February 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Sam Webb: Recruiting

Harrison's 'Big Three' recruits pursued by Big Ten

Tight end Devin Funchess had a standout showing at the Best of the Midwest Showcase -- a skills camp in Ann Arbor last Sunday (Allen Trieu/Scout.com)

Legendary Farmington Hills Harrison football coach John Herrington has had his fair share of talented teams during his 41 year-reign at the helm of his storied program. That said, the one he fields in 2011 will certainly rank among his most talented.

Herrington's version of the big three -- wide receiver Aaron Burbridge, defensive lineman Mario Ojemudia and tight end Devin Funchess -- return from a squad that went 14-0 and won Harrison its 13th state title last year.

They, along with quarterback (and likely Division I receiver prospect) Jake Vento are key reasons why many pundits believe Herrington will win his 14th next year.

"As far as D1 prospects, (the 2011 Harrison team) ranks right up there with the 2000-2001 team, when we had Agim Shabaj, Drew Stanton, and Dave Condeni," Herrington said. "We had about four Division I kids that year. This team would rank right there. In fact, I know things have changed since then, but this is the earliest I've seen kids recruited by big-time schools. All three of them are really talented.

Lots of upside

Burbridge is the most heavily recruited of the bunch, with offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Illinois. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder boasts 4.37-second 40 speed and is a threat to take the ball the distance every time he touches it.

"(Burbridge) has tremendous explosion and acceleration," stated Herrington. "He is one of those kids that has two gears. He can go out for a pass and it looks like it is overthrown, then suddenly he explodes on the ball. He is a very tough kid, a good blocker, and has great hands. He still has a ways to go in learning all his routes, but he can catch the ball just off his shoe tops, or he can go up and get it if it is way over his head like he did in the state finals. I would say the thing that sets him apart is his speed and his explosion."

Ojemudia displays similar physical traits along the defensive line. The 6-3, 215-pounder is undersized in the trenches, but his power and quickness mitigates that disadvantage. So, too, does his relentless aggression.

"Mario is unstoppable," said Burbridge. "You never seen him blocked. Mario is a beast."

Funchess agreed: "(Ojemudia) is just an animal. He just gets the job done."

Herrington agrees with both assessments.

"Mario just has a motor that is unbelievable," Herrington said. "Now, he is very quiet. We're hoping that he develops as a team leader, but he is so quiet that he really has not done that yet. As far as his game, he has got to get some size. He's about 215-218. If he gets up to college and he gets up to 245, he'll just be amazing. He could be a hybrid. We've never played him (standing) up, but he's fast and he could play an outside linebacker. I think he is better down, but he's always wanted to play up as a linebacker, so we'll see."

Offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, and Syracuse suggest those schools are willing to take him now and figure out where he'll play later. He's a big athlete with great upside -- a combination on which coaches will almost always take a flyer.

That's why many are beginning to turn up the heat on the least heralded of the Harrison trio, Funchess. The 6-4, 205-pounder may not have the same recruiting profile as his teammates, but a breakout junior campaign in which he led the team in catches and yards proved he is a big-time talent in his own right.

"(Funchess) was a surprise to us," Herrington admitted. "He played much better than I thought he would and he is really developing. He really has dedicated himself. As a JV player I didn't know if he was going to go that hard or not, but he has. He is going to be a great prospect when he puts on weight. He can be a tight end, an H-back, a split end. He has big hands. I'm not sure what he's going to run the 40 in, but I think he could be around 4.6 or 4.7."

That question may be the only thing standing between Funchess and more scholarships in the future. He has offers from Michigan, Illinois, and Bowling Green, but his standout showing at the Best of the Midwest Showcase -- a skills camp in Ann Arbor last Sunday -- suggests they will soon have company. Burbridge and Ojemudia can expect their offer lists to expand as well.

"Aaron Burbridge is a great all-around receiver," said Scout.com Midwest regional manager Allen Trieu. "He has fantastic hands, has great body control, good speed, and can make plays after the catch, too. I think he can be more physical in his game, but that's the area he is working on.

"Mario Ojemudia is quick off the ball, aggressive, and disruptive. The main knock on him is that he's about 215 pounds and has been playing out of position as a tackle. I think he will be fine at end, though, because he's so athletic.

"Devin Funchess has super upside. He's tall, can run for a kid of that size and can go up and make spectacular catches. I'd like to see him add some weight and keep working on his consistency. I think he will do those things.

"I think they're all BCS level players and among the top 10-15 players in the state. They're very talented. I think all three have a chance to be impact guys in college."

Spartans have edge

Whether all three become impact players for the same college remains to be seen. Should that scenario come to fruition, the most likely beneficiary appears to be Michigan State. The Spartans have a strong connection with Harrison thanks to decades of mining some of the school's most notable talent. They've placed Burbridge and Ojemudia high on their list of priorities, and the feeling is definitely mutual.

"I like the Spartans," said Burbridge. "They are at the top of my list right now. I've always liked State. I've been a State fan."

Added Ojemudia, "I've been (Michigan State) fan. Michigan State has been one of the only schools that has really been talking to me that much -- actually physically talking with me. That's got my interest in (Michigan State) up there."

Michigan has a great deal of ground to make up with both youngsters, but each insists they are willing to listen to the Maize & Blue pitch.

"It's a great program," Burbridge said of Michigan. "I'd like to go there (for a visit) and see what they're all about. I like Michigan, too."

The Wolverines' chances with Funchess seem more promising, but he stops short of naming them his favorite.

"It was great getting my first offer from Michigan," Funchess told Scout.com. "It feels good, (but) I want to get out more and check out other teams to have a chance to see what more programs are like."

One of those programs is Michigan State. The Spartans haven't offered yet, but Funchess believes one could be on the horizon.

"They like everything about me," he said. "I talked with them about getting back up there again. I have already been up for a Junior Day, (but) I look forward to getting another chance to go up there and visit."

The consistent theme with all three prospects is the desire to go through the recruiting process and weigh all the options. Nevertheless, a few suitors will likely have a leg up on the competition throughout each recruitment.

"MSU is in the driver's seat for Burbridge and Ojemudia," said Trieu. "I do think the Ohio State offer puts them right in the mix for Burbridge, too, though. If the Buckeyes offer Ojemudia, I think he'd go there. As for Funchess, he'll be more open. Michigan was his first offer and I think he likes them. We'll see how many more offers he picks up, but the Wolverines are in a good spot right now. Unless something changes, I think we'll see all of these guys playing in the Big Ten."

Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA.

Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge boasts 4.37-second 40 speed and is a threat ... (Allen Trieu/Scout.com)
Defensive lineman Mario Ojemudia is undersized in the trenches, but his ... (Allen Trieu/Scout.com)
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