When Jack Tabb visited Ann Arbor for the Wisconsin game, he focused most of his attention on gaining a better appreciation for the people he might one day call teammates. (Scout.com)
The persistent speculation about Rich Rodriguez's future at Michigan has certainly made recruiting waters choppy for the Maize & Blue in recent weeks.
They were passed over by a blue chip prospect they once led the race for, Army All American defensive back Avery Walls. They suffered a precipitous drop down (and at one point off) the list of four-star defensive tackle prospect Darian Cooper. Most notably, they're clinging to the centerpiece of their class, Army All American running back Dee Hart, by a thread.
As bleak as all that news is, there have been a few rays of sunshine.
The Wolverines managed to secure commitments last week from Holland West Ottawa linebacker Desmond Morgan and Army All-American cornerback Blake Countess. Morgan's boyhood affinity for the Maize & Blue and Countess' appreciation for Michigan's strong academic and social attributes outweighed their very tangible concerns about the continued presence of the coaches they committed to. The same could prove true in the near future for another of Michigan's prime targets, Red Bank, N.J., tight end Jack Tabb.
Michigan joins North Carolina, Arkansas, Iowa, and Rutgers on the list of finalists for the three-star prospect. He had planned to announce a decision this week, but a scheduling conflict has postponed the declaration of a victor until shortly after the New Year. With a NCAA mandated dead recruiting period in effect, all each program can do is wait and hope for the best. Rodriguez delivered his final pitch on Michigan's behalf last week during an in-home visit.
"It was definitely good to have him here," Tabb said regarding the Wolverines' head man. "He stayed for a good long time. He talked again about how they need me and how they'd use me in their offense."
Rodriguez was simply adding to a solid foundation that was laid during Tabb's unofficial visit to Ann Arbor in early August and his official visit in late November.
"It was great," said Tabb after his initial visit. "I liked it a lot. My mom and I have taken visits to lots of schools, and I really liked this one a lot. It was definitely as good as any of the other ones. Everything is top of the line. I love the weight facility, I love the indoor/outdoor facility, and the stadium is awesome with the whole new renovation. I really like the atmosphere. I felt pretty comfortable with the players that I met."
As memorable as the entire trip was, when the curtain fell on his time on campus there was one aspect of it that stood out more than any other.
"Definitely seeing the Big House," Tabb said excitedly. "There is just so much history out of it… so many great moments. It just felt good walking down that tunnel. It was a very pleasant surprise. My mom and I did not know anything about Michigan. We learned a lot, and we both liked what we saw."
When Tabb returned months later for the Wisconsin game, he focused most of his attention on gaining a better appreciation for the people he might one day call teammates.
"I got to chat with the players, which was cool," Scout.com's No. 23 tight end stated. "I didn't really get to see that (during the August visit). I really got a chance to be comfortable with them and just chill. They still know how to have fun even though they all work real hard. I also got to spend time with Kevin Koger, which is real cool. He can tell you how the tight end is in the offense. It was good."
Michigan's standing appeared to have been strengthened by what Tabb described as a "top notch" experience, but he did not name the Wolverines his leader. Similarly impressive visits to his other favorites -- most notably North Carolina -- left lasting impressions as well. Now he is charged with separating one school from all the rest. Complicating matters, though, are the rampant rumors about Rodriguez's job security. They have caused the Garden State standout to give consideration to one of the harsh realities in collegiate athletics -- coaches come and go.
"I guess that's why you have to base your decision on the school," he said. "That's why I'm evaluating everything. Sometimes coaches leave and that's why you have to make your decision based on the school."
The person Tabb will lean on most for advice during the evaluation process is his mom, Julie. She made it a point to take visits with her son so she can have as informed an opinion possible. She too has steered clear of proclaiming a favorite, but her high regard for Michigan has been evident from the time she first set foot in Ann Arbor back in August.
"First of all, I loved the weather," recalled Ms. Tabb. "They couldn't have had nicer weather. The humidity was down. I did not know that there were so many trees. I've never been this far north and really it was a very pretty area. The campus was absolutely fabulous and I loved the state of the art and then the old classic look up the red brick. I fell in love with the campus. It was very, very pretty."
Esthetics is but a one of the factors being considered. Mother and son will sit down and sift through a whole laundry list of criteria.
"I would say academics is one of the (considerations), but I will tell you that they all have his major (broadcasting) that he is interested in as well as they are high on the APR." she said. "What it really comes down to is the people and just how comfortable you feel. How he feels about the players that he meets -- if they seem to be happy, if they're interactive, and of course student life and social life as a whole. They have to offer other things that he is interested in when he is not playing football. They have to offer an opportunity to enjoy the community and some of the other aspects of college that he should experience."
One factor that definitely won't carry much weight is distance.
"I'm retired military," Ms. Tabb explained. "We've lived all over. We've lived separately and we'll be OK. In fact, I would love an excuse to relocate a little closer so I could go to games."
The question is, closer to where?
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine magazine and GoBlueWolverine.com, and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His column appears every Thursday.