February 22, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Sam Webb

Michigan's Doug Nussmeier is key figure in visit by nation's No. 2 RB Damien Harris

Ann Arbor -- With Sunday’s hardwood battle between Michigan and Michigan State as the backdrop, the Wolverines will host one of their biggest recruiting days of the year. Sitting among the Crisler Center’s capacity crowd will be nearly two dozen of the region’s top football and basketball prospects.

The gridiron contingent will be headlined by Scout.com’s No. 2 running back in 2015, Berea (Ky.) Madison Southern standout Damien Harris. The trip will be Harris’ first to the Great Lakes State since rescinding his July commitment to Michigan last month.

“I have talked with Coach Hoke a couple times and I am just trying to keep that connection I had with them in the first place,” said Harris. “Without Coach Borges being there it’s kind of hard. Granted, Coach (Nussmeier) is a great coach and I really like him. It’s kind of hard going to a school without the person who recruited you, but I am really trying to develop that relationship with Coach Nussmeier being the new (offensive coordinator). I am just giving him a shot and trying to develop that relationship I had with Coach Borges.”

Madison Southern was one of Nussmeier’s first stops on the recruiting trail in his new role as a Michigan assistant, but NCAA rules prohibited any substantive contact with Harris during that visit. This weekend marks the first real opportunity for Nussmeier to deliver his message face to face.

“He is just telling me that I wouldn’t have felt the way I felt at Michigan for no reason,” Harris said. “Coach Borges being fired wasn’t the only reason I opened my options back up -- he just tries to preach to me that there is still going to be something there and just to give him a chance to develop a relationship with him. That’s all he wants is for me to give him a chance and not go in with a narrow mind and think because he is new, that I don’t know him (and) I shouldn’t want to go to the program. He just told me to give him a chance and see where we can take things and see where we can develop our relationship.”

Other key visitors

While building that bridge with Harris is certainly a priority, it is far from the weekend’s only recruiting objective. Michigan’s new recruiting strategy calls for the addition of two tailbacks in 2015 instead of one, and another of the top contenders for one of those spots will be in Ann Arbor Sunday.

Detroit Cass Tech running back Mike Weber will be making his third visit to Ann Arbor in a five-week span. He too has been on the receiving end of a great deal of personal attention from Nussmeier.

Joining Weber on the list of in-state juniors in attendance will be Saginaw Heritage four-star athlete Brian Cole (offer), Detroit King linebacker Tyriq Thomas (offer), and St. Johns tight end Austin Ervin.

A few of the state’s top 2016 prospects are also slated to be on hand. Farmington wide receiver Desmond Fitzpatrick and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s athlete Daelin Hayes are youngsters Michigan has been monitoring closely since last summer, while Traverse City West four-star offensive lineman Thiyo Lukusa was offered last month.

“I really like their staff,” said Lukusa. “I like Coach Hecklinski, Coach Ferrigno, Coach Funk, and Coach Hoke. They’re probably some of my favorite coaches that I’ve met. They didn’t have a great year this year, but it is called rebuilding for a reason. I’m a patient guy. And I like who they’re recruiting in my class.”

Also expected to be in attendance are a handful of notable out-of-staters, including three commitments to Michigan’s 2015 class: Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward four-star cornerback Shaun Crawford, Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne safety Tyree Kinnel and Massillon (Ohio) Washington three-star kicker Andrew David.

Other highly-ranked attendees will be 2015 Indianapolis Lawrence Central four-star linebacker Darrin Kirkland, 2015 Indianapolis Ben Davis four-star linebacker Asmar Bilal, 2015 Downers Grove (Ill.) North four-star quarterback David Edwards, 2016 O’Fallon (Ill.) four-star running back Kentrail Moran (though this visit could be rescheduled), and the prospect traveling the farthest – 2015 Signal Mountain (Tenn.) three-star tight end/offensive lineman Harrison Moon.

Moon has seen his stock rise with the Maize and Blue of late.

“I think I sent them film probably about three weeks ago,” Moon said. “I talked to Coach Nussmeier about three weeks ago. He was just telling me, ‘You can come up be here and be a stud left tackle or a stud tight end.’ He was just telling me to imagine running through and jumping up and touching the Go Blue sign and just running out to 110,000 screaming fans. He was telling me all of the cool things about Michigan and all that -- how he thinks I can succeed in their offense and help them be good. It was pretty good. He is a really cool guy.”

Basketball weekend, too

Like Moon, a few of the visiting basketball prospects are hoping that an uptick in interest will eventually lead to scholarship offers. The most heralded hardwood recruit on hand will be Saginaw Arthur Hill standout Eric Davis. Ranked the No. 8 shooting guard in Scout.com’s 2015 class, Davis already sports offers from Michigan State, Iowa, Iowa State, Illinois and North Carolina State, among others. Michigan hasn’t given any firm indication of a plan to join that list, but the four-star guard has noticed the Wolverines’ in the crowd at an increasing number of his games lately.

“They’ve picked up their interest a lot,” said Davis. “I have been talking to Coach Beilein almost every other day. Overall I ask him questions about how I can improve my game and things like that. We are just beginning to develop a good relationship and for me that is the biggest thing to develop a good relationship with the head coach.”

The other highly-ranked hardwood target isn’t nearly as familiar with the Maize and Blue. Toronto sophomore Jamal Murray recently became more of a presence on Michigan’s 2016 radar. Nik Stauskas’ success has certainly garnered Michigan significant buzz north of the border, but it hasn’t quite to the attention of Scout.com’s No. 9 point guard in 2016.

“I don’t really know much about the program,” Murray’s father told Scout.com. “I know they’re pretty good.”

“But for Jamal, anywhere he is going we’re looking for him to play and not really to sit. His game is to play. We’re looking for somewhere where he can go in and play.

“We want to see how the team is set up, how they run the plays -- just see how it is there, just to see what the environment is like.”

If the pregame build-up is any indicator, the environment Sunday should be one to remember.

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.

With Al Borges gone, Damien Harris is working to establish a relationship with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. / Photo courtesy of Scout.com