February 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

Sam Webb

Father encourages top recruit Malik McDowell to use broad vision as decision nears

Southfield standout defensive end Malik McDowell is expected to decide on a college soon after he returns from this weekend's official visit to Ohio State. (Scout.com)

Southfield standout Malik McDowell has grown understandably weary of the recruiting process. Fortunately for him he won’t have to endure it much longer.

When he returns home from this weekend’s official visit to Ohio State, the five-star defensive end will sit down with his family to conclude a deliberation process that began more than a year ago. Unlike most recruiting races, though, his is one in which each of the finalists appears to have a legitimate chance of coming out victorious.

“My top 4 colleges! Michigan, Michigan State, Florida State, Ohio State,” tweeted McDowell on Monday. “Not in order. I don't have an order!”

After being fairly open with his leanings at the genesis of his recruitment, the talented youngster has since become quite adept at keeping them out of the public eye. The same can’t be said for those close to him. To them in recent months he has been expressing a desire to attend a school closer to home.

“(He is thinking about) what it’s all going to turn out to be as far as family also,” his father Greg McDowell said. “I feel like he is thinking about my mom, his grandmother — a lot. His mom’s parents are both deceased, so he only has my mom and my father, and my father is disabled. He wants to keep it close to home as far as my mom being able to come see him. Not just on TV. That’s something where he is very thoughtful in that way about her.”

That certainly seemed to bode well for Michigan and Michigan State. Initially his childhood favorite Wolverines projected as the biggest beneficiaries, but as the fall progressed the pendulum swung the way of their rival Spartans. While the Green and White’s memorable season certainly served as an added lure, his appreciation for the social scene in East Lansing apparently has been the bigger hook. In response to that, his parents made it a point to reemphasize the approach they want him to take in vetting his suitors immediately after returning from his official visit to Michigan State last weekend.

Look beyond MSU, parents say

“You’ve got to open up and not be so stuck with Michigan State that you’re not even seeing anything else,” Greg McDowell said. “You’ve got to look before you can make a decision of this magnitude (without giving) anybody else a look and (and chance to) understand their program. So that’s where we’re at right now.

“When I think of Malik and what he’s thinking, knowing him I know he is not thinking (about) his academics or where he is going to be in the future. He’s thinking of — and this is just me and his mom’s thinking — the atmosphere that he enjoyed the first time he went up (to East Lansing). I guess that’s what he is looking for at Michigan State. He is young, so he is basing it on a young man’s thought process instead of a maturing kid going into the next level of his life. He is basing it on the now and not what is possibly going to be in effect for him down the road.”

That approach doesn’t automatically mean he won’t pick Michigan State, but it did give his other suitors a chance to make their final pitches to a newly captive audience.

After one last meeting with Michigan State assistants Pat Narduzzi and Ron Burton on Thursday morning, McDowell met with Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and assistants Tim Brewster and Odell Haggins. Theirs was an impressive follow-up to a strong official visit experience McDowell had with his mother in Tallahassee in mid-January.

“He likes Florida State,” Greg McDowell said. “He said it’s real good from what his mom told me. She was saying he liked it a lot. So I believe they are heavy contenders, too.”

McDowell has family in the Sunshine State and his mother’s willingness to move south with him increases their appeal. When Fisher and Co. highlighted the Seminoles program’s track record for producing NFL talent, it struck an especially strong chord. The Michigan contingent of coach Brady Hoke, Greg Mattison, Roy Manning and Fred Jackson stopped by Friday morning and spent time touching on the very same topic.

“They brought that up — Greg Mattison and his history,” Greg McDowell said. “(They weren’t) downplaying anybody else as far as coaches. I even agreed with him in that you have to look at a guy’s resume. His history of doing where they’ve been in the league, what they’ve done in the league. I think Malik understood at that point.”

As important as that was, the Maize and Blue brain trust spent the majority of their time discussing the off-field aspects of Michigan, both social and academic. It has become increasingly clear to the five-star prospect’s parents that his visit experiences at Michigan State have resonated more than those at other schools. That issue wasn’t lost on Michigan’s coaches, and Manning was particularly effective at tackling it head-on.

“(Manning) was letting (Malik) know that, ‘You’ll have a good time up there, but it’s not about that. It’s about you going in there and getting your academics and getting your football on. But the good times are up there too,’” Greg McDowell said. “It is not like a Michigan State party atmosphere all the time and whatnot — and I can’t totally say that is what Michigan State is all about. But in my opinion, Michigan State and the University of Michigan are apples and oranges. It’s just what (Michigan) presented as far as what they could do for him and the overall academics — a top-10, top-five school as far as academics, and whatever else they have to offer.”

Buckeyes up next

Now it’s Ohio State’s turn to make its case. This weekend’s official visit provides a crucial opportunity for coach Urban Meyer to establish a meaningful rapport with McDowell and his family, while also cultivating a quick connection with new defensive line coach Larry Johnson. If all goes well, the Buckeyes could wind up serving as a close-to-home compromise to Michigan and Michigan State.

Upon returning home it won’t be long before McDowell sits down with his parents to compare and contrast his finalists. While his ultimate pick is still a mystery, the wide range of criteria he’ll use to determine the victor is not. The goal of applying such a strict and thorough measure is to make sure he chooses the program that can help best prepare him for a possible future NFL, and especially for life beyond that.

“I’m not trying to run his life or dictate it because pretty soon I won’t even have the opportunity,” Greg McDowell said. “He’ll be a grown man and he’ll be making all these decisions (himself). At this point you’ve got to start making decisions that are not going to cost you.

“That’s the message that I’m trying to get across to him. Malik is just 17 and he’s thinking about what’s happening now, but you’ve got to think about what is going to be happening in the future. The decision that he makes now can either hurt his future or help his future. So that’s what it is about. It is not what you want right now, it is what you need to do.”

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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