Recruitin' Mailbag: ECA Academics, Camp Vs. Game Film, Trusting The Coaches, And More Comment Count

Ace July 2nd, 2013 at 1:16 PM

2013 Eastern Christian Academy prospect Kenny Bigelow has already enrolled at USC.

I initially planned on covering football and basketball as well as recruiting in this mailbag, but enough of you sent in questions (thanks!) that I had to go recruiting-only; I may do a separate mailbag to cover the rest later in the week. On to the questions...

For a number of reasons, I'm not worried about this. If you haven't read the SI article on Eastern Christian Academy, it's highly recommended, and should allay some of these concerns [emphasis mine]:

Strictly speaking, Eastern Christian is not even a school but rather a club, with members who attend an online private school called National Connections Academy. "There is a lot of confusion," says Steven Guttentag, president of Baltimore-based Connections Learning, which is the parent company of National Connections. "Eastern Christian is not a school. It's a football training program that provides a site. National Connections Academy is the school. They're our team." Connections Education counts more than 45,000 students among its accredited private and public schools. Its students include everyone from prodigies at New York City's prestigious Juilliard School of Music to Olympic hopefuls, but Eastern Christian represents the company's first foray into team sports.


[T]he reputation of National Connections, and the fast-growing digitalization of U.S. education, affords Eastern Christian a degree of insulation from skepticism. The growth of charter schools and homeschooling have pushed the number of students in grades K-12 taking online courses well into the hundreds of thousands. "What you're describing is definitely unusual," says Allen Ezell, a former FBI agent who spent 11 years investigating diploma mills. "But this sounds like a proctored setting, with adults watching over kids as they do their work and take their exams, and in today's world that's becoming normal."

The NCAA, according to the article, considers National Connections "an approved nontraditional course provider," so there should be no issue passing their academic requirements. ECA and its predecessor, Red Lion Christian Academy, have produced several D-I recruits in the last few years, and as far as I can tell there's been no issue with the NCAA or the recruits' respective schools. An incomplete list:

  • 2011 Red Lion DL Angelo Blackson is entering his junior year at Auburn, where he's expected to start for the second straight season.
  • 2012 Red Lion DL Eli Ankou was accepted by UCLA and redshirted last season.
  • 2013 ECA five-star DL Kenny Bigelow enrolled early at USC, so he's already passed admissions and gone through a semester of classes.
  • Fellow 2013 ECA prospects Khaliel Rodgers (USC) and Jahmere Irvin-Sills (Miss. St.) signed with BCS programs. Michigan's coaches reportedly contacted Rodgers after David Dawson's decommitment last year, but he was solid to USC and did not receive an offer.

Michigan admissions could be a different animal — though UCLA and USC are both fine schools — but here's where my final point comes in: Brady Hoke, quite simply, doesn't take academic risks. None of his recruits have failed to qualify and the line of communication between his staff and the admissions department is strong; let's just say the athletic department learned from the Demar Dorsey debacle.

While we're on the subject of Canteen and Watson...

Ace!  Love your writing, dude. 

Question on Recruiting. I trust the coaches, I love the coaches. They've earned the right to pick who they want. But do you think it's a little weird to go so hard after a few guys so off the radar at this point in the process (the past 3 days), or do you think the coaches truly see that much potential in these guys, and got some steals? I know - hard to know when a guy only plays 3 games a year, but curious for your take.


The longer I cover recruiting and, on occasion, happen to stumble into some insider-y info, the more I realize that the coaches do everything — everything — for a reason. In fact, you don't even need insider info to know this. Just look at how the wide receiver recruiting shook out over the last few weeks:

  • Artavis Scott visits Clemson for their camp, which runs from June 12th-14th.
  • Freddy Canteen picks up his offer at Michigan's camp on June 18th.
  • In an article released on June 24th, K.J. Williams tells 247 that his top three is Syracuse, Michigan, and Mizzou, in that order ($).
  • On June 26th, ESPN's Brian Stumpf reports that Scott has moved up his announcement and will decide at The Opening, which is going on this week. Clemson immediately becomes his presumed destination.
  • Freddy Canteen commits to Michigan on June 29th.

Even if we presume that Canteen is the third option among those prospects — and I'm not sure the coaches would put Williams above him, especially since they wanted a slot receiver — it's clear that the coaches saw the way things were trending with Scott and Williams and decided to make a move instead of waiting, which could've left them coming up empty on all three prospects.

Then we get into the fact that Canteen, along with Watson, had very good reasons for being under the radar, and earned their offers by performing for the coaches in person. The Wolverine's Michael Spath posted a great rundown of recruits who were offered at camp and committed to Michigan; there have been 23 such players since 2002 ($). Of those 23, just six ended up as four-star prospects, and given that fact Michigan has been quite successful in identifying overlooked talent:

Among the 23, 21 have already completed their eligibility, and of those, 10 started at least one season for the Wolverines. Multi-year starters include: LB David Harris (2002 class), [OL Jake] Long, [DL Will] Johnson, [OL Alex] Mitchell, P Zoltan Mesko (2005) and OL David Molk (2007).

Yes, the list of camp-offered commits includes such luminaries as David Harris, Jake Long, David Molk, and the Space Emperor (Of Space). NOT BAD.

With the increased pace of recruiting, it's easy to forget that the current rankings will look wildly different come February; the recruiting services still haven't had a look at every available prospect, obviously, and there's still a good chunk of camp season, next fall's actual football season, and the postseason All-American games to go. Especially at this stage in the recruiting process, it's best to trust the coaches, at least until there's any shred of evidence that they're not good talent evaluators (and all of the available evidence points in the exact opposite direction).

It's not as simple as this with most prospects — the coaches do their best to use everything at their disposal to evaluate a recruit, and how much they weigh each factor is largely dependent on the specific recruit. Camp allows the coaches to not just judge a player's size, potential, and technical ability in person, it also gives them insight into how quickly a prospect picks up on their coaching — they can judge coachability and character in a way that they obviously can't do with a highlight tape.

The problem with camp, of course, is that it isn't actual football — they're running drills without pads, not lining up and playing 11-on-11. That's why game film is still quite valuable. With guys like Canteen and Watson, who simply don't have much film available, the coaches have to lean more heavily on how they did at camp, but for most prospects that's not the case. I wouldn't say camp trumps film, nor the opposite; this answer is a bit of a cop-out, but it goes on a case-by-case basis, as the available information differs — sometimes dramatically — from prospect to prospect.


I know people pay probably too much attention to stars when it comes to recruits, but the recent conversation about what coaches saw in certain players bothered me because it was based on an inexact rating system.  If you think about a previous QB battle, mgoblog has this to say:

"Projection: Even if Robinson doesn't pan out Michigan won't be moving him for at least two years and doesn't have the quarterback depth to redshirt anyone this year, so at the very least you'll see him reprise the Feagin role from last year's Minnesota game except with a definite possibility he'll throw. Going forward it'll be a battle between his electric athleticism and Forcier's polish, with Forcier having the obvious early edge because of his spring enrollment."

And remember the recruiting hubaloo around Kevin Newsome and Shavodrick Beaver.  This got me thinking, of those who have pledged to Michigan in the past few years which player(s) do you think have far outperformed their ranking?



I'm not sure the example used here is the best one for the question, since both Forcier and Denard were highly-regarded prospects, but there are a few from Hoke's first couple classes. In the 2011 class, Frank Clark looks poised to outperform his three-star rating; he may have done so already simply by seeing the field and contributing early. 2012 signee Devin Funchess was a borderline 3/4-star recruit and he showed tantalizing potential as a freshman; when a freshman gets put on school record watch — in this case, Jim Mandich's career mark for receptions by a tight end — it's safe to say he's performing at a very high level. Ben Braden is another player from the 2012 class who could easily surpass his three-star expectations; Braden has a good chance to start at guard as a redshirt freshman and eventually make his way out to left tackle. Jehu Chesson, Willie Henry, and Mario Ojemudia are a few other candidates from that class to make a bigger splash than their recruiting rankings would indicate, potentially as soon as this fall.

So, with the three recent commits and the 2014 class already up to 14 guys, does this mean it's all quiet on the (mid)western front? I know this class was projected to be in the teens, maybe up to 20 guys, and I feel like we've gotten there quickly. Is Michigan kind of done for the time being on the recruiting scene or will there be another push right before the season?

I'm tempting fate by saying this, but I think the pace of recruiting for the 2014 class is going to slow down now that camp offers have gone out (and been accepted) and most of the remaining targets are high-profile players — those guys are more likely to utilize the full process, take their officials, and make a late decision knowing that programs will leave a spot open for them. Da'Shawn Hand, Adoree' Jackson, Malik McDowell, and JuJu Smith all fall under this category, and I'm surely forgetting a couple other targets either slated for late decisions or taking the process slowly. It's possible that Michigan picks up a couple more commits before the season starts, but for the rest of the summer I'd expect as much action (if not more) from the 2015 class.

How do you see the 2014 recruiting class finishing up based on what we know today? — AC1997

I'm operating under the assumption that Michigan makes it to 20 spots in the class, even though for now there aren't that many scholarships available. With 14 current commits, that leaves six open spots. I'd expect those to be filled by:

  • VA DE Da'Shawn Hand (not a lock by any means, though)
  • MI DL Malik McDowell
  • A safety, hopefully JuJu Smith (a longshot) or PA ATH Montae Nicholson (a much more realistic option).
  • An offensive tackle. There isn't an obvious candidate here with Jamarco Jones committing to Ohio State.
  • An outside linebacker. Of the players currently holding offers, three-star Jimmie Swain and four-star Dwight Williams are the most likely candidates. I'm skeptical of Michigan's chances with Williams (a presumed Florida lean), though, and Swain named Oregon and Stanford to his top five recently despite not holding an offer from either; if one of those two comes through, that could spell trouble for Michigan's chances. We could see a late offer go out here.
  • The best player available that doesn't match the above. That could be Jackson, though I highly doubt he ends up at Michigan, or perhaps a running back — CO three-star Kalen Ballage is the back they appear to have the best chance of landing with Jonathan Hilliman leaning towards Ohio State.

I did not overlook Parrker Westphal, though that's not based on any insider info. The longer his recruitment stretches out, the less I think he ends up at Michigan, especially since he seems like a better cornerback prospect than a safety and the Wolverines just took a pure corner in Brandon Watson.



July 2nd, 2013 at 1:27 PM ^

I'm starting to pretty much expect Westphal to go elsewhere. When you're a presumed 'lock' or heavy lean for this long and you haven't pulled the trigger, especially considering that we're taking other DBs, I think it's apparent what's going to happen. See: Jordan Diamond, Laquon Treadwell (what's up with Illinois?)

Wolverine 73

July 2nd, 2013 at 1:32 PM ^

Really enjoyed the dissection of the recruiting process and how the different available information and the reading of tea leaves by the coaches interrelate in terms of who gets offered when.  Thanks!


July 2nd, 2013 at 1:35 PM ^

Canteen will be interesting to watch.  If all that technique work translates to immediate production he'll be hard to keep off the field.  The trademark freshman weakness is technique because raw athleticism goes so far at the HS level, but here's a guy who's done the football equivalent of a kung fu movie training-in-the-mountains montage.


July 2nd, 2013 at 1:51 PM ^


The longer I cover recruiting and, on occasion, happen to stumble into some insider-y info, the more I realize that the coaches do everything — everything — for a reason.


Blue in Yarmouth

July 2nd, 2013 at 2:07 PM ^

but in the interest of fairness, just because someone has a reason for doing something doesn't mean they make the right choice 100% of the time.

I have to say that I have been behind Hoke since his hire pretty much 100%. I'm not sure I have ever got to the point where I questioned any of his moves, probably because I know he knows a hell of a lot more about football than I do. Having said that though, I don't look down on people who think to question certain decisions.

I just don't think it is that big a deal to hear someone raise what they think might be a concern (for whatever reason). Most times people on here will talk them off the ledge and all's well that ends well. Other times (on a much more infrequent basis) someone questioning the coaches actually has a good point that others haven't thought of.

I guess my point is, I don't get all upset just because someone questions a decision the coaches make since like everyone else, they too can make mistakes. Now again, I'm not at the level from a football standpoint where I feel comfortable questioning their decisions, but if others are...I don't see the big deal. It just provides a forum for constructive discourse (though most all they get is "Trust the coaches...they know what they're doing").

El Jeffe

July 2nd, 2013 at 2:35 PM ^

Agreed. I also think that there are two kinds of ways of asking the same question:

  1. What are the coaches doing? Is a non-rhetorical question that is asking for insight on the rationale behind the coaches' actions.
  2. What are the coaches DOING??? Is a rhetorical question that indicates disapproval of the coaches' actions.

I think a lot of times the "The coaches know what they are doing more than you, Random Internet Message Board Guy" Mafia think they are answering question 2 and so seem douchey and Kool-Aid-y if they are really answering question 1.


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:43 PM ^

I don't disagree with your overall point, but the problem is that in almost no circumstance (recruiting related, at least) does any fan have even close to enough info to make a qualified critique. Most of these critiques are "we shouldn't have taken player x with player y still out there" when the coaches either know something about why player y isn't an option or why player x is actually the better recruit.


July 2nd, 2013 at 3:49 PM ^

There's a reason we offered "X 3*" and somewhere in there is how much the coach thinks of their ability and who they think they're likely to get to fill out the class. There's a reason I said with every Hello post, and not every UFR. Questioning why we didn't run Denard, ran that coverage, etc. is usually pretty fair game, even though the coaches not only know more football, but know more about the situation than we do. Because in that case we at least have watched the game, and they are more basic questions. We don't really have an inkling what goes into football assessment, what's been told or what they've heard, or even really what they're looking for. People are just reacting to what other people have said about it. It'd be like reading the reaction here on MGoBlog on Monday morning after not having even watch the game on Saturday. Maybe it tells you something, but there's not a lot of context. (And throw in that you have also probably NEVER watched football either).  

Now someone can look at the big picture and make assessments. "We're recruiting too many unranked, all these 5*'s and we should be prettty good...we're taking a lot of chances on too many guys with shady pasts." Recruting is a numbers game; one can comment on the whole. But to say X recruit shoulda woulda is too much an EA NCAA mentality.


July 2nd, 2013 at 3:34 PM ^

I think it's pretty shitty in most cases. Most of the time, the ones complaining haven't seen the kid play (and in Canteen/Watson's cases, they haven't even seen highlight videos), and are basing their opinion on the fact that Rivals/Scout etc. aren't ranking them. And, naturally, Rivals/Scout etc haven't ranked them because they haven't seen them play either.

The fallacy is that Canteen was going to cost us Artavis Scott, or that the long snapper we took last year was going to cost us a five-star. Fans are always hopeful these top players are going to commit. The staff has a much better handle on the likelihood of it happening. 

True Blue Grit

July 2nd, 2013 at 1:52 PM ^

waiting too late in the recruitng year to fill the team's needs.  They definitely seem to push (by working very hard early) to fill up the class before it gets anywhere  close to NSD.  It seems logical to me in many ways.  You avoid the risk of being caught standing when the music stops in February and you don't have all your position needs filled.  I've followed Michigan recruiting for many years, and I've seen it happen before.  Historically, Michigan has not fared well in last-minute announcements by top prospects.  As a result, I've also seen Michigan take some so-so prospects late in the process to fill holes.  Hoke must be trying to avoid this at all costs.  The taking Watson now vs. waiting for Westphal might be an example of this.  Getting our needs filled earlier also enables an earlier start on the next class. 


July 2nd, 2013 at 3:02 PM ^

I think the coaches operate in terms of "this is a guy I can work with . . . "  When they find one of those that's interested, they pull the trigger by summer.

They are not after finished products.  They are after "raw material" that they can coach up to be a Michigan-level player.

They know that some guys will blow up late in their senior year that will be more complete products that they will miss out on, but as long as they have guys commited that have the physical attributes and can be coached the necessary final skills, they don't worry about it.  (This is what Saban does, BTW.)

Expect boring NSD's under Hoke.


July 2nd, 2013 at 1:59 PM ^

Funny, that SI article is the source of my concerns regarding ECA - it certainly didn't allay them.

I guess it depends on what your concern is.

If it's "will they qualify" - yes, I suppose so.

If it's "did these guys attend a fake football factory school presided over by a modern day Marv Marinovich, but somewhat scummier?" - no, not at all.


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:24 PM ^


The present ECA split from Red Lion shortly after acknowledging a host of recruiting and practice time violations so that isn't so good.

As far as academics go, Maryland did not accredit them which is what tanked their season. The SI article says it was due to a "technicality" but we won't really know until they become successfully accredited. That also doesn't answer why all those private schools refused to play them after the "technicality" arose.

The explanation doesn't really make much sense to me.

They were rejected on Aug. 8, according to a Maryland Department of Education spokesman, because of a technicality: The MPSSAA only recognizes private schools that want to play state public schools, of which there are none on the Honey Badgers' schedule.

Read More:


July 2nd, 2013 at 3:49 PM ^


The MPSSAA is part of the Department of Education. It also appears that the MPSSA was communicating with the education entity of ECA.


But on July 19, National Connections headmaster Steven Guttentag copied Sills on an e-mail in which Guttentag wrote that MPSSAA Executive Director Ned Sparks was planning to deny Eastern Christian’s application.

In the e-mail, a copy of which Sills provided to The Post, Guttentag wrote that Sparks “didn’t ask me any questions about the football program or how it was organized or the school but proceeded to tell me he had ‘heard things,’ it was a ‘sham’ and he didn’t want us playing his schools in Maryland. I asked under what specific criteria he was denying our approval and he said it was a combination of things but he would not give me any specifics, he just repeated it is a sham.”

On Aug. 9, the MPSSAA sent National Connections a letter stating the school had not been sanctioned.

Sparks did not respond to numerous attempts to be interviewed for this story. Maryland Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard said: “The Maryland State Department of Education has real concerns with the situation regarding the Eastern Christian football club. National Connections Academy has a strong academic program, but has never had an athletics program before. It has no facility, no athletic director, and no track record in athletics.”


Again. We don't know why they aren't sanctioned but the Department of Education describing them as "a sham" does not sound good to me.


July 2nd, 2013 at 4:28 PM ^

To me it sounds like an official talking out of his ass, not providing any specifics, and basing his "sham" claim on the fact that he had "heard things"  that he refuses to specify.  The one official quoted on record then goes on to cite aspects unrelated to academics: never had an athletic program before, no facilities (we know they at least have office space where the online classes are taken and monitored, so this seems to be about a lack of athletic facilities), no athletic director.  Again, Maryland isn't denying the school academic accreditation. it is denying the school athletic accreditation.  


July 2nd, 2013 at 3:42 PM ^

We don't need another linebacker unless it's an elite guy, and Tranquill is not a safety at the next level. He already runs like a linebacker, and he has the thick lower body of a guy who's going to put on another 20-30 lbs. by the end of college. I think he's listed at 6'2", 202 lbs. right now, so he's going to be a 230 lb. linebacker in a few years.


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:07 PM ^

It seems to me that there is a component of evaluation accuracy which relates to position groups.  I think that positions which are biased towards one-on-one matchups in a game setting are easier to replicate in a camp setting.  This would make WR/CB evaluation at camps a more realistic proposition.  The closer you get to the box (linemen, QBs, linebackers) or the more your position is intrinsically reactive to line play (FS/SS/RB), the harder it is to recreate the game speed and teamwork in a camp setting.  So, I feel pretty good about Canteen and Watson.


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:07 PM ^

The other issue with film is that a lot of what you see are highlights. You've got to watch a whole game to see the player's mistakes, and to see if he gives a full effort on every play. On top of that, many players aren't filmed on every down: for instance, on a running play, you might not see what the receivers and defensive backs did. On a pass, you might only see the part of the field that was thrown to.


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:21 PM ^

Ace's analysis of camp commits fails to account for some mitigating factors. 27 of the 29  camp commits since 2002 came during the Carr era. Since then recruiting timetables have accelerated so much so that our classes are generally half full by the time camp rolls around. The guys offered in camp over the last few years have been offered relatively much later in the recruiting process. Therefore these guys are generally less likely to have been the staff's plan a or plan b guys. Further, the list doesn't filter out guys who were offered as juniors.

Hate to be a bummer, and I'm not criticizing Hoke taking their commitments, this isn't apples to apples when it comes to guys like Canteen and Watson.


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:31 PM ^

Agreed. I think when he committed, we just thought he was a somewhat undersized flyer we grabbed who would be a back-up his whole career, but then he got on campus and immediately pushed for a starting spot and now he's holding his own amongst a whole slew of 4* LBs behind him.


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:25 PM ^

I'd like to see Kalen Ballage end up in this class. I think alot of people believe Oregon is the team to beat for him at the moment.

I think the Tranquill kid would commit if they pursued him. He could be a plan B or C type guy for the safety or LB position.

We seem to have the best chance with Hand and McDowell and the others seem, at least to me, 50/50. 


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:30 PM ^

Nice breakdown.  I'll still a bit worried about ECA just because they seem like a hybrid schooling situation, but the examples of successful commits from similar schools is refreshing.

I've long ago stopped wondering why a coache takes a kid early in the process, especially after he has seen the recruit in person or in some other capacity beyond publicly-available tape.  These guys know what they are looking for, and while it may be easy to claim that vision is incorrect, I'm certainly not qualified enough to do that myself.  Every major program needs to find these diamonds in the rough, and having them on campus and in drills with the coaches is a great way to figure out who those kids are.


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:46 PM ^

Swain definitely has a Stanford offer, though the class may fill at his position before he gets a chance to commit. I believe he also has an Oregon offer, though I don't know them very well.


July 2nd, 2013 at 2:55 PM ^

I'm not sure Watson is a pure CB (not that he won't be a good CB, just that he could also be a good safety). He seems more similar in build to Thomas Gordon than to any CB on our roster. I know we typically like safeties to be a little taller, but if he's a legit 5'11" then height shouldn't be an issue (both of our starting safeties were 5'11" last year). And 185 a year before showing up to campus should make getting to 205ish no big deal.


July 2nd, 2013 at 3:05 PM ^

Another item that doesn't seem to get as much airing as it should is that different schools are looking for different types of athletes. The obvious distinction of Rich Rod vs. Hoke is obvious. But even two pro-style offenses may look for different characteristics, e.g., one may put a greater emphasis on size vs. speed in a WR. The services, however, are blind to the needs of a particular school, so a given 4* may be more valuable to one school than another. On paper, we may take a lower ranked recruit, but for our system, he may be a much better fit.

On a related note, is it just me, or do we seem to be looking for athletes that are very similar to the type of athletes that Alabama generally recruits? I'm not an expert on AL recruiting, by any means, but looking at what I understand to be their preferred athlete (e.g. tall/large vs fast, emphasis on football smarts and instincts, with room to grow in the weight room) it seems to be similar to what we're going for now. We seem to be in more regular battles with AL these days compared to, say, LSU or USC. Or am I just seeing things?


July 2nd, 2013 at 3:10 PM ^

on occasion, happen to stumble into some insider-y info, the more I realize that the coaches do everything — everything — for a reason."

Love your stuff, Ace, but this is neither a good sentence nor good journalism, whatever MWolverine thinks about it. A degree of homerism comes with this territory but--a kind of gushing effusiveness notwithstanding--it doesn't really even SAY anything. 


July 2nd, 2013 at 6:43 PM ^

has exceeded expectations (a three star guy, for example), it's not really enough to say that they may start in their second year, let's say. SOMEONE has to start, no matter what your talent level is. What's more important is, how GOOD a team are they starting on? Not how well are they doing compared to other guys on the same position on their own team, but how well are they doing against the opposition. 3 star Guys who start on a 6-6 team have not necessarily exceeded expectations in the same way that 3 star guys starting on an 11-1 team have.

We have to see whether Hoke and Co. can win 10 or 11 games starting guys like Henry, Ojemudia, Braden, Funchess, Stribling, etc.