January 24, 2014 at 1:35 pm

Sam Webb

Michigan fights to keep decommitted recruits George Campbell, Damien Harris

George Campbell cited family reasons for his decommitting from Michigan. Other schools recruiting him are closer to his Florida home. (Sam Webb / Special to Detroit News)

Michigan’s 2015 football recruiting class got off to a rousing start last July when Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake wide receiver George Campbell and Berea (Ky.) Madison Southern running back Damien Harris both verbally committed to play for Brady Hoke. Those pledges gave Michigan the No. 2 player at each of their respective positions and continued the impressive recruiting roll the Wolverines were on at that time.

Fast forward six months, and that momentum suffered an abrupt change in course when both prospects rescinded their commitments within thirty days of one another.

Michigan is now charged with resuming the courtship process with both while also working suitable contingency plans in case they can’t be lured back into the fold.

The road back to a program that a prospect decommits from is hardly ever an easy one, but some paths are more bump-laden than others. In Campbell’s case Michigan’s ride certainly looks wrought with obstacles.

'A family reason'

Florida State, Florida, Clemson and a host of other ACC and SEC programs that are closer to home were pecking away at the five-star wideout’s resolve from the moment he committed. He was extremely resilient in that pledge until mid-December, when he was advised that his decision to “go blue” may have been a hasty one.

“Honestly, it’s a family reason,” Campbell said. “It’s pretty much something me and my family sat down together and thought would be best for me.”

“I’m still considering (Michigan),” he later said. “My decommitment had nothing (to do with anything negative) about Michigan — no real reason (to be down) on Michigan at all. So I’m looking at them the same way.”

The Sunshine State star insists that’s the case despite the Wolverines’ disappointing 7-6 record last season.

“(A loss) hurts for a little bit, but at the same time, I’m not there,” Campbell said. “That’s the whole point — to change the program around. So (the record) didn’t matter at all.”

That type of mentality is obviously of great benefit to Michigan as it attempts to regain his commitment. On the other hand, they’re faced with an issue that could harm their chances irreparably.

Though adamant his interest in the Maize & Blue hasn’t withered, Campbell indicated an official visit to Ann Arbor isn’t a certainty. That’s significant, since none of his family members were with him on any of his prior Michigan visits. There’s a greater chance of remedying that issue if he uses one of his five officials for a return trip, since in that instance the school can foot the bill for him and a guardian.

“Only time will tell (if Michigan will be added to the official visit list),” he said. “I got a long time before I take my officials, so I’ll just sit back with my coach, evaluate it, and see what I’m ready to do.”

Harris a different matter

That’s a much more tenuous position than the Wolverines enjoy with Harris. The four-star prospect’s mother and coach both have made multiple trips with him to Ann Arbor, Michigan is closer to home, and it’s a lock to be on his official visit list. To his mom, who also counts herself a Michigan fan, this decommitment exercise is one that will lead her son right back where he started.

“The reason he came to this decision is he felt like when he committed, at the time, we felt like it was the right decision even though it was early,” Lynn Harris said. “Months later, he has been thinking and thinking, ‘I didn’t really go and look at other places probably like I should have. I didn’t consider other places like I should have.’

“Even though Michigan is No. 1, and that hasn’t changed, he just wants to make sure he doesn’t have any regrets when he gets ready to enroll. He just wants to make sure that he didn’t leave any stone unturned and wants to make sure he didn’t miss out on anything, even though he knows Michigan is still his No. 1. That’s all. He is just making sure that if he was to visit other places, he wasn’t going to regret not taking the full experience.”

It should come as little surprise the talented youngster’s curiosity about schools like Ohio State and Kentucky was exacerbated by the recent dismissal of Al Borges. Michigan’s former offensive coordinator worked with Harris’ high school coach at Auburn and was his most direct connection to Ann Arbor.

“We love Coach Borges — love Coach Borges,” Lynn Harris said. “He was the one who recruited Damien. So I am not going to sit here and say it doesn’t have anything to do with it. I am not going to sit here and say it has everything to do with it.”

Building stronger relationships with the other staff members, and especially new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, is a major priority. It’s one of the points Hoke emphasized when he was given the bad news.

“He said that he understands,” Lynn Harris said. “He said that it happens — kids committing and then deciding that maybe they did it too early or something like that. He says it does happen, but he just wants us to make sure that we keep an open line of communication and talk with them on a regular basis … just so that they know they are still in the front and they are still leading in this whole process.”

Under the circumstances, those words probably provide Hoke and Co. some comfort, but not enough for them to put all their eggs in one basket. That’s especially true when it comes to Campbell.

Michigan was actively recruiting a number of receivers during the time he was committed, making clear its desire to have multiple receivers in the 2015 class. Saginaw Heritage athlete Brian Cole has long been among their chief targets, and they’ve identified more since the start of the new year. In the past month Michigan has offered Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro wideout Christian Kirk, Randleman (N.C.) three-star wideout Juval Mollette, and Cedar Hill (Texas) wideout DaMarkus Lodge. That list that will surely grow in the coming months.

The situation at running back is different in that it wasn’t recruited as vigorously during the time Harris was committed. Detroit Cass Tech four-star tailback Mike Weber was one of the few backs they kept in contact with, but it wasn’t enough to warrant them being in his top five. Now in the aftermath of Harris’ decommitment and Nussmeier’s arrival, Weber’s view of Michigan has changed.

“I talked with (Nussmeier) for a half-hour on the phone,” Weber said earlier this week. “He is real excited about recruiting me. So when he got there he was telling me how he really wanted me (at Michigan). It made me open my eyes back up to Michigan.

“Michigan is back on the radar.”

The Wolverines now sit firmly in his top five alongside Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. His plan to commit to a school in the months following his junior season has been altered as well.

“I am definitely going to slow it down now,” Weber said. “I never thought Michigan would start recruiting me again. Now that they are showing interest in me, I have to think about other things.”

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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