guys conservatively who have not fully qualified yet," said Trieu. "So he's about ranked 13th in the state and a three-star. I think he could be higher, but our national rule across the board is we wait until they've qualified. Purely on the merits of his talent and what he's done throughout his career though, I think he's a top-10 player in the state and borderline four-star-type kid. He's had a fantastic senior season."

Everyone from Demar Dorsey to Justin Turner to Aaron Burbridge puts the lie to that, though. Recruiting services continually rank academic risks much higher than Rawls. And there are plenty of schools who don't care if you've got two axons to rub not-quite-together if you can play football. For one: where is the ubiquitous WVU offer?

Lack of good film and injury are more plausible explanations. Rawls got a new coach when Flint Central closed and Fred Jackson moved to Northern. This got him away from a wing-T Rawls was not a fan of:

My old coach ran the wing-T,” Rawls said. “I just didn’t like it. It didn’t fit me. He always had me at linebacker, and I did succeed there. When Central closed, the coach they brought over had a new game plan, a new formation which was the spread and the I-formation. I just worked hard, adjusted to the new formations and just blew up after that.”

Rawls had "good" junior film but it was the senior stuff Scout's Allen Trieu found "outstanding." That outstanding blow up lasted six games and Rawls got injured, potentially terminating interest from teams around the region. Trieu believed Wisconsin and Iowa would be "real options" down the line just before his injury.

Interest from elsewhere or no, he ended up at Michigan. Let's see what we've won. ESPN($):

… physically imposing back with good downhill attributes. Hits the hole with authority and flashes good downhill burst and momentum. Quick to see and hit the cutback. A decisive and aggressive runner who is constantly heading North with square shoulder pads and good lean. … Does not have real loose hips but can redirect sharply and jump-cut the first defender through the hole. … . Runs low to the ground and dips the shoulder through traffic making it difficult to get clean shot on him. Shows an extra gear and when he breaks free into the second level to separate initially but does not project to have ideal long-speed or great elusiveness as a major college back. Breaks consistent first contact but did not see the pile pushing power we were expecting.

They say he "can contribute" and slap a decided meh on his rating. Touch the Banner:

… big kid with thick legs, built powerfully and low to the ground.  He has patience and allows blocks to develop in front of him, which also shows good vision to see cutbacks and running lanes.  Perhaps the most impressive thing about him as a high school runner is the way he keeps his shoulders facing north and south when he makes his cuts; this allows him to break some tackles that other running backs wouldn't.

…Michigan fans might not like me for saying this, but Rawls reminds me of Kevin Grady.  … Perhaps Rawls can contribute at fullback or in goal line situations at Michigan, but I'm not expecting Rawls to be a star for the Wolverines.

Finally, Trieu has been Rawls's biggest advocate($):

Analysis: Rawls just looks like a running back. He's stocky, has a low center of gravity and he runs powerfully. He breaks arm tackles, has good balance and a north-south style where he does not waste a lot of time going laterally. He's able to make cuts and bounce off defenders at full speed and get himself going back towards pay-dirt. He has good speed and can break the long runs and also shows good hands in the passing game. …

Verdict: Michigan, I think, got a steal here. You watch the film and it's hard not to be impressed. He's a tough kid with speed and he's underrated as a receiver. It will be tough to keep him off the field for long.

I'm going to start calling him Allen Fred Trieu-Jackson if he keeps this up.

It seems like Michigan coaches are on Trieu's side. Rawls has been informed he will not redshirt and Jackson spent most of his time at media day talking up his freshmen. That's kind of a giveaway, though, since they'd had the pads on for like a day at that point and Justice Hayes is a spread guy no one expects to play much. Motivation there, and then the general unreliability of Fred Jackson assessments. I wouldn't read too much into that, or expect Rawls to see much playing time this year. Down the road it will depend on just how many tackles he breaks.

Etc.: Unanimous all state; Flint POY. Commitment presser photos. Thomas Rawls recruitment is serious business. Fred Jackson says he has more speed than Mike Hart, which Rawls takes as a "huge complement." If Mike Hart was fast he'd be the best running back ever. In case there was any question, he did qualify($) in June.

Probably some other Thomas Rawls:

"We're a group of people who get together to watch a movie, with a common interest in all things Star Trek," said Thomas Rawls Jr., vice president of the local fan club, which split from the Peninsula- based USS Jamestown club several years ago to cut down on the tunnel travel. "We're an informal group of people who enjoy Star Trek."

Is "all dog."

Why Mark Ingram… with more speed? My name is not Fred Jackson.

Okay. Why Kevin Grady? Grady was a squat 215 pound high school kid who racked up tons of yards in high school by running untouched through poor competition and running over 150-pound kids. In college his lack of elusiveness or overwhelming size made him a mediocre straight-ahead runner who was a decent short yardage back and fullback but not a feature guy.

Rawls's film doesn't show a guy who's going to get outside often, he won't have elite breakaway speed in college, and his wiggle ain't wigglin'. His path to production is grinding through the tackles like the ball of knives Grady was always supposed to be.

If he's Kevin Grady in a downhill manball offense that might be a different thing entirely. Michigan switched to an all-zone all-the-time offense in 2006; Grady redshirted the next year due to injury and then stuck it out in the spread 'n' shred. It's possible he would have been a much more useful back if he was asked to run power. Also, Grady's personal issues hindered his development. Rawls is likely to be a better version of his predecessor.

Guru Reliability: Low. Analyst scouting reports vary extensively, and it sounds like the ratings would if not for the grades or the injury. Rawls is also a late riser who didn't make a big splash until he was a senior and was immediately injured afterwards.

General Excitement Level: Moderate. Running backs aren't that hard to rank, and I'm in agreement with the above guys who say he lacks the elite athleticism to be a force in college. He's a smaller version of Hopkins. If he does run as hard as his advocates, say, though…

Rawls is the biggest wildcard in this class. Could be nothing, could be OJ Ingram.

Projection: Has been told he'll play this year; I think he'll get a few carries here and there but generally be lost in the shuffle behind Shaw, Smith, and Hopkins. Next year Shaw is gone and he'll have the pass protection down; he could push to start then.



August 16th, 2011 at 4:53 PM ^

I am looking forward to some slash and dash out of Rawls and Hayes for many years. Rawls will punish the defenses by constantly pounding them, then you throw Hayes in there and have him run past the defense. And fwiw Hayes and Hart were almost identical in size in high school, so I wouldn't write him off as just some spread runningback.

SC Wolverine

August 16th, 2011 at 7:00 PM ^

I am completely on board the Thomas Rawls bandwagon.  Why?  Because I have a soul and because Michigan has no other potentially great options.  Thomas Rawls is already a great story, and what a great story it will be if/when he dominates from day 1.  Of course, this could be total bunk.  But it's pre-season, people!  Thomas Rawls!  Thomas Rawls!


August 16th, 2011 at 4:59 PM ^

I would be happy if Rawls lives up to half of the description that Fred Jackson (father and son) give him. He seems impressive in the film, but I will withold judgement until Saturday afternoons in the fall.


August 16th, 2011 at 5:07 PM ^

His name is so manly ... whenever someone mentions him I just want to rip into a Porterhouse steak with baked potatoes and corn on the cob (with Oberon, of course)!


August 17th, 2011 at 9:35 AM ^

It all depends on health of course. But healthy, I would say Mike Shaw, Fitzgerald Touissant and Mike Cox are all better than him in speed, and agility and are older so are likely just as powerful. Smith is definitely quicker and more elusive and a better blocker. Hopkins is similar but bigger and more powerful but maybe slower. Rawls may see time but it will in my opinion only be if Shaw and Touissant are both hurt, Cox can't figure out the plays, Smith proves ineffective in a power running game and Hopkins is too slow.

I don't mean to crap on anyone's parade and I hope Rawls is awesome, but I really think we have a few decent running backs. Shaw is my odds on favorite to start and I think people are really wrong to dismiss Touissant. If he can stay healthy I still think he is the best combination of speed, elusiveness and power we have.


August 16th, 2011 at 5:28 PM ^

He reminds me of former Wisconsin Badger P.J. Hill. Hill wasn't a Ron Dayne/John Clay bruiser, coming in at 5'10 and weighing 215 pounds, nor did Hill have enough speed to turn the corner. Yet somehow he averaged 5 yards a run every year he started. The dude just never went down after the first hit. However, when Hil went up against a good defense he was nothing special but this could be due to the fact that his QB sucked and any good defense would put 8 in the box against Wisconsin.


August 16th, 2011 at 5:30 PM ^

"Justice Hayes is a spread guy no one expects to play much."

What does that mean? No one expects him to play much this year? His whole career? 


August 16th, 2011 at 5:33 PM ^

I for one am excited to see him play this year. Fred Jackson and Allen Trieu seem to love the kid, and whomever this Touch the Banner guy is seems to be negative about everyone that Michigan has ever signed, not sure if the guy should really have a blog that is recognized here. Doesnt seem to know much about scouting.  

Dallas Wolverine

August 16th, 2011 at 5:33 PM ^

Damn Brian why do you got to be hating on Bay City so bad? They do have a nice player go through there every once in a while. Take me for example I was a 6' white boy with a 6 inch vertical that was similar to Larry Bird. Take that bam!


August 16th, 2011 at 5:37 PM ^

It is clear to me that if he is a Star Trek fan, this is the reason that he will not be "red shirting". He knows that this means instant death on strange planets and may not wish to push his luck on a new campus. He will contribute hard enough to not be eliminated after one show.



August 16th, 2011 at 5:51 PM ^

....a stiff arm like miiiiiiine...someone to juke youuuuuu...the way Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiii doooooooooo

♫ you're gonna love my runnninnnng


August 16th, 2011 at 6:39 PM ^

Please, no more "lift you up references from coaches.
<br>And I think you meant why "not" Ingram; but maybe not.
<br>I'm not jumping on the hype train, but another reason for optimism is Sam Webb likes him a lot. Yeah, there's some hometown bias there, and his gut does better predicting where guys will go than how they'll do once they get there, but still, another reason for hope.


August 16th, 2011 at 7:23 PM ^

Well - have you seen Vincent Smith this fall in practice?  Sounds to me like he looks really good, and it also sounds like he'll be a great option as a third down back. 

In 2008 he showed promise, especially at the end of the year, but was only a freshman.  Last fall he wasn't what we wanted but he was coming off ACL surgery and was certainly less than 100%.  For a guy who's not real big, being 80% on your knee is huge. 

This fall, he still probably won't be the go to back, but he'll get carries.  And I bet he'll do well.


August 16th, 2011 at 7:19 PM ^

It sounds like a lot of Rawls success is going to come from the O-Line.  Assuming they can open a gap and get him past the front 7, he can just run the DBs over.  Whereas if he does have stiff hips, it sounds like he's boned if he meets a solid LB in open field.  

If we're in a system where a FB and a TE are clearing the LBs out of the way though, he could do well.  


August 16th, 2011 at 9:12 PM ^

I know how we all "love" our detroit media outlets but today when practice was open for the media they said it was shaw, smith, and rawls getting the snaps with the first team.


August 16th, 2011 at 10:45 PM ^

i wonder when our graduating senior running backs arent picked #1 overall in the nfl draft each year if fred jackson crys himself to sleep in anger wondering why nfl gms cant see what he sees.