Over the past few seasons, Michigan and Ohio State have participated in some compelling recruiting battles. And this year is no exception.
Just as the competition has heightened on the field, Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer have pulled no punches in selling their respective schools.
When Hoke was hired in 2011, he walked into an advantageous position. The Buckeyes were facing severe NCAA penalties because of the Tattoo-gate scandal which eventually led to head coach Jim Tressel’s resignation.
And Hoke, who had plenty of contacts from his days at Ball State, swooped into the Buckeye state and grabbed eight recruits, including TE A.J. Williams, LB Joe Bolden, S Jarrod Wilson and DT Willie Henry from the 2012 class.
The biggest catch, however, was getting 5-star OG Kyle Kalis to flip from the Buckeyes to the Wolverines.
Plenty of enemies
Kalis’s commitment and subsequent comments enraged the Buckeye fans. ”I believe the Michigan-Ohio border is now open,” Kalis told anyone who would listen. ”I think you’re going to see eight or nine guys from the state of Ohio going over to Michigan this year.”
Kalis reacted quickly to the push back. ”There are really a lot of stupid people out there. I’d get people telling me they wanted me to tear my ACL. I got plenty of threats. I know it was bad, but I gave my address out to about 20 people and told them to come find me. Nobody came.”
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell replaced Tressel on an interim basis. With five starters suspended for part of the 2011 season, Ohio State struggled, losing their final four games including a 40-34 defeat to Michigan. It was the Buckeye’s first loss to U-M since 2003 and the Ohio brass wasted no time in bringing in Urban Meyer as it’s new head coach.
Hoke and Meyer begin their own rivalry
Meyer, known by many as the nation’s top recruiter, rescued the 2012 class, then set his sights on Brady Hoke.
But Hoke and his staff were up to the challenge, finishing a close second to Ohio State in the 2013 Scout.com national ratings. Hoke grabbed nine more recruits from Ohio in last year’s class.
Of the 18 Ohio recruits in the 2012 and 2013 classes, seven have started for the Wolverines.
While Hoke has done surprisingly well recruiting players from Ohio, he’s also done well against Meyer nationwide. Because Michigan will have a small class for 2014 (maybe 18 or 19 when National Signing Day arrives February 5). the Wolverine footprint has been scattered around the country, battling Meyer at every turn.
Couldn’t be closer
Fifteen players have been “offered” by both Michigan and Ohio State. Eight have committed to the Buckeyes while seven have chosen the Wolverines.
In Part 1 we’ll look at the Michigan winners. Monday we’ll check out the players who opted for OSU.
Another key recruit, 5-star defensive end Malik McDowell, has been omitted from this list because he’s still undecided and may not pick a school until National Signing Day, Wednesday Feb. 5. Michigan’s coaching staff met with McDowell (and his parents) at Southfield High Friday.
Scout.com reported the 6-6, 292 lb. defensive end would play WDE where he would have a more direct route to the quarterback. McDowells dad also spoke of a Michigan education. “You’ve got to have something to fall back on, Mr. McDowell said. Falling back on the Michigan degree in my opinion won’t hurt his chances at all in life.”
McDowell is still considering Ohio State, Florida State and Michigan State.
The chart below contains a numerical capsule of each commit who is expected to sign a letter of intent on NSD.
Mason Cole, Michael Ferns and Drake Harris have already enrolled.
TE Ian Bunting
Without mincing words, Bunting chose Michigan because of Brady Hoke. “Every school has a nice stadium and a nice locker room and a nice weight room,” said Bunting, who also had offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, Florida, USC and many more.
“At that point you start to figure out what the people are like. You start figuring out if you’re going to fit there or not.
“And I felt the most comfortable at Michigan. They’re regular guys there. At some other schools, maybe the coach is up on a pedestal or arrogant. At Michigan, they’re just regular guys and I really liked that.”
OT Mason Cole
Cole was interested in both Columbus and Ann Arbor in the early going. “They’re definitely one of my top schools,” said Cole regarding Ohio State. “I was born in Chicago so I grew up watching the Big Ten. Playing at a big school like that or Michigan would just be a great opportunity.”
Whether it was the camaraderie or his appetite, Cole became a fan of the Wolverines at the annual Barbecue at the Big House.
“Michigan is awesome,” Cole stated. “Ann Arbor is such a college town. All they have is the university and they love football there, which is awesome. (Saturday) we got tours of everything. We went to all of the facilities and we went to the Big House with (ex-) coach Jerry Montgomery. It was awesome! It’s just a home feeling there. We spent Saturday with most of the coaches and it was fun. They’re just so laid back and are just fun to be around.”
“I Ioved (the barbecue experience). Michigan is definitely high (on the list). I love the home feeling they have in Ann Arbor. You don’t get that in many other places.”
LB Michael Ferns
From St. Clairsville Ohio, Michael Ferns is well aware of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.
“Most Ohio State fans say forget Michigan, but once I got up there and met the staff and players and got to see the actual school it was an easy decision,” he said. “The first visit was great, but then the BBQ was sort of where I knew I felt comfortable.”
Ferns became Michigan’s first 2014 recruit back in August 2012, then turned his sights on “Project 135”, a recruit-led effort to make Michigan’s 2014 class the best possible.
When it comes to contacting prospects, players don’t have nearly the restrictions coaches do.
Ferns enrolling early helped keep some of the wolves away. The latest potential poacher was Alabama’s Nick Saban, but Ferns wasn’t about to get flipped. “Remember,” his dad affirmed, “Michael is choosing a school for its academics as much as he is the football.”
WR Drake Harris
Once the elite wide receiver decided to play football, he de-committed from the Spartans and pledged Michigan. Urban Meyer was in the mix early, but Harris made Michigan the quick choice after leaving Michigan State.
A 6-3, 175 pound speedster, Harris could see some early playing time if he bulks up over the summer.
Since he missed the last football season due to a hamstring injury, enrolling early should already be a huge help.
“I feel like I have a good chance to play since a lot of receivers are graduating, Harris said. “I know I have to put in a lot of work, but if I put in that work on the field and combine that with my talent, I could have a pretty good season next year. I have to work really hard with the coaches and players that are there and listen to what they have to say.”
DE Lawrence Marshall
You’d think he did under a cover of darkness. After committing to Ohio State, Marshall was “concerned” about his trip back to Michigan. “I hope they still love me,” the swift defensive end said.
Take a walk through the corridors of Southfield High and you’d find very few Buckeye fans. Michigan State, maybe, but definitely not Ohio State.
“When I committed to Ohio State I was getting so much hate from Michigan fans. Then when I committed to Michigan, the Ohio State fans were throwing shots at me and the Michigan fans were congratulating me,” he said. “The fans are crazier than the coaches because the fans don’t go away. The coaches have dead periods, but the fans are always there.”
At first, Marshall liked the message Ohio State was sending. And it was all about winning. The recent dominance over Michigan, and the many Big Ten titles must have been easy to swallow.
The news gravitated quickly to Coach Hoke, and Marshall was summoned to Ann Arbor for a visit. Hoke used some of the same magic Meyer is famous for, and Marshall flipped from OSU to U-M.
S/CB/WR/RB/KR/PR Jabrill Peppers
“It’s true what they say about coach Urban Meyer,” Peppers said. “He knows what he’s doing, he’s a proven winner, it’s a prestigious campus, one of the biggest campuses we have in the country, one of the top alumni bases.”
The superlatives continued. “I really like the secondary coach in coach Kerry Coombs. He seems like a real good guy. He reminds me of my old secondary coach, Bill Tierney, when I was at Don Bosco. They are constantly reaching out to me and showing me love. Their fans are showing me love. It’s going to be interesting.”
The Buckeyes love for Peppers apparently wasn’t as strong as Peppers’ love for the Wolverines.
“I grew up a Michigan fan,” he said. “Michigan is always going to be in the mix.”
Peppers, who could be compared to Michigan Heisman winners Charles Woodson or Anthony Carter, (and Michael Hart, too) thrilled the Michigan fanbase when he committed last May.
Other than a brief moment at the end of the season when it was feared that Brady Hoke’s job was in jeopardy, Peppers has been solid Michigan. Of course, nothing is official until NSD.
Michigan is always concerned when Urban Meyer is in the fray, but the Stanford Cardinal came calling too. If you ever spent any time in Northern California, you’d be concerned, too.
SAM linebacker Chase Winovich
When he was younger, Chase was a huge collector of Buckeye memorabilia. So when Urban Meyer arrived with an offer, it should have been a no brainer for Winowich to become a Buckeye.
But Coach Hoke changed his mind. “It was Brady Hoke,” Winovich told mlive.com. “He’s just so down to Earth,” Winovich said. “He’s real. You come across coaches, and they seem fake — and I won’t say any names. But you do come across coaches like that, and you don’t get that vibe from them. That feeling of knowing that you can have a connection with a coach that makes you want to spend the next few years playing for him.” Although he played both ways his senior year, Winovich may start off at SAM linebacker for Michigan. He made 57 tackle and had 13 sacks. ♦
Ian Bunting TE 3/21* 6-6, 225 Hinsdale Central, IL Mason Cole OT 4/18 6-4, 260 Tarpon Springs E. Lake (FL) Michael Ferns MLB 4/8 6-2.5, 235 St. Clairsville , OH Drake Harris WR 4/8 6-3, 175 GR Christian, MI Lawrence Marshall DE 4/12 6-3, 215 Southfield, MI Jabrill Peppers CB 5/1 6-0, 190 Paramus Cath., NJ Chase Winovich OLB 4/26 6-4, 218 Thomas Jefferson HS, Clairton, PA
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Joel Greer