Mason Cole: "I feel like there is a pretty good chance we’ll wind up in the same place." (Photo courtesy of Scout.com)
Michigan's 2013 recruiting class had an unmistakable Midwest flavor to it with only six of its 27 members hailing from outside the region. That, however, doesn't signal the Wolverines' intention to abandon utilizing their national reach. Florida remains a recruiting priority for Brady Hoke and Co., and three of the top Maize and Blue targets in Sunshine State are standouts at the same school.
Tarpon Springs East Lake High stars Mason Cole, a 6-5, 275-pound offensive lineman, and Artavis Scott, a 6-0, 185-pound receiver, were among the earliest offers Michigan extended in the 2014 class. The third East Lake star, 6-5, 198-pound athlete George Campbell Jr., stands out as one of the handful of offers the Wolverines have extended in the 2015 class.
"All three are studs," said Scout.com Florida analyst Geoff Vogt. "Artavis Scott can do everything that you want in a big-play wide receiver. He has great speed and quickness, and already has a ton of offers. He could be the top receiver in Florida next year. Mason Cole is probably going to be a top-five lineman in Florida for sure. He has great feet, long arms, and can be nasty at times."
"George Campbell is a super looking player on both sides of the ball, at wide receiver and defensive end/outside linebacker," added Scout.com national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg. "Offensively, he's deceptively fast. Campbell has good straight line speed, he's fluid, has strong hands, and is tough in the air because of his big body. Speaking of which, he has a long frame with plenty of room to add plenty of bulk. Defensively he has a pretty good get-off, locates the ball quickly, and he's aggressive and physical at the point of attack."
'Atmosphere and tradition'
Michigan emerged as a major contender for Cole and Scott when the duo made it to Ann Arbor for the Barbecue at the Big House last July. That positive impression was later enhanced when the pair visited campus again in the fall for the Wolverines' annual grudge match with Michigan State.
"Michigan is awesome," Cole said. "Ann Arbor is such a college town. All they have is the university and they love football there, which is awesome. We got tours of everything. We went to all of the facilities and we went to the Big House with Coach (Jerry) Montgomery. It was awesome! It's just a home feeling there. We spent (the day before the barbecue) with most of the coaches and it was fun. They're just so laid back and are just fun to be around."
Said Scott: "When I went to the (Michigan) game I was excited to see the atmosphere and tradition that goes on with the team and the fan base. (The Big House) is always sold out. It's ridiculous. Plus, when we went on the summer visit we checked the academics out and saw the city. It was really nice."
Those are just a few of the many visits the two good friends have taken together. They've also traveled to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, and plan to go on many more.
"(Mason and I) talked about it -- we're going to go to the same school," Scott said. "We know for a fact we're going to the same school."
"I feel like there is a pretty good chance we'll wind up in the same place," Cole concurred. "We talk about it a lot. I know what schools I like and he doesn't like, and which schools he likes that I don't like."
If their plan to be a package deal actually comes to fruition, the winning program would instantly become a major factor in Campbell's recruitment.
"I talk to them all of the time because all three of us have a close bond," Campbell said. "We're always talking to each other about everything. With those two at the same place I think that'd be a (school) that I'd need to get out to (take a look at)."
"We call ourselves the 'big three' even though he is in a class lower than us," Cole added. "If me and Tay do end up going to the same school, that will definitely influence George a lot. Us three are like brothers. It would definitely sway his decision a little bit."
Michigan made its way onto Campbell's list of possibilities in December when it joined his burgeoning offer list. Since then his teammates have slowly but surely brought him up to speed on the virtues of the Maize and Blue.
"Basically I just know they're a good team that's coached well," Campbell said. "From talking to Artavis and Mason -- they've told me nothing but good things when they went up (to Ann Arbor)."
While Campbell hasn't yet visited Ann Arbor himself, he did get an up-close view of the Wolverines when he took in one of their Outback Bowl practices in Tampa, Fla.
"It was nice, well ran, up-tempo, and they never were off-beat," he said. "It was kind of like a heartbeat that was going fast. Every second everything was well run by the coaches and players knew what they were doing, so they were focused.
"After me and Tay left (the Michigan coaches) told my coach that I could (make) a big impact. Then talking to Denard he told us, 'Man, Florida boys -- we're basically like a different kind of (athlete) to them because in Michigan they don't have the type of speed that we've got down here.'"
That interaction with Robinson made a significant impression on both pass-catchers, but they're still a long way away from naming favorites. Cole, on the other hand, has seen his leaderboard begin to take shape.
"Michigan is very high on my list," said Cole. "(Scott) likes Michigan. I don't think he likes it as much as I do, but he likes them a lot, especially because they're telling him he can get real early playing time and possibly start as a freshman. So he likes them. If I went there, there is a chance that he would go there too.
"Michigan, Notre Dame, Alabama, Clemson, and FSU -- those are the five that are high up on the list right now."
Michigan will have a chance to further impress all three youngsters when they visit Ann Arbor in the next few weeks. Winter visits by southern prospects generally aren't desirable recruiting scenarios for the Wolverines, but cool temperatures and snow will be of little consequence to Cole, who happens to be a native Chicagoan. Campbell and Scott don't have northern roots, but they similarly insist that Mother Nature will be a non-issue.
"I know I can (go to school in a northern climate)," Scott said confidently. "It's just a matter of me growing up. If I leave Florida, that's me growing up into a man. If I leave the state, that is going to be the reason why."
"Distance and weather won't matter," Campbell added. "If I think the coaches there are going to help me progress as a player and also a grown man, I think that'll be good for me. I can play in the cold. It wouldn't matter. If it's right for me I'm going to go there."
Academics, playing time, and relationships with coaches will factor more prominently in each of their decisions. At the moment they are all at different stages of determining which programs best meet their criteria. With two years left in his high school career, Campbell is in the beginning stages of his evaluation process. Scott and Cole are much further along, but odds are their respective recruitments will conclude at different times.
"To be honest I would like to be (committed) before senior season," Cole said. "But if I'm not 100 percent on a school I'm not going to pick somewhere that I feel (uncertain about). I'm going to wait until I fall I love with a school."
Said Scott: "I'm just letting (recruiting) go by and not really worrying about anything. I'll evaluate it when I'm a senior. I know I want to go where they pass the ball. If you're not going to pass the ball you have no shot (laughter). But I don't plan on making my decision anytime soon."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA.