August 9, 2013 at 1:00 am

Sam Webb

New Southfield star DE Malik McDowell far from locked up for Michigan

The MHSAA this week officially cleared former Detroit Loyola star Malik McDowell to compete for Southfield High. (Allen Trieu/FOX Sports Next)

For most of the summer Malik McDowell’s football future was fodder for a great deal of speculation. Much of that talk subsided earlier this week after the MHSAA officially cleared the former Detroit Loyola star to compete for Southfield High.

The normally stoic youngster couldn’t hide his excitement when asked to forecast just how good a defense that pairs him with future Michigan defensive end Lawrence Marshall will be.

“I shouldn’t (face double teams) at all,” McDowell said jubilantly. “That’s going to be a problem for the opposing team.”

That the senior defensive end will be an improved version of his former self should make the task of slowing down the Blue Jays defensive front even more problematic. The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder dedicated majority of his summer to intense training.

“I only went to one camp,” McDowell said. “I didn’t do much at all besides work out and do football-related stuff. In the weight room (I improved) a lot. I think I’m faster off the snap now.”

The showdown

The fruit of all of his labor will be on display during a matchup with Cass Tech on Aug. 30. With multiple Division I prospects on both teams, it stacks up as one of the most anticipated openers in recent memory.

Adding to the intrigue are the undeniable recruiting storylines. Commitments to Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State will all be in action — and so, too, will a number of prospects each school is currently targeting.

McDowell will unquestionably be the most noteworthy of the uncommitted talents, as he is being pursued vigorously by the Wolverines, Spartans, and a host of other top programs. For his part he has managed to keep recruiting as a secondary concern during the summer months with only a few exceptions. One such occurrence was his attendance at Michigan’s annual Barbecue at the Big House on July 28.

A frequent visitor in Ann Arbor, McDowell had already been on the tours, taken in the academic presentation and met all of the coaches. The primary difference with the barbecue visit was the presence of a number of Michigan commitments intent on sending him a clear message.

“All of them were pretty much trying to get me to commit and all of that,” he said, laughing.

Those attempts, while flattering, didn’t compel McDowell to join the fold. He instead chose to stick with his plan to further vet his top suitors in the fall and winter months. In Michigan’s case that means getting a better feel for the social aspects of life on campus.

Academic attraction

The Wolverines have already passed McDowell’s stringent academic requirement with flying colors. It’s a standard his parents have emphasized as the chief criterion.

“Basically my main thing is academics,” McDowell’s mother, Joya Crowe, said. “I want him to be comfortable with the football team and things like that, but my main concern is academics. If the football doesn’t work out for him, what else do you have to offer? I want to make sure he gets an education and he can make it out here in the world outside of football.”

After being blown away by Michigan’s academic presentation during a prior visit, Crowe was more than happy to experience it again with Malik’s father, Greg McDowell.

“I actually told his dad about it, so (the barbecue visit) was mainly for him,” Crowe said. “I said, ‘You need to go through the academics at Michigan also because I was very, very, really, really, really impressed!’ They have a program called M-PACT (Michigan Professional and Career Transition), and oh my God, I love it!”

“It’s basically like they help the students determine what they want to do outside of football. So say if they do get to go to the NFL and they do ten or fifteen years — once that’s all over with (the advisor) talks about how football players or just (athletes) in general — what are you going to do next? People don’t think past that. They don’t know what to do. It’s just like they’re kind of lost out there, so they teach the kids how to get a career outside of sports.”

Crowe’s effusive praise of the program set the bar to impress Greg McDowell extremely high, but the Maize & Blue managed to clear it with relative ease.

“I was very impressed with how much they push their kids to excel as far as the alumni and how everybody extends their hands to former athletes after their football careers are over,” McDowell. “They have the opportunity to come back, and the school has money set aside for them to come (back). It was very impressive. Everything about Michigan (during the Barbecue at the Big House) as far as I’m concerned was very impressive. I’m really even more high on them now (after seeing) those opportunities that would be afforded to my son.”

The elder McDowell is admittedly predisposed to being excited by the Wolverines. He is, after all, a lifelong Michigan fan who raised his son to be the same.

“He pretty much took to Michigan,” McDowell said. “He was No. 1 Michigan, but he also liked Penn State. Those were the two teams he really liked watching play. Definitely he has always been into Michigan football. On Saturdays growing up with me he knew that’s what was going to be on TV — Michigan football. When we’d go over to his grandmother’s house the TV was commandeered, and we were watching Michigan football.”

Dad has made it a point to keep his personal leanings to himself as much as possible so as not to unduly influence his son’s thinking. Much like mom, he has chosen instead to share his feelings on the criteria used to evaluate the schools as opposed to the schools themselves. Even so, it’s clear Michigan has made a distinct impression on both parents.

“I think I know more coaches at Michigan than I do anywhere else,” Crowe said. “I think I have more connection with Michigan than I have with any other school so far. I’ve been up there so many times. I’ve been up to Michigan more than I’ve been anywhere.”

Greg McDowell added: “I know how much they want him and see what his ceiling is. They feel like he can help take them to the next level — to where they want to be as far as Big Ten and beyond. So they definitely extended their hand a little bit more to us (than some of the other prospects in attendance at the barbecue). They love him down there. Brady (Hoke), (Greg) Mattison — the whole staff. As far as they’re concerned they are looking at him to be something great for them.”

"Malik is really impressed with (Michigan), but he is so laid back you never can tell what really (on his mind) unless you outright ask him. He is impressed with Michigan and that is like his No. 1 right now."

Race still open

That declaration shouldn’t be taken to mean the four-star defensive end is locked up for the Maize & Blue, because he isn’t. Far from it, actually. He plans on giving all of the schools on his list an equal shot the rest of the way, and he made it especially clear each of his Big Ten suitors still has his attention.

“Ohio State is still there,” Malik said. “I talk to coach (Kerry) Coombs a lot from there and I talk to Coach (Mike) Vrabel.

“Michigan State — I like that school a lot. It’s a real fun school. I like the academic side of it. I just like the school a lot.

“I like Michigan a lot. I like that it’s close to home and I like the coaches. They’re real good people from what I see. I just like the school. It’s close to home and my people would be able to see play.”

All three schools are slated to receive additional visits in the fall, but none of them are likely to be official visits.

“I figure if you’re going to do the official visits, do it to the schools that (are far away),” McDowell’s mother said. “I feel like why take an official visit to Michigan when we did unofficial visits? Michigan, Michigan State, places like Ohio State — we can always go visit them unofficially.”

And if Malik were to decide that one of those far away locales was the best place for him?

“Then I’m going to have to pack up and move because I have to be there to see him,” Crowe said. “I told him I’ll move. If it comes down to it I’ll pack up and move, so that’s not an issue for me. I don’t know about dad, but I will pack up (laughter).”

To date, only two programs have been identified for definite spots on McDowell’s official visit list.

“Right now it’s just Florida and Florida State,” he said. “That’s the ones that I kind of know I want to go on.”

BCS powers Alabama, USC, and LSU are few of the other programs also being considered, but there currently is no rush to set the rest of the itinerary. Despite rumors of an imminent August decision, the 2014 Army All American insists his previous decision timetable still holds.

“Either before the Army game (in San Antonio, Texas on Jan. 4) or after the Army game,” he said.

He said his decision could even come during the Army Game.

For now his focus is on the task at hand, and that’s helping his current team bring home a state championship.

Southfield will square off with Detroit Cass Tech on Friday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. at Tom Adams Field on the campus of Wayne State University.

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.

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