As first reported by TomVH, St. Clairsville (OH) linebacker Michael Ferns committed to Michigan on Wednesday, becoming their first commit in the class of 2014. Ferns had recently named a top three that also included Notre Dame and Penn State, and a very positive unofficial visit for the BBQ at the Big House likely pushed him to make a pledge.
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4*, 93, #5 ILB,
Only 247Sports has released rankings for the class of 2014, so our lone national data point for Ferns has him pegged inside the top 100 prospects overall and top five at his position. All save ESPN list him at 6'3", 235 pounds—ESPN has him 20 pounds lighter, likely an outdated figure—which has him easily on track to be a college-sized strongside linebacker by the time he hits campus.
While the national services aside from 247 have not released rankings, OhioPreps already has a top 25 list for the class of 2014. Ferns is second, behind only fellow linebacker Dante Booker, and Marc Givler suggests that those two have separated themselves from the rest of the class.
Other information on Ferns is scarce, as he hasn't hit the camp circuit and St. Clairsville is a small school that hasn't produced much in the way of D-I talent*. We do get one player comparison courtesy of Scout's Dave Berk ($):
Standing 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, Ferns reminds some of current Irish inside linebacker Jarrett Grace, at least in terms of his physical stature. However, Ferns shows a unique skill set for a player of his size.
While St. Clairsville High School is far from one of Ohio’s top big-school programs, Ferns athletic ability could easily transfer to a bigger program as he shows on film the ability to play several positions on both sides of the ball.
Grace was a 2011 recruit on the 3/4-star borderline; at 6'3", 240 lbs., he's very comparable in terms of size. Grace's ESPN scouting report($) praised his athleticism and play recognition, and as you'll see in his film those are also two areas of Ferns's game that stand out.
Besides the above, most of the articles on Ferns focus on his intelligence both on and off the field. He's made it clear from the beginning of his recruitment that academics are the top priority—which he backed up with a top three of Michigan, Notre Dame, and Penn State, as well as an offer from Stanford—and he plans to study pre-med. 247's Steve Wiltfong details this side of Ferns in an article rather unfortunately titled "Ferns Is Freaky On & Off Field"($):
Growing up, Ferns always saw his parents on the computer messing around with this new sensation known as the internet. The two-year old didn’t want to be left out.
“He wanted to play on the computer so bad, and he’d keep asking us what words were,” the elder Ferns said. “It just got to the point where he taught himself how to read so he didn’t keep asking us. He was in diapers. We bought him reading programs for kids ages 4-5, and it wasn’t three weeks later we were buying the programs for ages 6-8. Over the course of a month, he was on the internet. At that time it was dial up, but he wanted to do it so bad.”
“I was always a little ahead of the time,” Ferns added. “I remember being in diapers on the computer. I’d say I was a little advanced back in day.”
Ferns has grown a bit since then, and now his intellect is paying dividends on the football field [emphasis mine]:
“He’s 6-3, 230-pounds and runs like a deer,” McClean said.
“Besides just his size advantage, he can do a lot of different things. We lined him up at three different positions on offense. On defense he’s an intellectual person, he can handle things a lot of people couldn’t do. He’s like a coach on the field from his linebacker spot.”
That astute play, when combined with impressive athleticism, could make Ferns a candidate for early playing time. According to Scout's Allen Trieu, who posted a scouting report on Ferns after his commitment, the only thing stopping Ferns could be Michigan's depth chart ($):
Upshot: He's going to come in college ready in terms of size and speed. If he adjusts to the speed of the game and learns the defense, he has the tools to play early. Not sure if the depth chart will allow that because there are so many linebackers, but he has what you look for in an early impact guy.
Trieu compares Ferns to freshman Joe Bolden, a 2012 Under Armour All-American who's already pushing for playing time at WLB, and says he's a "pretty safe bet" for four stars.
Magnus broke down Ferns's sophomore film and came away impressed:
I really like what I see on Ferns's film. He plays both ways for his high school team, although keep in mind as you watch that St. Clairsville is a small school with fewer than 700 students enrolled; the competition is not excellent. Ferns plays some fullback, tight end, wide receiver, and linebacker. He shows very good instincts as a linebacker. Ferns the younger plays downhill nicely, showing quick initial reads and stepping up into holes that open. He keeps his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and is a very solid tackler. He also does a nice job of side-stepping blockers and using his hands to shed when necessary. His change-of-direction skills are also apparent as an offensive player, where he swivels his hips pretty well to slither past defenders.
So, while scouting on Ferns is still limited, what we see suggests he's got the size, athleticism, and instincts to excel at the collegiate level.
*The only other St. Clairsville player in the Rivals database (dating back to 2002) is 2013 3-star WR Dan Monteroso, a Boston College commit.
Ferns built up an impressive offer list for a junior-to-be, choosing Michigan over Notre Dame, Penn State, Boston College, Cincinnati, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Stanford, Virginia, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and a handful of MAC offers.
Ferns tallied 136 tackles as a sophomore while also chipping in 441 yards on 31(!) rushes and 301 yards on 15(!) catches. He had 88 tackles as a freshman in 2010.
FAKE 40 TIME
No 40 time is listed for Ferns on any of the four recruiting sites.
As you can see, there's little not to like in the film, though the lack of high-end competition is apparent.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
While Michigan has recruited extremely well at linebacker over the last couple classes, Ferns could have a relatively clear path to the two-deep if he lands at strongside linebacker. That spot is currently manned by Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon, and Ryan will be a senior (I know, right?) when Ferns steps on campus. Unless Royce Jenkins-Stone bulks up significantly, at that point Mike McCray will be the only player standing between Ferns and a spot in the rotation.
It's also possible that Ferns ends up at middle linebacker, a position where he can better show off his instincts. While Joe Bolden and potentially Jenkins-Stone stand in the way there, Ferns could get a three-year separation from those two if he takes a redshirt year (assuming Bolden and RJS play this year, a much safer assumption for the former).
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
At this early juncture, it looks like Michigan is in line for a relatively small class in 2014, but with a year-and-a-half before signing day a great deal can change. One thing we're pretty sure of is that the Wolverines can afford, once again, to be picky at linebacker; unless there's unexpected attrition, Ferns will likely be joined by one other linebacker recruit, likely a guy who projects to the middle.