Recruits In Retrospect: 2008 Defense Comment Count

Ace June 11th, 2012 at 4:32 PM

The Ballad of Boubacar is brief and unfortunate

This is the second part of an in-depth look at the 2008 recruiting class, and more specifically Brian's recruiting profiles for that class. You can find part one, covering the offense, here. If you'd like to peruse the recruiting profiles yourself—a highly recommended time-waster—you can find links to each position group here. Without further ado, let's look back at the eight-member defensive class of 2008. This one's not for the squeamish.

Mike Martin Wrestles Not Mike Martin, Which Goes As Expected

Let's start with the good, yes? Mike Martin not only stands as the clear-cut best player in the class, but outside of two-star Patrick Omameh may very well be the only player to surpass expectations from when he hit campus. Those expectations, at least from Brian, were pretty high:

Guru Reliability: High.
General Excitement Level: High. The highlight reel is totally impressive, there are zero questions about work ethic or how in shape he is, and he's got pretty good guru rankings.
Projection: Will play in the DT rotation immediately, and will probably leap past Ferrara, Kates (if Kates remains on the team), et al to claim a starting spot once Taylor and Johnson graduate.

The remarkable strength that helped Martin excel for four years at Michigan was also on full display during his high school wrestling career, and fortunately there is video evidence of a young Martin perfecting his Hulk Smash. A Simmons-style running diary follows:

0:00 — Martin and his opponent—"Mo" is his name, judging by the cheers from people around the cameraman—jog onto the mat.
0:07 — Mo removes what appears to be an ankle tether, so maybe this is just an elaborate criminal punishment that almost certainly violates the 8th Amendment.
0:14 — Martin shakes Mo's hand. Martin releases his grip and Mo's hand goes limp, never again to function properly.
0:16 — The match begins. Martin begins stalking his prey, who ignores his coach's cries to "circle, circle!" and instead backpedals furiously to avoid Martin's grasp. Within seconds, Mo finds himself out of bounds.
0:36 — At the restart, Mo goes for an ill-timed high-five. Martin ignores this desperate plea for peace and immediately dives for a single-leg takedown.
0:44 — Mo manages to ward off the takedown, but once again backs himself out of the ring. When facing Mike Martin, this is not cowardice, but simply a display of proper survival instincts.
0:56 — On the second restart, Mo lightly pats Martin on the head. If you consult page 56 of your Worst Case Scenario handbook, you know this is the last thing you want to do when encountering a Mike Martin in the wild.
1:12 — Martin gets his hands on the back of Mo's head then explodes for a takedown, knocking Mo to the very edge of the mat. Mo sees an opportunity for escape and frantically crawls for the exits. Mike Martin is having none of that:

1:20 — As Mo's compatriots cackle at his misfortune, Martin assumes control and pins his convulsing opponent, ending this match with relative humanity.
1:50 — The two shake hands as Martin is declared the winner. Martin goes on to star at Michigan. Mo reattaches his ankle tether, vows to straighten his life out, and hastily seeks both physical and emotional therapy.

This Did Not Go As Planned, Part I

The first, and highest-ranked, of the Cass Tech Lollipop Guild line of cornerbacks was Boubacar Cissoko, a top-50 overall recruit to every site save ESPN, where he was outrageously(!) pegged as the nation's #28 corner. Regrettable statement goes here:

Guru Reliability: Maximal. The unified chorus: this is a perfect cornerback except he's 5'8".
General Excitement Level: High. Obvious physical limitation aside, the perfect corner.
Projection: Plays as a freshman and is starting next to Warren by his sophomore year.

Cissoko flashed promise as a freshman in 2008, even starting two contests. Then Michael Floyd and Golden Tate lit him up again and again in 2009 before Cissoko went on a crime spree that quickly found him off the team and then incarcerated. While Cissoko obviously never reached anything close to the potential that had Brian so excited, his recruiting profile did feature one bit of eerie foreshadowing [emphasis mine]:

A couple years ago, I watched [current Detroit Lions CB Chris] Houston and Arkansas play South Carolina. Redshirt sophomore Sidney Rice was the Gamecock's big star and Houston lined up nose-to-nose with Rice in eff-you press man on every single play. Spurrier went after him again and again; sometimes he won and sometimes he lost, but usually because Rice reeled in a perfectly-thrown fade. It was a fantastic individual battle and I came away impressed with both players. So did the NFL: Houston went with the eighth pick in the second round; Rice went just four picks later.

Maybe this isn't the most reassuring comparison, as Rice did end up with 7 catches for 128 yards and Arkansas lost, but... hey... free second round pick!

Michael Floyd vs. Michigan, 2009: 7 catches, 131 yards, and a touchdown. Somehow, the Wolverines won anyway.

Instead of 3-4 years of Cissoko stardom, this was the guy who ended up as a multi-year starter at cornerback:

Guru Reliability: High. No reason he'd be under the radar; offers about commensurate with ranking.
General Excitement Level: Meh.
Projection: Though he's being brought in as a corner a move to safety is likely given the above, where he'll probably end up buried behind Stevie Brown, Artis Chambers, Stewart, and maybe Brandon Smith until his junior year, at which point he might develop into a contributor.

If you read that and went "sounds like J.T. Floyd," give yourself a cookie. At least, "meh" was most everyone's general impression of Floyd until last year's Illinois game; his emergence as a reliable starting corner means he's surpassed most reasonable expectations for his career.

The final secondary recruit was safety Brandon Smith, whose guru ratings took a Marvin Robinson-like dive for very similar reasons:

Smith looks like a prototypical collegian at a strapping 6'2", 210, but the lack of big time offers is telling. It's easy to believe Smith could lure the gurus in with his impressive frame at various combines and inflate his ranking while leaving college coaches relatively unmoved.

Excitement level was only "moderate" and a move to outside linebacker predicted. Smith moved to linebacker, then announced his intention to transfer before the end of the 2009 season. He landed at Temple and is not listed on the 2012 spring roster.

This Did Not Go As Planned, Part II

Michigan's recruiting haul included four linebackers rated as four-stars by Rivals, providing promise of much-needed depth and versatility for the position group going forward. The class included New Jersey's Marcus Witherspoon (Spoon!)...

An explosive edge rusher who's probably too small to be a fulltime defensive end in college? Add four inches and some chicken legs and that sounds like Shawn Crable, who actually spent quite a bit of time as a defensive end anyway. well as Youngstown product Taylor Hill:

What does Michigan have in Hill? The comparison above, Larry Foote, is a strong one. Like Foote, Hill is an undersized WLB who played his high school ball as a defensive end and specialized in getting into the backfield.

As you know, the Wolverines did not end up with new versions of Crable and Foote. Instead, Witherspoon hit a snag with the NCAA Clearinghouse and eventually signed with Rutgers, while Hill was on the team for all of one game before transferring to Youngstown State.

Fellow linebacker recruit J.B. Fitzgerald—"a good bet to be a multi-year starter"—also joined the ranks of the disappointing. Kenny Demens is the only class of 2008 linebacker to make a significant impact despite being pegged as a "low upside sort" and getting a less-than-complimentary player comparison:

Chris Graham may not be the most appealing comparison, but the elements are all there: a little undersized (I am of the belief the 6'1" frequently thrown around as his height is overstated), has difficulting getting through traffic, praised for his short range burst and thumping tackling. Graham never figured out how to play in control or get to the right place at the right time and was thus a disappointing starter; if Demens can play smarter he could be anything from a decent starter to a borderline all Big Ten pick.

Admittedly, that's a pretty accurate assessment. Now let's try to forget about the carnage of this class, which featured the legal adventures of Justin Feagin and Cissoko, not nearly enough Sam McGuffie YouTube magic, transfers from several critical commits, the hope that Witherspoon could mitigate the loss of Nick Perry to USC, and no Terrelle Pryor. Though, on second thought, that last bit turned out just fine.



June 11th, 2012 at 4:49 PM ^

Though he only took up wrestling as a junior in high school, he won Michigan's Division I state heavyweight wrestling championship in both 2007 and 2008

He probably could of been an Olympian in the sport had he been raised a wrestler. I've got to imagine his technique was lacking (but obviously compensated for by his physique.)


June 11th, 2012 at 5:21 PM ^

at least if they don't play basketball. So he may have had some everyone before his junior year.

Also, the scary thing is he is maybe the third best HS HWY in Michigan in the last ten or so years. Pommeranke was the best, and Trice was second. Coon has a chance to sneak in there too, although he was 215 for his first 2 years, he's got the best resume of just about anyone. Only one loss as a freshman, in OT, to nationally ranked senior, Mcdirmiad.


June 11th, 2012 at 6:29 PM ^

Most of the best DCC lineman are wrestlers, not just guys who practice against wrestlers.  So many real good, physical football players like Jon Spolsky (CC 96', Air Force '00, killed 2004 RIP) who maybe didn't have BCS conference frames but in all other aspects were perfect football players.

Edit:  I originally mentioned Mark Messner (UM '89, CC '84) was a wrestler, but my memory was flawed.  He was not. 


June 11th, 2012 at 4:54 PM ^

I tip my hat to anyone who can survive wrestling, let alone excel at it.

I found the very brief wrestling experience I had back in school physically exhausting.

I wonder which is more taxing from a physical endurance perspective -- wrestling or boxing?  Set aside the fist-to-the-face element ... boxing has a lot of explosive muscle action.  Always moving.  But wrestling uses pretty much every damn muscle in the body.

Marley Nowell

June 11th, 2012 at 4:55 PM ^

The excerpt about Brandon Smith is very telling.  Scouts and Rivals (and all the rest) always get very excited about raw athlethcism and projecting players when deciding their star rankings.  Looking at what other schools are offering a recruit are much more telling as to their potential.


June 11th, 2012 at 5:12 PM ^

While I would agree with you that the scouting sites sometimes overhype prematurely developed man-children (I personally think RB Green is the perfect example of it this year), I don't think that offer lists are necessarily more revealing to a prospect's potential than their physical attributes. There have been plenty of busts with offers from nearly everyone as well if you're going to look at it on an anecdotal basis. I think it's about finding a good fit for your offense or defense, your coaches goals and personalities, and your program, and hoping they have the drive and intelligence to succeed. There are so many factors and that's why things become murky.


June 11th, 2012 at 5:27 PM ^

When a player commits can also be a big factor; Shane Morris's offer list would look a lot more impressive if he didn't commit to Michigan as a sophomore and make it very, very clear that he wasn't a flight risk.

That said, if a player commits relatively late in the recruiting cycle and there's still a big disparity between offers and rankings. it's likely telling.


June 11th, 2012 at 7:30 PM ^

Teric Jones also committed early and had few offers at the time.  We don't know what offers Morris might (or might not) have if he wasn't a UofM commitment, but there's very little to be lost by throwing an offer his way if you're USC or Florida, for example.  Morris is clearly very firm though, so theres not much to be gained either...

If a guy has few offers but is highly ranked by the sites and commits late, he's probably an off-field risk of some sort.

If a guy has many offers but is lowely ranked and commits late....he's probably a good prospect who just happened to commit late (e.g., Jake Fisher).

The safe statement here is that, for uncommitted prospects, offer lists are the best evidence we have.  And for committed doesn't really matter what their rank is anymore, if it ever did at all.


June 11th, 2012 at 5:58 PM ^

Were there red flags with Cissoko during recruiting?  It's hard to believe that he decided to turn out to be an idiot out of the blue.


June 11th, 2012 at 8:54 PM ^

From what I remember (obvs a long time ago) is that he was regarded as a quiet kid from, I believe, a solid immigrant (Nigerian?) family. I do seem to remember some kind of incident of him being arrested on Belle Isle after some kind of interaction with a PO, but it seemed minor.

Who knows what happened. Here, Wilcher mentions something about a support structure not being in place.

Some people don't handle the responsibility of being on their own well. It's total speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was some clinical depression involved in the whole episode, given the way he totally spun off the tracks.

Note: the whole Boubacar Cissoko tag is some depressing reading, from his personal story to a sudden immersion in the whole "Never Forget" saga. In the presser announcing his dismissal you can also come across RR's comment about still planning to redshirt Justin Turner.


The FannMan

June 11th, 2012 at 6:20 PM ^

The great unknowable is how much the guys who are not Martin or Demens suffered from the "less than optimal" defensive coaching over the 2008-2010 seasons.  Or maybe they just weren't that good.  Given the improvement from Floyd in one year, I am going to say Gibbons minus all the points.

The best part of the Martin video is when Mo's buddies laugh at him as he gets dragged back into the ring to face his fate.  It's like the Roman Coliseum with a video camera.   Now everytime Mo tries to brag about how he wrestled Mike Martin in high school, somebody will be able to pull up this video and show him being dragged by his leg while his friends mock him.  Poor guy.

Mr. Rager

June 11th, 2012 at 7:32 PM ^

Ace - really love what you have been doing recently.  You've come a long way since you have started.

That being said, the live blog of the Mike Martin wrestling match was pretty lame.  And by pretty lame I mean if Bill Simmons saw that he would scream, "KEEP MY NAME OUT YO' MOUTH".  

Blue in Yarmouth

June 12th, 2012 at 10:21 AM ^

It was pretty damn funny myself. To be honest...I have come to expect that anything Mr. Rager says is almost always the exact opposite of how 99% of the board would say under the same circumstances. Not that he is a complete horses ass like a few on here, but just very different. Keep that in mind when reading his criticisms. 


June 11th, 2012 at 10:53 PM ^

Looking back at the 2008 recruiting class really brings a tear to my eye.

-Stonum... we all know the story

-Dan Oneil...transfered

-JB backup

-Terrence backup

-Sam McGuffie...transfered

-Cissoko...we allknow the story

-Kurt Wermers...? (rated 78 on ESPN)

-Elliot backup

-Mike Cox...transferred


Those were all four star guys.

The best contributers besides Martin and Barnum were the three star gusy, ala Roundtree, Omameh, Koger and JT Floyd. Looking at 2009 is just as depressing if not more. Bottom line is Rodriguez really failed at developing these players into Big Ten football players. They were developed into Big East and Sun Belt level, which will usually only win you 6 games against a Big Ten schedule.

los barcos

June 12th, 2012 at 10:47 AM ^

did he transfer? i know that he was the twinkle of magnus' eyes, but i think he finished his career with michigan but didnt renew his fifth year.

and elliot mealer was being talked up in spring practice. 

but otherwise i agree - 2008 was not our best recruiting year...


June 12th, 2012 at 9:19 AM ^

The use of Cissoko in the 2009 ND game never made any sense to me. Let's take our freshman corner and put him on an island against one of two first round, upperclass WR and see what the midround upperclass QB can do.

What did they think was going to happen?

Talk about putting a guy in position to fail.


June 12th, 2012 at 1:36 PM ^

at the begining were putting on their red or green scoring tags...

his didnt velco right,  so the ref just had him not wear one, since martins did work...


the ref holds up his hand with the red wrist band if he is indicating points to the one with teh red ankle band,  or his hand  with the green wrist band to indicate points for the wrestler with the green ankle band...