'I am still 100-percent committed to the University of Michigan and that is the place where I want to go to college,' Paramus (N.J.) Catholic CB Jabrill Peppers said. (Sam Webb / Scout.com)
Michigan’s football season definitely hasn’t gone according to plan.
The four losses on the Wolverines’ resume have cast them as potential spoilers in Saturday’s matchup with Ohio State as opposed to potential champions. Until recently those on-field setbacks hadn’t adversely affected their recruiting fortunes. As a matter of fact, it was only Monday that Brady Hoke notched his first commitment in the 2016 class when 6-7, 285-pound Downers Grove (Ill.) South offensive tackle Erick Swenson chose the Maize and Blue over offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, Virginia Tech and a host of others. But the celebration over that victory proved to be short-lived. Tuesday the most decorated commit in Michigan’s 2014 class — five-star Paramus (N.J.) Catholic CB Jabrill Peppers — announced tentative plans to visit other schools.
“I am still 100-percent committed to the University of Michigan and that is the place where I want to go to college,” Peppers said in a statement released by Paramus Catholic coach Chris Partridge. “With the rumors about Coach Hoke possibly not being there, I need to make sure that I have options and have seen other places in case the University of Michigan decides to go in a different direction.
“For the sake of my future I need to make sure I have other options. No need to look into it any further! Go Blue and beat (Ohio State).”
Despite Peppers’ insistence that his pledge remains solid, his decision marks a softening of a definitive stance he took on Michigan’s future two weeks prior.
“Everybody is worried about all of the recruits because of the losses, but that is why it’s called rebuilding,” he told Scout.com at the time. “We have a new coach (Brady Hoke). He’s bringing in the talent.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to make sure we bring Michigan back to the Michigan we knew before.”
Michigan has already begun the process of removing any perception of uncertainty in Hoke’s coaching future for fans and recruits alike. Athletic director Dave Brandon did his part to add clarity to the situation by issuing a firm endorsement of the Wolverines’ third-year head coach.
“Brady Hoke is our coach and will be leading our football program well into the future. There is no question about it,” wrote Brandon Wednesday in his lengthy blog on the topic.
In Peppers’ case that message may not be fully received fully until he hears it in person. That at least appears to be the case since on Thanksgiving the talented youngster indicated his intent to still begin building his contingency plan.
“I’m not going to talk too much on it right now, but there are some rumors out there,” Peppers explained to Scout.com. “Just as a security blanket I feel like I need to see more schools. I’m not opening up my recruiting. I saw that out there, and that’s not it. I’m just going to take a couple of visits to schools that I would’ve picked just to kind of see. I’m not decommitting or anything like that. (The visits will be taken) just as a security blanket because a lot can happen. You never know with college. It’s all politics. (The visits will be taken) just as a security blanket, so it’s nothing no one should be too worried about.”
Hoke and Company will likely remain worried as long as the possibility of Peppers visiting other campuses exists. They’ll have a better chance to convince him that contingencies are unnecessary when he officially visits Ann Arbor the weekend of Dec. 13. With Paramus Catholic playing for a championship next weekend and a NCAA mandated dead period going into effect for the month following his Michigan visit, there won’t be an opportunity for him to visit another school until mid-January.
Hoke, Brandon, and the long list of Wolverine commitments also visiting Dec. 13 will clearly be aiming to make sure he never makes it to any other campus.
Michigan’s top two in-state commitments will be among those on campus lending their voices to the cause. Grand Rapids Christian’s Drake Harris and Southfield’s Lawrence Marshall both affirmed their pledges in the past couple of weeks.
“Our whole class, we have like a little group so we talk every day,” Harris said. ”No one’s really worried (about the losses). We all were like, ‘The line that we have right now is really young … that we’re just building … we are improving every game.’ They’re struggling a little bit. Second to quarterback the toughest position to play is offensive line. So I know that they’ll get better. I’m not really worried about it. This year (they) might have a little down year. Next year with getting everyone in and having some of those offensive linemen out there playing at a younger age, next year they’ll come out and play a lot better and the whole team will be a lot better. No one is worried. We know who we have coming in and what’s already there. With all of us combined, we know that we’ll have a great team.
“Some coaches tried to call me in the summer but I told all of them that I’m done with the whole recruitment and I’m happy where I’m going.”
Marshall has fielded similar calls and issued a similar response.
“(I’m hearing from) basically just Michigan State, Florida and I’m hearing a little bit from Florida State,” Marshall reported. “It’s still Go Blue Michigan! I ain’t looking at nothing else.”
Marshall and Harris will also be among a lengthy roster of commitments and recruiting targets on hand for Michigan’s duel with Ohio State. Below is a list of prospects that have indicated they plan to be in attendance.
Mason Cole — OL, Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake (commit) Maurice Ways — WR, Detroit Country Day (commit) Jared Wangler — LB, Warren DeLaSalle (commit) Freddy Canteen — WR, Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy (commit) Brandon Watson — DB, Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy (commit) Noah Furbush — LB, Kenton, Ohio (commit) Chase Winovich — LB, Clairton (Pa.) Jefferson (commit) Lawrence Marshall — DE, Southfield (commit) Brady Pallante — DT, Naples (Fla.) Barron Collier (commit) Wilton Speight – QB, Richmond (Va.) Collegiate (commit) Drake Harris – WR, Grand Rapids Christian (commit) Michael Ferns – LB, St. Clairsville, Ohio (commit) Ian Bunting – TE, Hinsdale (Ill.) Central (commit)
George Campbell — WR, Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake (commit) Damien Harris — RB, Berea (Ky.) Madison Southern (commit) Tyree Kinnel – DB, Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne (commit) Sterling Jenkins – OL, Pittsburgh Baldwin Darrin Kirkland Cole – LB, Indianapolis Lawrence Central Tyriq Thompson – LB, Detroit Martin Luther King Brian Cole – WR, Saginaw Heritage Alex Malzone – QB, Birmingham Brother Rice
Erik Swenson – OL, Downers Grove (Ill.) South (commit) Thiyo Lukusa – OL, Traverse City West Martell Pettaway – RB, South Lake Daelin Hayes -- ATH, Orchard Lake St.Mary’s Desmond Fitzpatrick – WR, Farmington David Reese – LB, Farmington Stefan Claiborne – Clinton Township Chippewa Valley
Joshua Ross — ATH, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s
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.