Derrick Green wears a Michigan jersey after announcing his commitment to the Wolverines on Saturday in Richmond, Va. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Durham)
A lot can change over the course of four years; just ask Richmond (Va.) Hermitage running back Derrick Green. The newest commitment to Michigan's top-ranked recruiting class likely thought that to be an unfathomable distinction when he entered high school back in 2009. After all, he at that point was a diehard Ohio State fan with a physique that was anything but that of a tailback.
"The first time we saw him he was eighth-grader and we were doing 7-on-7 (drills), and he came out and watched," Hermitage coach Patrick Kane recalled. "He was a little chunky at the time. He said what a lot of kids say: 'I want to be a running back.' We said, 'OK, that's fine.' But in your mind, you're thinking he'd probably be a good looking offensive guard."
A discouraging projection for most youngsters to say the least, but Green wasn't most youngsters. He was determined to fulfill his dream of running the football and set about the task of breaking all the bad habits that were preventing him from doing so.
"I came in my freshman year of high school, I was 268 pounds," remembered Green. "I just did a whole 360 going into that summer (and) going into my sophomore year. I had to stop eating fried foods. I started eating a lot of grilled meat, salads, drinking a lot of water, and staying away from candy and soda."
He also began exhibiting the kind of work ethic necessary to achieve a physical metamorphosis. With guidance from his trainer he shed nearly 50 pounds and revealed himself to be a running back that a BCS power like Michigan would recruit. The Wolverines officially joined the party with an offer last February, but the traction that move garnered them seemed to fade quickly thereafter.
In mid-March Michigan secured a verbal commitment from top-100 tailback, DeVeon Smith, and also looked to be the odds on favorite to land five-star tailback Ty Isaac, as well. Green, meanwhile, had emerged as one of the nation's hottest recruits with offers from a who's-who of college football. He had hoped to visit as many of his serious options as possible, so bypassing his planned March 18 trip to Ann Arbor was thought by many to be a reasonable move. Even more so when it became clear that Brady Hoke would not be present during the trip. However, Green and his family decided to go anyway. That decision marked the beginning of Michigan's climb to the top. It was then that the talented youngster's relationships with the coaching staff really began taking hold, starting with his primary recruiter, Jerry Montgomery.
"We love Coach Montgomery," said Green's mother, Fran Knight. "He's been recruiting him for about two years now, so he's like part of the family for us. He comes over to the house, eats and talks football. I just loved Michigan's passion. Their coaches really love their football players and that's important to me."
Witnessing that trait in Michigan assistant Fred Jackson was especially impactful. Green's connection with his would-be position coach proved to be a chief consideration in his recruitment.
"He's a great coach, but an unbelievable person," Green said of Jackson. "I definitely see him as a father figure, and just the history behind his name, you know, it doesn't get any better than Coach Jackson."
With those bonds fortified there was one important connection left to be made — the one with Hoke. Even in his absence Michigan's head coach managed to begin that process with a gesture that resonates with his prized recruit to this day.
Said Knight, "When we went (on the March 18 visit), he wasn't there. His dad had just passed, but I was amazed how even though he was going through the situation with his father passing, he still took the time out to call Derrick and let him know that he really wanted him there, he really wanted to be there, (and) he was looking forward to meeting him. That spoke volumes to me about the type of person he was."
When Green and Co. finally met Hoke in person, their positive view of the staff was solidified. That the five-star runner had established a strong rapport with the members of Michigan's 2013 recruiting class only served to enhance his comfort level. All that was left was to assess the direction on the field. The Wolverines beat out fellow finalists Tennessee and Auburn on that front also, especially when it came to scheme.
"That's what I look for the most in a school — what kind of offense they're going to run," Green said. "With Michigan going back to a pro-style, that's definitely me all the way. So it was definitely just the best decision."
Preparing for 2013
With his commitment now behind him, Green's athletic focus has shifted fully to preparing for next year. The nation's No. 1 running back plans to get more familiar with Michigan's campus and its offense by taking monthly trips to Ann Arbor before reporting for good in the summer. He also plans to arrive in the best shape of his life.
"I've been grinding ever since the season was over, working out," he said. "I have a personal trainer I go to three to four times a week. I also do yoga every Sunday, so I've just been getting after it and I'm just ready to play."
One of aspects of his Michigan career he anticipates most is the chance to compete against Ohio State. Linebacker Curtis Grant and Green are former Hermitage teammates, and Grant now plays for the Buckeyes.
"Me and Curtis, when we grew up, we were like little brother, big brother," said Green. "He's at the rival school, so hopefully we get to play against each other, and Michigan's going to definitely come out with that 'W.'"
"It's going to be a show, man. That's all I can say."
If all goes according to plan, Green will play a key role in that battle. It's all part of his goal to live up to the lofty personal standard that he has set for himself.
"Just (to be) a dynamic back … an all-around back," he said, describing his expectations. "Not just on the field, but off the field as well. And I plan to come to Michigan and be a role model for little kids."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA.