Berea (Ky.) Madison Southern running back Damien Harris is two years away from college, but the Michigan verbal commitment could be one of the top prospects in the country by then. (FOX Sports Next)
FOX Sports Next Midwest regional manager Allen Trieu and national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg share their insights on Michigan’s latest high-profile commitments — 2015 Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake wide receiver George Campbell and 2015 Berea (Ky.) Madison Southern running back Damien Harris:
Sam Webb: (Allen) you were the first analyst anywhere to talk to and to talk about Damien Harris. Tell us about Damien, his game, what he brings to the table, and where you figure he will be in the rankings when all is said and done.
Allen Trieu: He was one of those kids that just popped off the film. It really took the first play of his film for me to go, ‘Wow, this is going to be a guy!’ This was his freshman season when we first started watching him. Obviously, great speed. He has been timed as low as 4.36 in some places.
I think whether or not you believe the validity of some of those times, if you’ve seen the guy play you know he can run. So whether or not he is truly a 4.3 guy or a 4.4 guy doesn’t matter. The kid has breakaway speed. He is one of those kids who has that knack for making people miss and for finding lanes even when they’re not there. You watch him on film reverse field, he’ll stiff-arm a guy here, juke a guy there, and he is gone. He has that sixth sense for that kind of thing.
I think Damien is potentially is the No. 1 guy in the Midwest. Kentucky is part of the Midwest for (FOX Sports Next). There are a few guys vying for that top spot in the 2015 class. I think Damien is in the conversation. I think he will be a top-50 national guy. I don’t know exactly where he is going to fall yet, but I think he is truly one of the handful of guys in the Midwest that stack up with anybody in the country.
Sam Webb: (Jamie) let’s start off with the guy in your neck of the woods in George Campbell. Give us your expert analysis on him.
Jamie Newberg: Well, first of all, he is a first-class kid. Obviously, in today’s game of football you want to be well represented off the field with the microscope these programs and kids are under. He’s a phenomenal kid — probably equal or better than his talent, and his talent is extraordinary. At (Nike’s) The Opening he was one of, I believe, four underclassmen there and was singled out by Trent Dilfer as one of the two best receivers out there, which speaks volumes.
We all know year in and year out what a talented position receiver is, not just in Florida but across the country. George is a guy that I’ve been watching for two years now. You look at him and he has got a unique skill set because he is huge, he is long, and he is a legit sub-4.4 (40-yard dash) kid.
I went to his playoff game last year when they hosted Vero Beach (Fla.). Everyone was talking about him as a wide receiver and here he was dominant at defensive end with two scoop-and-scores, one of which was 99 yards. This is a kid that has the athleticism to play defensive end at the next level, to be a safety, obviously receiver, and maybe tight end.
I’ve been doing this long enough to know you never know how a kid is going to ultimately mature physically. And let’s keep this in perspective; he still has two more years of high school football to play before he ever gets to Ann Arbor. That’s why when I wrote in my analysis piece when he committed that there is a possibility he could emerge and grow into another position. Having said that, right now he is a receiver with great ball skills, he can get behind the secondary, and I believe he is one of those five-star type of guys.
We’re coming out with a preliminary ranking for this 2015 class here in the next couple of weeks, so we’ll see where big George settles in, but I would certainly recommend five stars for him.
Sam Webb: Were you surprised first of all that he committed so quickly, and then when he did pick that Michigan was the school he committed to?
Jamie Newberg: Yeah, I’m always surprised when these kids commit a year-plus ahead of time. That’s the way this thing is headed. We’ve all seen the acceleration of the process over the last three, four, or five years. When there are more commitments in June and July then there are in December and January, something is amiss. But that’s where this thing is going. That’s where it’s headed. There’s a big emphasis with the spring and summer camps and getting kids on campus as early and often as possible. The unofficial visits become more important than the official visits. Anytime a kid comes up to campus, especially an out-of-state out-of-region guy like George Campbell up to the big barbecue in Ann Arbor last weekend there’s always the possibility.
Obviously his teammate Mason Cole, another exceptional prospect, is headed that way. So he has heard a lot of great things about Michigan and now he has seen them up close and personally. From that standpoint it doesn’t really surprise me. But you know what? I’ve always looked at it as the early commitment only signifies who the team to beat really is. It’s far from over, especially when you have Will Muschamp and the Gators and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State in-state. They’re not going to give up on this kid. And let’s face it — every program in the country is going to want to get George Campbell on campus between now and his national signing day, which is 18 months away.
Sam Webb: Let’s move on to another 2015 prospect you got a chance to see last year. He committed (a few days) after George Campbell, and that’s Damien Harris. Tell me about Damien.
Jamie Newberg: My daughter lives up in the Lexington area, so I went up to see her. (Allen) said, ‘Check out this kid Damien Harris.’ So I made about an hour drive south of Lexington and watch him play Lynn Camp.
The only thing I would question in evaluating Damien on that night was the competition level. He was definitely a man among boys playing against Lynn Camp. Nonetheless, this is a kid that physically looks as impressive as anyone you’ll see in this class of 2015. I had a chance to see him at the All American combine a couple of months later in San Antonio. He is really put together, he runs exceptionally well, has a great burst and acceleration. He is a kid that has an exceptional lower body, can break tackles, runs behind his pads — I was very impressed.
I really, really want to see him in a setting where he is playing more against his peers or players of his caliber. That would be the only thing I would question with Damien Harris. If everything falls the way I think it will with him, I think he has a chance to be an exceptional college player at Michigan.
Sam Webb: As far as running style, body type, a combination of the two — does he put you in the mind of anyone? And the same thing with George Campbell. Is there anyone that he reminds you of or that his play is kind of reminiscent of?
Jamie Newberg: I hate to put analogies and stuff like that on kids because it puts those great expectations on them — not that we don’t do it already. I just think at the end of the day those two kids are great building blocks for that next group. (Michigan) has already got (Philadelphia St. Joseph’s offensive lineman) Jon Runyan Jr. and (Massillon, Ohio, Washington kicker) Andrew David. So four commits out of the gate here with 18 months to go with this class, it’s shaping up to be (good). But you know what? This is Michigan and this is how they should always recruit. I look at them like you look at Ohio State, USC, and some of these national programs (like) Texas. They should always recruit players of this caliber across the country and be top-10 programs when it comes to recruiting. It looks like they’re off to a great start for next season.
Sam Webb: You’re in SEC country, so this level of recruiting consistently by top programs is typical where you are. It’s atypical of Michigan, at least of late. From a national perspective what’s the opinion of how Michigan has done on the recruiting trail over the last couple of years and in the 2015 class already?
Jamie Newberg: You nailed it on the head. To challenge for that trophy, and I’m talking the big one at the end of the year, you HAVE to recruit consistently well year in and year out. That is why you see Alabama at the top. No one has recruited better than Alabama since Nick Saban has taken over in Tuscaloosa. Look at Bobby Bowden’s run in the 90’s. If you look at that era of Florida State football, nobody recruited better than Bobby Bowden. Why were Pete Carroll and USC always on top? They out-recruited everybody by a mile when he was the Trojans’ head coach.
To be great in college football you have to recruit consistently well. What we’ve seen with Hoke and his staff since he has been there is every year it gets a little bit better — and now they’re recruiting really, really well. So they’ve got to keep that bar high hit every single year, and try to exceed it. Because let’s face it, Urban Meyer is just south in Columbus. That guy knows how to recruit. He is bringing that SEC recruiting mentality up to Columbus. They’ve got to stay on par or beat the Buckeyes in terms of recruiting because it’s going to be those two teams banging heads and battling for that Big Ten title. So I think Michigan is off to a great start with this class.
In the 2014 class you’re talking about guys like (Paramus, N.J. Catholic cornerback) Jabrill Peppers. They’re ranked in the top 10 and they’re obviously off to a wonderful start for next year with a long way to go for both of these groups.
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 weekly at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.