David Dawson, right, has helped Cass Tech to two consecutive Division 1 state titles. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
For much of the 2012 campaign, Michigan coach Brady Hoke publicly lamented the struggles exhibited by his offensive line. Privately, though, he probably bemoaned even more the fact that the remedy to what ails the troubled unit won't immediately solve its problems. To truly fix things up front the Wolverines will have to fortify their ranks on the recruiting trail.
The current dearth of big bodies is largely attributable to the low numbers in the 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes. Only two of the four offensive line prospects signed in those years remain on the roster. That's why it should come as no surprise that replenishing the trenches has been a major focus in each of Hoke's recruiting classes thus far.
In 2012 the Maize and Blue landed a four-man crop headlined by five-star All-American Kyle Kalis. They wasted little time further addressing the matter in the subsequent class, securing verbal commitments from five more line prospects before spring ball even started. With things seemingly set up front, Hoke and Co. were then free to focus their recruiting attention on other positions. But as has become increasingly clear in the modern recruiting world, nothing is truly set until a kid signs on the dotted line.
Detroit Cass Tech lineman David Dawson backed away from his pledge to the Wolverines last month, forcing them back on the recruiting trail to court a replacement. A number of prospects have emerged on radar, but at the moment there appear to be four front runners for the recently opened slot.
Na'Ty Rodgers, 6-5, 280, Pomfret (Md.) McDonough
Michigan was involved in Rodgers' recruitment very early in the process, but contact waned when the Wolverines satisfied their line quota before spring hit. When a spot suddenly materialized, Rodgers was the first of the re-visited targets to be extended a scholarship offer.
"They've come back into the fold because they had a player decommit," McDonough coach Luke Ethington told Scout.com in October. "I know Na'Ty lived in Michigan during his middle school days and has some familiarity with the state. I know Michigan is back and is keeping tabs on him."
Rodgers later added: "I'm going to try and take (visits to) Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska before (the Under Armour All American game on Jan. 4), and then take (a visit to) South Carolina after it. The other visits are in the process of being set up."
The Nebraska and Michigan trips likely will take place on successive December weekends, with the trip to Ann Arbor most likely occurring on Dec. 14. The Big Ten programs happen to be the two schools with which Rodgers is the least familiar, but he insists they will receive equal consideration.
"Michigan and Nebraska, those are two schools I've always been curious about growing up, so I really wanted to take a look at them," Rodgers said to Scout.com. "They have really good linemen. So for them to offer me and them to have really good linemen, that is something I have to look at."
That said, there is the definite leader in the race.
"South Carolina," he said. "It's just a great atmosphere down there. The coaching staff excites me and I really like it there."
Cameron Hunt, 6-4, 255, Corona (Calif.) Centennial
Hunt committed to California back in July, but the recent firing of longtime head coach Jeff Tedford has caused the versatile lineman to reevaluate his options. Michigan quickly jumped into the mix and a few Wolverine commits wasted little time lending a helping hand.
"I've known Kyle Bosch for a couple of months now and I've been staying in contact with him and Logan (Tuley-Tillman)," said Hunt. "They're really good guys. I think Michigan had one lineman drop. (Bosch and Tuley-Tillman) wanted me in (the class). Coach Darrell Funk has been after me and was calling me to see if I was interested. I was. It has only been a good thing so far. I've just got to see where it takes me."
Funk extended an offer when he visited Hunt earlier this week. That only served to enhance his already favorable view of the Maize and Blue.
"Michigan is on the top on the Big Ten," Hunt said. "It's a great school to go to academically, and if you want to get drafted into the NFL, they put out a lot of players — which is always a positive. The coaching staff coming from San Diego State, it's kind of cool. I'm originally from San Diego. We kind of have a bond from that. Coach Funk is a great guy and I have a good connection with him. I think everything will turn out pretty well."
Just how well likely will depend upon his yet-to-be-scheduled visit. The date is still up air because his team is still alive in the playoffs. A deep run would push the trip to January. Once his season concludes he plans to take a long look at a list of favorites that also includes Cal, UCLA and Oregon (not yet offered).
Said Hunt, "(The decision will be based on) how I connect with the coaches. If I can connect with the coach, he's a good guy, and I can learn a lot from him, that's one of the main factors for me. Also education, because I come from a family that supports education. My sister is going to be a college grad going to law school. If the NFL doesn't work out then I can still fall back on a (college) degree, so that's a real big thing."
Kenny Lacy, 6-5, 270, Phoenix Mountain Pointe
Lacy is a UCLA commitment that was also offered by Michigan this week. His consideration of other schools, however, is not a new development. From the moment he committed to the Bruins back in September he mentioned his plan to still take trips to other campuses. The Wolverines had kept in contact with him enough leading up to this point to secure one of his official stops.
"They offered me (Tuesday) but they have been recruiting me since last spring," Lacy told Scout.com. "Coach came to school today and that is when they offered me. They plan to come back next week to do an in-home visit."
"I am committed (to UCLA) and I originally did it because I felt strongly that is where I want to go. But I was upfront with (UCLA assistant) Coach (Adrian) Klemm from the beginning that I would still take trips, and he was OK with that. I just want to make sure I am doing the right thing and making the right decision."
To date Lacy has taken and official visit to Nebraska and scheduled future trips to Kansas State (this weekend), Michigan (Dec. 14) and Vanderbilt (Jan. 18).
David Dawson, 6-4.5, 290, Detroit Cass Tech
Dawson's reemergence might be the most surprising development on this list. When Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher was asked prior to the state playoffs about the possibility of Michigan courting his star lineman again, he was anything but optimistic.
"Nothing will materialize (with Michigan)." Wilcher said emphatically. "That ship has sailed. That bad boy is gone. If you tried to search for it, it might've just sunk (laughter). It's gone."
Well, what was lost has since been found. The reconnecting of the two sides Thursday night was the culmination of an explanatory process that Dawson began a few weeks ago. During the renewed interaction he revealed just how much he has been struggling to deal with extreme adversity that entered his life.
The first blow came after Dawson's sophomore year when he and his family were forced to move to Houston due to what his mother described as "a family crisis." Things began looking up when he returned to the Motor City after spending a semester in the Lone Star State. He quickly readjusted life back at home, dedicated himself to helping the Technicians win another state title, and in mid-February committed to Michigan. Then a few short months later he was hit with unspeakable tragedy. On April 11 his father, a Michigan Department of Transportation worker, was struck and killed on the highway while responding to a disabled vehicle call.
"I'm still dealing with things that I went through," Dawson explained. "I put (great deal of the blame for the decision to get away from Michigan) on that. It wasn't nothing against the program at Michigan. It was just my own personal issues. I'm working on those right now and we should be alright."
Thanks to helpful support from family, friends, and coaches, a great deal of perspective has been gained. Now Dawson has a definite plan to attend college closer to home — and after a conversation late Thursday evening with Brady Hoke, Michigan is again one of his options.
"We just talked about just really how much I could fit in the program and how much they still want me," Dawson recalled. "We talked about my dad a little bit and he said he understood what I might have been thinking and things like that. He just told me to take my time."
While his feelings for Michigan are still strong, an emphasis is being placed on making the best decision as opposed to a hasty one.
"I'm going down to Ohio State December 7th through 9th," he said. "I'm trying to get to Michigan on the 14th. In January I have Alabama scheduled for the 11th and MSU scheduled for the 18th.
"(There is no leader) as of right now. Everything is up in the air for me. Like I said — I've scheduled my visits and that's what I'm (focused) on right now."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA.