January 19, 2014 at 8:48 am

Sam Webb

Flurry of recent Michigan offers includes Minnesota four-star RB Jeff Jones

Jeff Jones is committed to Minnesota but will visit Michigan on Jan. 31. (Photo courtesy of Scout.com)

With National Signing Day fast approaching, Michigan is working feverishly to close out this year’s football recruiting class on a high note. At the same time it’s widening its net in both the 2015 and 2016 classes.

Securing Southfield defensive end Malik McDowell remains the top priority in 2014, but not far behind that in importance is adding a running back. After diverting attention away from Sugar Land, Texas, tailback Vic Enwere recently, the Wolverines shifted their focus to Minneapolis Washburn four-star rusher Jeff Jones. An impressive showing in the Under Armour All American Game two weeks ago sparked Michigan’s sudden interest in the Minnesota commitment. A scholarship offer the next day followed by the hiring of Doug Nussmeier as offensive coordinator the next week thrust the Maize and Blue indelibly into fray.

“They’re starting something new over there,” said Jones. “They let go of their (offensive coordinator) and got Bama’s. They’re trying to do new things over there with a new staff, and he’s looking at new players. So I look at them just like just like the other schools that offered me.”

“Obviously Bama scores points, so if you get a guy from that side of the ball from there, that’s obviously a great asset.”

Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson was in the Land of 10,000 Lakes Thursday checking in on the talented youngster. Jones plans to return the favor with a trip to Ann Arbor on Jan. 31. That should conclude a visit schedule that consists of trips to Minnesota, Iowa State and Florida (Jan. 24).

Jones received added competition for the spot Friday in the form of Sarasota (Fla.) Booker RB Marlon Mack. The three-star prospect officially decommitted from the UCLA Wednesday, thus making formal his openness to other suitors. After first expressing interest in Sunshine State star last weekend, Michigan assistant Jeff Hecklinski was in his school Thursday doing a little recruiting leg work. That was followed up by a scholarship offer Friday. Now the question is: Will the talented youngster show some reciprocity?

“I just started hearing from Michigan,” said Mack prior to being offered. “They said they are highly interested in me. They said they want to keep talking to me and see how it goes.

“I believe Michigan is a good school … a great school. I would visit.”

Michigan will likely firm up a visit plan during a return trip to the Sunshine State early next week. In the meantime the coaching staff is earnestly expanding its 2015 and 2016 recruiting boards. The dearth of available scholarships in 2015 had slowed the offer train to a virtual halt, but the New Year has featured a picking up of steam. One the most heralded of the new offers is Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peters Prep cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Ranked a four-star prospect and the No. 10 CB in the 2015 class by Scout.com, Fitzpatrick holds offers from Alabama, Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Notre Dame and a host of others. While Michigan counts as one of the more recent additions to that list, Fitzpatrick insists that the Wolverines are in the thick of contention.

“I like them a lot and I have been looking for that offer for a long time because I am interested in them and they are interested in me," said Fitzpatrick. "Coach (Roy) Manning is really a nice guy. I want to sit down and talk to him in person. I need to call him more so that we can form a better relationship."

Fitzpatrick already has a strong relationship with another of his Michigan recruiters. Future Wolverine and fellow Garden State star Jabrill Peppers espouses the virtues of the Maize and Blue to his young friend whenever possible. That includes when they squared off against one another in the state championship game.

Said Fitzpatrick, “After the game, Jabrill came over to me and gave me a hug and told me, 'You are coming to Michigan. Leave everyone else alone!' The times we see each other he is always telling me something about Michigan."

The Wolverines should benefit from similar advocacy for two other recent scholarship recipients. Detroit King linebacker Tyriq Thompson is the son of former Michigan safety Clarence Thompson. On Thursday, Brady Hoke and Company offered the younger Thompson the chance to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“He pretty much just told me congratulations,” Thompson said of his father. “It was kind of satisfying (for him) I guess.”

As much as that connection serves as a lure, it doesn’t guarantee a commitment.

“I’m not going to base my decision on that,” Thompson insisted. “My decision will be based on where I feel is the best fit for me (and) where I feel I can be successful for the next four years.”

That could be at Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, or any of his other suitors that have been in hot pursuit for a longer period of time. A similar approach is being taken by Tampa (Fla.) Plant offensive tackle Jake Fruhmorgen. Michigan offered the four-star lineman Friday, despite rampant speculation that he is a lock to follow in his father’s footsteps to Alabama. John Fruhmorgen was a standout for the Crimson Tide in the mid-1980s, but he warns against drawing any conclusions about his son’s future based on that.

“(People) think Alabama is a done deal because I played there,” the elder Fruhmorgen stated. “He has never even been to a game. So I won’t (push him there). We will support him no matter where he goes, obviously.”

Michigan is now officially in the running with more than 30 other programs to be that destination. Turns out he has connections to Michigan, also. They’re not as direct as his connection to Alabama, but they do appear to be more plentiful.

“I coached at (Tampa) Jesuit for about 10 years after I got done playing, so I coached (former Michigan kicker) Jay Feely,” Mr. Fruhmorgen. “Also the other guy that (years later) was the kicker was (former Michigan standout) Garrett Rivas. I didn’t coach Garrett, but Garrett coaches now with Jake’s godfather (at Berkeley Prep in Tampa).

“My best friend is the head coach of the Buffalo Bills, Doug Marrone,” Mr. Fruhmorgen later added. “I am the godfather of his boy and he is the godfather of my daughter. We have been friends (since) we played pro ball together. On his coaching staff, which I met and became good friends with, is Tyrone Wheatley. Tyrone’s son is friends with Jake. “

All of those indirect ties combined with Michigan’s rich tradition have all but assured Michigan a place on Fruhmorgen’s visit list.

“The education and the university itself -- I think that is a place he needs to at least go see. I think that is important,” said Mr. Fruhmorgen. “We went to Notre Dame over the summer, a special place. And Michigan, I think, falls in that category too, when you start talking about college football. It is up there in the same bracket as Alabama, Notre Dame, and some of the other powerhouse schools.”

Odds are the Wolverines will cross recruiting paths with those programs when they extend even more offers in the coming days and weeks.

Recent Michigan offers

* Jalen Dalton, Clemmons (N.C.) West Forsyth, 4 stars, No. 24 defensive end (2015)
* Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peters Preparatory, 4 stars, No. 10 cornerback (2015)
* Jake Fruhmorgen, Tampa (Fla.) Plant, 4 stars, No. 10 offensive tackle (2015)
* Jeff Jones, Minneapolis Washburn, 4 stars, No. 12 running back (2014)
* Thiyo Lukusa, Traverse City West, 4 stars, offensive tackle (2016)
* Marlon Mack, Sarasota (Fla.) Booker, 4 stars, No. 58 running back (2014)
* Juval Mollette, Randleman (N.C.), 3 stars, No. 35 wide receiver (2015)
* Tyriq Thompson, Detroit King, 4 stars, No. 21 outside linebacker (2015)
* Kareem Walker, Wayne (N.J.) De Paul Catholic, unrated, running back (2016)

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.