Yesterday, February 1, 2012, twenty-five high school prospects signed their letters of intent to officially join the Michigan football program. The University of Michigan athletic department released a general run-down of all the committed players.
Here’s a quick list of all the players:
OL Blake Bars (6’5”, 270 lbs.)
LB Joe Bolden (6’3”, 230 lbs.)
OL Ben Braden (6’6”, 319 lbs.)
WR Jehu Chesson (6’3”, 175 lbs.)
DB Jeremy Clark (6’4”, 195 lbs.)
WR Amara Darboh (6’2”, 200 lbs.)
TE Devin Funchess (6’4”, 205 lbs.)
DB Allen Gant (6’2”, 205 lbs.)
DT Matt Godin (6’6”, 265 lbs.)
DT Willie Henry (6’3”, 273 lbs.)
FB Sione Houma (6’0”, 215 lbs.)
LB Royce Jenkins-Stone (6’2”, 215 lbs.)
RB Drake Johnson (6’1”, 205 lbs.)
OL Kyle Kalis (6’5”, 305 lbs.)
OL Eric Magnuson (6’6”, 275 lbs.)
RB Dennis Norfleet (5’6”, 165 lbs.)
DE Mario Ojemudia (6’2”, 220 lbs.)
DT Ondre Pipkins (6’3”, 320 lbs.)
DB Terry Richardson (5’9”, 165 lbs.)
LB Kaleb Ringer (6’1”, 225 lbs.)
LB James Ross (6’1”, 215 lbs.)
DE Tom Strobel (6’6”, 265 lbs.)
TE A.J. Williams (6’6”, 275 lbs.)
DB Jarrod Wilson (6’2”, 190 lbs.)
DE Chris Wormley (6’5”, 250 lbs.)
As I’ve said many times, I don’t normally follow recruiting or have time to post about on this blog when so many other outfits can do so. They dedicate a lot of time to it. I have made a few posts, however.
There’s also a big element of unpredictability about recruiting: you never know when a player is going to decommit, or if something equally bad is going to happen. This is also why I don’t like to make posts about recruits who haven’t signed. However, now that these guys have all signed their letters of intent (LOI), they’re officially part of the Michigan football family, and we can talk about them without worry. (Note: Even in the best programs, attrition is always existent. Just because a player commits and signs a LOI doesn’t mean they won’t transfer because they can’t cut it in practice.)
Anyway, let’s talk about this class. Generally, I think it’s pretty good. Brady Hoke’s staff addressed all of the major needs (offensive line, tight end, defense, etc.) while still pulling in some great skill players at running back and wide receiver.
So, how does this class rate? Scout.com ranks Michigan as No. 4 behind Alabama, Texas, and Ohio State. Across most sites, Michigan and Ohio State are tied for best class in the Big Ten.
Best Prospect on Offense: Kyle Kalis
Michigan really needed some depth at offensive line, and Kalis is an amazing get for a number of reasons. Probably the biggest one is that he decommitted from Ohio State to become a Wolverine. Kalis is big, tough, and strong and will likely play right away. He is arguably Michigan’s highest rated recruit on the board.
Runner-up: Amara Darboh
Darboh is a four-star wide receiver from Des Moines, Iowa that was very high on Notre Dame’s list of targeted recruits. It was pretty big news when he chose Michigan over Notre Dame, and some Irish fans are legitimately getting worried.
Best Prospect on Defense: Ondre Pipkins
Ironically nicknamed “Pee Wee,” Pipkins is huge and ready to go. Not only does he fit into a crucial defensive line need—with Michigan losing Mike Martin—but he was also desperately wanted by the Michigan State Spartans. Pipkins had offers from Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon, and USC, among many others. He is considered one of the top ten best defensive tackles in the entire country, earning a four-star rating from Scout and a five-star rating from Rivals.com.
Runner-up: James Ross
Ross was an early commit to Michigan back in 2011 and that news became hugely disappointing to schools like USC, Ohio State, and Penn State, but Michigan State was particularly bitter about this one. Ross has an incredibly high football I.Q. to counteract his size, and he is probably the best tackler in the Midwest. If Ross lives up to his potential, he will likely become one of the best linebackers in Michigan football history.
But really, this whole class is rated incredibly high, which you would expect from the No. 4 class in the country. Chris Wormley, Mario Ojemudia, and Devin Funchess were all four-star recruits nabbed to the chagrin of Michigan’s rivals. Michigan only lost one commitment in the whole process—Caleb Stacey, who switched his commitment to the University of Cincinnati because he wanted to stay close to home. (Stacey is from Cincinnati.)
There’s plenty to like about each prospect, and it’s hard to have one favorite. Running back Dennis Norfleet was a surprise get for Michigan because he committed the day of Signing, changing his commitment from Cincinnati (which nabbed Caleb Stacey) to Michigan at the last second.
Norfleet is a four-star rated recruit on Scout and is considered the No. 19 best running back in the country. He also happens to be from Detroit, which may explain why he thought he was being overlooked. At mgoblog.com, Brian Cook was pretty excited that Michigan got Norfleet:
Yessssss. Schools should recruit guys like Norfleet like they do kickers: have at least one on the roster at all times and maybe stash a second away so you've always got a quality specialist. With Justice Hayes Michigan now has two bullets in the space-player chamber.
Norfleet will instantly be in the mix for both return jobs. While Jeremy Gallon is likely to hold on to punt return duties, kickoff returns could use a jolt of athleticism after Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith split duties this year.
As far as a role on offense, he'll probably spend a year backing up Vincent Smith before fighting with Hayes for third down back. If Michigan really is moving to a "pro style" offense they'll have to define whether that means aimlessly running power over and over or pairing guys like Hayes and Norfleet with Shane Morris to create a Brees/Brady-style deadly passing spread. Survey says: some of both. Norfleet could have an impact in the former and will be a centerpiece in the latter.
Norfleet is pretty much a consensus four-star running back across the board, but if he wants to have early playing time, he’ll have to beat out Fitzgerald Toussiant in 2012, and probably Thomas Rawls down the road.
Signing Day always has its ups and downs, because nothing is official until the school gets that letter of intent in the fax. The athletic department followed the events on Signing Day, and you can view Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 if you want to see the staff nervously await the faxes to come in. Brady Hoke also gave a press conference where he talked about each of the recruits. AnnArbor.com has a transcript of Hoke’s comments on each recruit, if you’d rather read than watch.
CBS coverage of Signing Day interviews Brady Hoke:
And of course, Michigan alumnus and Wolverine fan Bob Wojnowski took the opportunity to relate Michigan’s recruiting back to its rivalries:
To build in the trenches, you have to fight in the trenches. To gain ground, you have to stand your ground. College football teams don't win merely by collecting the biggest recruits, but it's not a bad way to try. And right now in the Big Ten, there's some old-fashioned, backyard, bare-knuckle brawling going on.
Michigan is a Midwest recruiting force again under Brady Hoke. Ohio State's scandal cost it, oh, about 15 minutes of recruiting time before Urban Meyer cranked it up. Mark Dantonio and Michigan State aren't shying away, but it's a scrap again, sooner than expected.
After a three-year respite, Michigan is back to encroaching on Michigan State's territory, and trying to reclaim its own. Ohio State is back to encroaching on Michigan's territory, and Michigan State's territory, and Penn State's territory. Ohio State and Michigan hauled in the Big Ten's top-rated classes Wednesday, both hovering in the top five nationally…the Wolverines did an excellent job loading up with the type of players they needed — offensive and defensive linemen, and guys who tackle. Of their 25 recruits, 18 are from Michigan and Ohio. Of the Buckeyes' 25 recruits, 15 are from Ohio. Of the Spartans' 18 recruits, 11 are from Michigan and Ohio. So you can understand if the Spartans are feeling a little territorial. They had their pick of the state while Rich Rodriguez was chasing fast guys all across the country, and they posted back-to-back 11-victory seasons and beat the Wolverines four straight times.
The battling is here to stay, on the field and off. Meyer brings an SEC raid-everyone's-commit-cupboards mentality. Hoke brings an old-school devotion to trench warfare…This is how great rivalries get stoked, when players stay close to home and understand what's at stake. There's no sense getting starry-eyed on the first day of February, because for every 5-star bust, there's a 3-star phenom. The recruiting experts can declare the winners. I'll simply declare the Big Ten got top-heavier, and the scrapping to hold ground and gain ground just got a lot more intense.
How did the rivals do?
Michigan State: their best recruit is indisputably wide receiver Aaron Burbridge, the best wide receiver in the state of Michigan, and the only player who chose to be a Spartan over being a Wolverine. (To be fair, though, Michigan’s staff was recruiting him less and less when it was discovered that he struggled in the classroom.)
The Spartans are miffed about losing Mario Ojemudia and Devin Funchess, two prospects who came from Farmington Hills Harrison, widely believed to be a Michigan State pipeline. They’re also upset about losing James Ross, who comes from Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, a high school that has been divided in its love for the Spartans and the Wolverines.
Ohio State: the Buckeyes’s best prospect is probably running back Brionte Dunn, who was heavily fought over between Hoke and Meyer, and who was heavily considering coming to Michigan. Meyer won the battle, though.
Either in spite of the sanctions or because the sanctions aren’t tough enough, Ohio State has tons of elite prospects. Michigan was able to nab Kyle Kalis away from Columbus, but the Buckeyes landed the commitment of cornerback Armani Reeves, another hotly contested prospect by both schools. It seems that the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is going to heat up even more—if that’s possible.
Notre Dame: their best prospect is clearly Gunner Kiel, the No. 1 best quarterback in the country. Kiel had originally committed to play for Indiana under Kevin Wilson, and then he switched to LSU. A few weeks before Signing Day, Kiel switched again to Notre Dame, this time for good. He doesn’t exactly fit Brian Kelly’s offense (Kiel is a Grade A pocket passer), but he has a powerful arm and lethal accuracy. Kiel’s commitment upped Notre Dame’s ranking to have the No. 18 best class in the nation.
With Michigan filling all of its needs and securing some of the best talent away from their rivals, it’s hard not to get excited about this class. Brady Hoke clearly established a very impressive foothold in the Midwest and brought the primary efforts of recruiting back to the states of Michigan and Ohio.
It’s an exciting time to be a Michigan fan. But then again, it should be.