Michigan and Ohio State are among the college favorites of Chase Winovich. (Photo courtesy of Chase Winovich)
When Michigan steps into the Big House for its annual spring game Saturday, it won't just be looking to make strides on the field. It will be looking to make them off it, as well. Many of the Wolverines' top recruiting targets will be attendance, one of which will be Clairton (Pa.) Thomas Jefferson High linebacker Chase Winovich. It will be the Keystone State star's second trip to Ann Arbor. If it's anything like his first, it will bode well for Wolverines' chances in his recruitment.
"The experience was really cool," Winovich said recalling the early March visit. "(Michigan assistant) Coach (Darrell) Funk showed me around and took several hours out of Sunday to show me around the athletic facilities and sit with me for the basketball game. He is obviously a really good guy. It made a really good first impression on me. I had the opportunity to sit down with Coach (Mark) Smith, the linebacker coach, and he explained to me where I (would play) and what they'd want me to do. I like Michigan a lot. Another thing in Michigan's favor is my brother only lives 45 minutes away, so it's really convenient for me with him being there. He lives in Toledo and played at Bowling Green."
At that point Michigan didn't add its name to a scholarship list that already included programs like Florida State, West Virginia, Boston College and Pittsburgh, but the Wolverine brass made it clear to the talented youngster that he is a priority recruit for them.
"Michigan said they saw me as a SAM linebacker," Winovich recalled. "I'd be all over the field … sometimes blitzing, sometimes covering the tight ends, doing all sorts of stuff. They explained to me how I'm one of their top linebackers for the class, but it's a really small class so they're going through the process just as I'm going through the process. So they said I'm definitely at the top and said they want to get me back for a spring practice in a couple of weeks."
Brady Hoke and Co. gave substance to those words up with a scholarship offer earlier this week. The move comes at a key time in Winovich's recruitment. An earlier offer from Ohio State recently brought his list into greater focus.
"This really changes things for me, and I have to say it's a dream come true since I'm an Ohio State fan," he told Fox Sports Next. "I'm not ready to commit right now to anyone, but Ohio State is in my top three. I can't deny that I love it, and it's going to be tough to find a school that will top Ohio State."
He later added: "Pittsburgh was the first school to offer me and they're right in my backyard, so they're a favorite of mine. I'm still looking for that third school and I'm not shutting anybody out right now."
A strong showing by the Maize and Blue Saturday could shake things up yet again. That certainly will be the goal as the Wolverines are looking to fortify their linebacker ranks with more size and speed. Winovich would bring both attributes to the table. He checks in at a self-reported 6-4 and 210 pounds with a 40 time of 4.5 seconds. That athleticism has made him a versatile weapon on the high school level, and could do the same once he gets to college.
"I led my team in every defensive statistic except for interceptions," he said. "I think I had around 70 tackles. It was a pretty good year. They switched me the third game to strong side linebacker, so I really started playing there my fourth game. It was an interesting transition from starting as a sophomore at d-back, then starting as a junior at safety, and then just making the transition to linebacker where the team needed me most.
"I think (my college position) is going to depend on the kind of defense I ultimately go into. Some of the coaches I talk to want to bring me in as an outside (linebacker), but then bulk me up -- after seeing my brother and my dad -- and one day have me play one of the inside positions."
One place Winovich definitely won't be lining up is at any of the five positions for a college basketball team. He gave his all to his high school team this year, even putting his football recruiting on the backburner somewhat so he could focus on the task at hand. That said, he doesn't have any delusions of hardwood grandeur.
"I have a couple of basketball coaches looking at me, but definitely a lot smaller schools because I'm more of a football player on the basketball court," Winovich admitted. "I think last season I ended up averaging 4.25 fouls per game (laughter). Hey, somebody has got to do it!"
Now that recruiting has come back to the fore, Winovich is beginning to compare and contrast his growing list of suitors. Visits are going to go a long way toward helping him further sort things out.
"Whenever the decision (to commit) feels right is when I'll make the decision," he stated. "Until I get that feeling I'm going to keep looking. It's got to be that way because whenever I do commit I'm going to stay committed. The big factors are going to be education, where I have the best chance to excel, and ultimately after football is done where am I going to be proud to say I have a degree from."
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His Michigan recruiting column appears every Thursday at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.