Matt Wile of San Diego (Calif.) Francis Parker High was named a 2011 Army All-American after a stellar high school career. (Josh Harvey/Scout.com)
When describing Michigan's kicking game last season, any euphemism for catastrophe would suffice. It's not often a team's fourth-down conversion percentage exceeds its made field-goal percentage, but that was the Wolverines' unfortunate reality in 2010.
That's why it comes as no surprise signing a kicker is among the Maize & Blue's chief recruiting priorities this year.
Brady Hoke inherited a kicking commitment when he took the helm last week, but he didn't hold on to it for very long. Days after he was announced as Michigan's new coach, West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade Prep kicker Matt Goudis backed out of his pledge in what may have been a mutual parting of the ways.
That cleared a path for the Wolverines to pursue their new top kicking target, Matt Wile of San Diego (Calif.) Francis Parker High.
Best foot forward
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Wile was named a 2011 Army All-American after a stellar high school career. He connected on 9 of 11 field goals with a long of 48 yards in 2009 and 10 of 13 field goals with a long of 49 yards in 2010. He already has a strong rapport with Michigan's new staff, thanks to his close ties to the San Diego State football program.
Even absent familiarity, Wile still would have listened if the Wolverines came calling because of the deep familial ties.
"My dad attended medical school at Michigan and he was the fourth generation to go to Michigan," Wile said. "My dad, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather all went to Michigan's medical school and they were all doctors."
"My dad is a doctor for the (San Diego State) Aztecs, and when I was about 12 the Aztecs played Michigan and I was able to come. It was the day before the game and the team was visiting the stadium when I asked somebody to hold a field goal. They were like, 'all right,' thinking that I really didn't know how to do it. I took three steps back and a few steps over and one of the guys tried rushing at me.
"I kicked, like, a 30-yard field goal in just T-shirt and shorts with some board shoes on."
Wile's father realized his son had a talent. He decided enlist the services of a kicking coach. Enter Lance Ortega, head of the College Prep Kicking Academy at the San Diego School of Football.
"There are a lot of talented kids that just do not have the desire or work ethic," Ortega said. "(Wile) was clearly in the 99th percentile early, but it was just going to be a matter of (whether) he was going to stick it out. He is an athletic kid. He was playing lacrosse, baseball, soccer, and everything else. At some point you have to think, 'I wonder what is going to splinter his interest.' But he kept kicking, he kept getting better and better, and he just grew and grew. He was better than average for a long until he hit 6-1 or 6-2. Now he is just an absolute animal."
Rarely does one hear "kicker" and "animal" used in the same sentence, but Ortega assures anyone with questions about Wile -- including the Michigan coaching staff -- that such a description is extremely apt.
Said Ortega, "when Coach (Dan) Ferringo called me, the (new) special teams coach at Michigan, he said, 'Can Matt kick off the ground and is he ready to go?' When (Wile) was in about 10th grade we knew he was clearly going to college and someone was going to (offer a scholarship). The plan was to get him kicking off the ground early because that's what the colleges want -- that and kicking off of a 1-inch tee for kickoffs. He didn't really start training off the ground until 10th grade.
"I think he went to Northwestern camp this past summer and hit a 63 (-yarder) off the ground, and he did it again in San Antonio for the Army All American game just this two weeks ago. He hit a 58 off the ground. I've got some film of him putting kickoffs through the goalposts from the 40 off a 1-inch tee when he was a sophomore in high school."
A few days after speaking with Ortega, the Wolverines phoned Wile and offered a scholarship. They became an instant factor in the race for his services, but by no means are they a shoe-in to land him. Washington, Nebraska, and Air Force have been on his trail for much longer, and two of those programs sit in very good shape.
"The deal with Washington is they want me to gray shirt," Wile explained. "They want me to pay for my first semester, and then they will pay for the rest of my school. That essentially could save half a semester so they can offer more skilled positions. I'm looking more at Nebraska, Michigan, and Air Force right now. All those are pretty much even currently."
Michigan will have the opportunity to distance itself from the pack when Wile travels to Ann Arbor for his official visit this weekend. The talented youngster readily admits a lights-out experience could make the Wolverines too tough to beat.
"I'm very excited," said Wile. "I had a very good relationship with the staff while they were at San Diego State. We got along very well. It is pretty exciting to think that I could play for Michigan, which I'm pretty sure has the winningest college football record. That is pretty exciting just to know that I could play for them. I'm just excited and a little exhausted from this whole recruiting process. I hope that I get there and I like it so I can pull the trigger."
Should he arrive at that decision while in Ann Arbor, Wile warns against expecting an immediate announcement.
"I'm not against committing on the visit, but I probably will not because I'll probably want to come home and talk it over with my family," he said. "I've always said for me it is going to (come down to) education first and then coaching staff. Then after that it would be the program itself because it is a lot more fun to win than it is to lose."
So said the youngster whose leg could determine just how much fun one lucky program has over the next four years.
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA