August 23, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Sam Webb

With Shaun Crawford on board, Michigan shifts focus to safety Tyree Kinnel

Tyree Kinnel, from Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne, is scheduled for a visit to Michigan Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports Next)

It has been a few weeks since Michigan landed its last commitment, but that brief lull likely will meet its end over the next few days.

Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward cornerback Shaun Crawford announced he’s intends to play for Michigan. Another Wolverines’ target in the secondary, Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne junior Tyree Kinnel, might reveal where he will play collegiately soon.

Ranked a four-star prospect and the No. 10 player at his position by Fox Sports Next, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Crawford said Friday he will play for the Wolverines. That marked the end of a recruitment that picked up significant steam in recent months. The Buckeye State star had long been considered one of the fastest players in his class — a view buttressed by his 10.54 100-meter and 21.57 200-meter times — but pigeon-holing him as a “track guy” would be a serious error.

“We’ve known about Shaun Crawford for a long time in Ohio,” said Fox Sports Next Ohio analyst Bill Greene. “He started putting up these track times in AAU track in eighth and ninth grade. We knew this kid was a flier. Then when you see him play you see he is a football player. He is not a track guy trying to play football. He is a football player that can run really fast.”

Greene later added: “If he was 6-1, he would probably the top cornerback in America. He plays in a great program too. That’s another thing — he is going against top talent week after week after week, so you don’t have to worry about the quality of competition he is playing. He is playing at the best level.”

It’s against that backdrop that Crawford proved his height to not be the mitigating factor many thought it would be.

Said Greene, “That’s the only drawback (to his game) — his height. But it doesn’t bother me because I’ve seen him play live and he is a great football player.

“His speed is amazing, but he’s got hips so he can turn and run. If he does false-step or get beat, he’s got lighting speed to catch up. And he will come up and hit people. There is no worry about if he can tackle coming up from the corner spot because he comes up and hits people. So he is a great athlete and a great kid. He comes from a great family, he is unbelievable in the classroom (and) he is a leader. There is nothing not to like about Shaun Crawford.”

Crawford’s choice of Michigan didn’t come as a total surprise.

That’s based in large part on Crawford’s longtime affinity for the Maize and Blue. It was an allegiance that again became evident when he called the offer he received from the Wolverines in May “a dream come true.”

"Michigan is my favorite school and I've always liked them,” Crawford told Fox Sports Next afterward. “The coaching staff is great and I really like the defensive coordinator, Coach (Greg) Mattison.

“The offer means a lot. I have family that live here. I have friends from St. Edward’s that go here. (Former St. Edward star and current Michigan offensive lineman) Kyle Kalis got the offer as a junior going into his senior year. I got it as a sophomore. So I have friends at school telling me (the offer) is just a big deal. Just Michigan as a whole, it’s like a family -- a community. Just getting a chance as a sophomore looking to future playing at the Big House is just unbelievable.”

Kinnel had a similar reaction when he received his Michigan offer last month. The 5-11, 175-pound safety is also ranked a four-star prospect, though the intensity of his recruitment just recently began to escalate.

“This is a pretty big offer,” Kinnel told Fox Sports Next. “It means a lot to get an offer from Michigan as they were the first school to look at me during my freshman year.

“I’ve been able to build a great relationship with Coach (Brady) Hoke, Coach (Mark) Smith and Coach (Curt) Mallory. We talk often and this is a big offer for me. Michigan has great tradition and is a winning program year in and year out. They have won more games than anyone in college football. Also special is the fact this is my first Big Ten offer and that makes it real big to me.”

Arkansas and Kentucky have also extended offers, but according to Fox Sports Next Ohio analyst Dave Berk, Kinnel’s early recruitment is merely the calm before the proverbial storm.

“I think more schools will be coming in to recruit him because he did have a solid camp season, but with it being so early you’ve got programs that are (just now) really looking at him hard from his solid camp performances this summer,” Berk explained. “I’m sure some of them will look at his first couple of games and then extend offers from there.

“He is really highly regarded. Wayne High School has produced a lot of top players, including Braxton Miller (Ohio State), Marcus Freeman (Ohio State), Jerel Worthy (Michigan State). (Now in) his junior year he will be a three-year starter, and he’ll project to be a four-year starter. That’s very rare at that school. It’s something that just doesn’t happen.”

A number of Kinnel’s suitors are currently courting him as a corner, but his experience to this point has been at safety. Michigan is among those that feel that’s where he fits best.

“I project him as a safety with solid ball skills,” said Berk. “At the same time he is aggressive, has good strength, and is able to support the run extremely well. He needs to work on better tackling technique, but overall he has got all the skills that you’d see in a top level safety at the next level.”

Michigan will make its latest pitch to be that next-level destination when he makes his way to Ann Arbor Saturday. He has visited the Wolverines on numerous other occasions, including during their annual summer camp the last two years. With space in Michigan’s small 2015 class quickly eroding, Kinnel may feel it necessary to join the fold now so he doesn’t miss out on the opportunity later.

“I think Michigan is a program he is very high on,” Berk said. “He has got some family ties to the state of Michigan. His dad was born in Ohio, but he grew up in Michigan over in Jackson and (Tyree) kind of grew up a Michigan fan along with several family members. I think the biggest factor with Michigan is they were on him early. They saw him as a freshman and there has been a connection there since his freshman year. He has visited several times. I would put Michigan as the team to beat.”

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 week at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.

Shaun Crawford is from Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward. (Photo courtesy of Fox Sports Next)