Parrker Westphal is rated a four-star prospect by Scout.com. (Photo courtesy of Scout.com)
With the 2013 football recruiting class signed and neatly tucked away, college programs across the country have seamlessly turned their attention to courting their next classes. Michigan was among those that visibly signaled the turning of the page by extending a number of scholarships on National Signing Day. They've continued to do so in the days since, and last weekend the Wolverines hosted their first visit weekend geared primarily toward the 2014 class. Two of their top targets from Illinois made their way to Ann Arbor and left extremely impressed.
First to arrive on campus Sunday was Chatham (Ill.) Glenwood tight end Daniel Helm. The 6-3, 220-pounder picked up his Michigan offer last month, but was visiting the Maize and Blue for the first time. By visit's end he was happy to see that the actual experience more than lived up to the lofty expectations he had going in.
"(The visit) was great," Helm said. "I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot, both academically, athletically, and about how they plan to use me as a tight end. And it was great to be able to learn more about the coaches and build a better relationship with them. I think it was about what I expected and I expected a lot, actually. I know Michigan's a top-tier school and one of the best universities in the country. The Big House was awesome — a great venue that would be sweet to play in. Their new indoor field is sweet, academics are superb, and their academic support is very good, as well. So it was great."
That the Wolverines acquitted themselves so well solidified their strong standing on his current list of favorites, but he insists that the pecking order could change as he sees more of the schools on an offer sheet that currently includes Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina State and Northwestern.
The other Land of Lincoln prospect in town Sunday also holds Michigan in high regard, but has done so for much longer. Bolingbrook (Ill.) defensive back Parrker Westphal had already visited Ann Arbor on four prior occasions. This time, however, the four-star prospect fielded recruiting pitches from coaches and from prized 2013 running back recruit Derrick Green.
"(Green) was kind of recruiting me telling me to come be a Wolverine," Westphal recalled. "But mainly we talked to the coaches. They took us to the Big House to check out the locker room. Then we went out on the field."
The chance to spend more time with the coaches proved to be the most impactful aspect of Westphal's latest visit, but the overtures from other recruits have definitely gotten his attention. Another Michigan commitment that has shown extreme persistence in courting Westphal is the first pledge to the Wolverines' 2014 class.
"I've been in contact with Michael Ferns," Westphal said, referring to the Michigan linebacker pledge from St. Clarisville, Ohio. "He keeps talking to me about a shirt and about how he can get me one made and all that."
The T-shirt in question is emblazoned with the phrase "Building a Class One Member at a Time" on the front and "Team 135" on the back. It is the promotional element in Ferns' "Project 135" campaign. The planned effect is to enhance the kinship among class members, while also serving as an advertisement to uncommitted recruits. Ferns will undoubtedly wear the shirt this weekend when he travels to Ann Arbor to help host a number of Michigan's prime targets.
The impressive slate of attendees will include Grand Rapids Christian wide receiver Drake Harris, Charlotte (N.C.) Catholic running back Elijah Hood, Detroit Loyola defensive tackle Malik McDowell, Southfield defensive end Lawrence Marshall, Cleveland St. Ignatius linebacker Kyle Berger, Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake teammates Mason Cole, Artavis Scott and George Campbell, Saginaw Heritage sophomore wide receiver Brian Cole, and Ferns' fellow Michigan commit, Wilton Speight.
Speight, an Under Armour All American quarterback from Richmond (Va.) Collegiate, has teamed with Ferns to pursue Michigan targets with vigor that may even be envied by coaches. Both future Wolverines have spent significant time communicating with numerous recruits, but there are two prospects with whom they believe their efforts have been particularly effective.
"Mason (Cole) is excited about (making his third trip to Ann Arbor), and I think he really needs that one more visit to really get what he wants in the visiting process out of Michigan," said Ferns. "He has been on a couple of other visits recently, so I don't know when he would be ready to make a decision. That's all up to him. But I know that if we could really impress him on his visit (this weekend), it would really have some positive benefits in the future."
Added Speight, "I know (Cole) really likes Michigan, and in my opinion, he's the next one to join Team 135. Hopefully he'll commit on the 23rd or 24th, just in front of those other guys to kind of display the hype that's around committing to Michigan. Maybe they'll get the ball rolling for the other recruits there, but I do feel really good about him."
The other player Speight is feeling especially good about is Drake Harris. While he doesn't necessarily see a decision on the horizon, he does believe the Wolverines are being look upon in a much more favorable light.
"We've pretty much talked every day for the past week," Speight reported. "He's really high on Michigan. We've convinced him — he's coming this weekend on the 23rd, a day early with me and Michael on Saturday just to meet the coaching staff for a little bit longer. And he'll be there Sunday for the (basketball) game (versus Illinois). But it's been going really well. He's really liking Michigan more and more. I think the fact that Michael and I are working on him really hard is helping a lot."
Time will tell just how much.
Basketball visit news
The Michigan basketball staff is working hard on the visit front, as well. They received good news recently when the highest-rated target on their 2014 board, Moss Point, Miss., star Devin Booker, recently announced his plan to return to Ann Arbor March 10 for the regular-season finale versus Indiana.
The five-star combo guard is coming off a season during which he took his game to new heights. On a team where he was surrounded by a great deal of youth and inexperience, Booker saw consistent double- and triple-team strategies designed to slow him down. Those efforts often proved futile, though, as his increased size and diversified offensive attack fueled a 30-point scoring average and another trip to the playoffs.
"I definitely work hard on my mid-range game as well as my ball-handling," Booker told Scout.com. "When my dad (former Missouri star Melvin Booker) played, it was his bread and butter to be able to pull up and knock down a shot from around the free-throw line. I'm always trying to find ways to improve and expand, and that's a key area for me. I'm trying to prove that I'm a lot more than just a shooter."
Booker's parents are playing a pivotal role in his recruiting process. John Beilein and company have managed to get his mom, who resides in west Michigan, on campus with him on numerous occasions, but they haven't yet been able to host dad. That will change next month when father and son will take trips to North Carolina (no offer yet) Feb. 23, Duke (no offer yet) Feb. 24, Florida March 2, and Michigan State March 7, before closing out the tour by visiting Michigan March 10.
"This is the first time my dad will be going with me to all these schools," Booker said. "All of these teams are having success thus far, so I can't wait to see the environments for myself."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA.