Brother Rice quarterback Alex Malzone, above, is trying to convince five-star tight end Chris Clark to join him on the Wolverines. (Scout.com)
The evaluation period is always a critical time on the recruiting calendar in college football since it affords coaches the opportunity to assess in person the physical talents of the targets they’ve identified on film. Michigan, like most programs, has long taken a regional approach to this early phase of the process.
Generally, coaches are assigned recruiting regions and target prospects in that area regardless of position. In the winter, coaches begin focusing more on prospects at their respective positions. Specialization is less cumbersome at that point since the recruiting “big board” has undergone significant refinement.
This year, however, the Wolverines bucked that trend and have gone to the position-specific recruiting model a lot sooner.
One of the more obvious dividends from the switch was the recent pledge from four-star Brother Rice quarterback Alex Malzone. New Michigan offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier traveled the country in recent months to watch multiple quarterbacks in live throwing sessions. While many reportedly performed well, Malzone, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, was exemplary during an exhibition in which only a few footballs even touched the ground.
The reward for that performance was being the first of the aforementioned signal-callers to earn a Michigan scholarship offer. Malzone didn’t give Nussmeier the chance to offer a second.
“I was definitely looking forward to it,” Malzone said. “There were seven Division I schools there. I definitely had the spotlight and I felt like I needed to perform the way that I did, and I went out there and I did well. Obviously, great things have come from that.”
“Coach Nussmeier was straightforward with me the first day he stepped in. He told me that during the evaluation period he was going to go see all the guys that he planned on seeing throw, and then he was going to offer somebody. That’s exactly what he did. I totally respect that. It led up to (the offer and subsequent commitment), and I’m definitely fired up about it.”
For Malzone it was the culmination of a year where he answered every challenge. His take on it all was best summed up by a tweet he posted the day before his commitment. It read, “Keep doubting me.”
Said Malzone, “Some people can harp on my height or anything else that I’m lacking, but I go out there and I give it my all. Honestly, I’ve had great success in the past and I’m looking to keep that going in the future. I’ll do anything that I can do to win, whether or it be at a football game or a game of checkers. I’m a competitive kid and I’ll do anything to win and help my team.”
That includes working hard to lure others into Michigan’s 2015 class. Turns out that behind Malzone’s reserved personality hides a rather fierce recruiter.
“I’m already in the group set up with all the other guys committed,” he said. “Coach (Chris) Singletary and Coach (Jeff) Hecklinski talked to me about some guys that I should talk to, and I’m definitely going to do it. I’m just going to talk about how great a place Michigan is, and if they don’t want to come here that’s up to them. But obviously I’m just going to talk about the great things that Michigan has to offer. From my perspective it is tough to turn away and hopefully they feel the same.”
Two of his top targets thus far have been Lawrenceville (N.J.) Prep four-star offensive tackle Grant Newsome and Avon (Conn.) Old Farms five-star tight end Chris Clark. Both prospects are likely to make their decisions in the next few months, and both are slated to take return trips to Michigan’s campus in the next few weeks.
The first to make his way back to Ann Arbor will be Newsome on June 6 and 7. Michigan offensive line coach Darrell Funk was at the talented youngster’s school last week but was limited by NCAA rules from having any substantial contact. They’ll have the chance to really reconnect when Newsome gets to campus next week.
“I was really impressed with Coach Funk,” Newsome said, recalling his April visit. “He has always been one of my favorite O-line coaches and I think this trip just kind of cemented that in my mind. It was really nice just to get an extended period of time to spend with him and to be able to get down there and talk some football.”
Newsome’s interaction with his would-be coach was but part of an experience that left an indelible mark on both Newsome and his father.
“I was very impressed with the whole program (especially) the coaching staff,” the 6-6, 290-pounder said. “I got to experience the whole campus and the whole atmosphere. I thought it was a very good visit. I was very impressed.”
“Obviously, Michigan in general is one of the strongest schools academically in the country. It is definitely a big part of their appeal at Michigan how strong they are academically (and) how well they can do as a football team — not only on the field but also in the classroom.”
Before traveling to Michigan the Garden State star will make a return trip to Penn State June 4 and 5. Those may be the last stops he makes on the recruiting trail before making his collegiate choice.
“They really stood out as places I want to see (again),” Newsome said. “Penn State — I was only there for the spring game, so I want to go back and see the academics and everything like that.”
“With Michigan, my mom wasn't able to come out with us so she wanted to make sure she was able to come out and see it, too.”
Clark tight with U-M's Ferrigno
That motherly input is also part of what will lure Clark back to Michigan’s campus June 19. The amount of attention shown him by the Wolverines has been indicative of his standing as the nation’s No. 1 tight end prospect. Michigan tight ends coach Dan Ferrigno and Nussmeier have both made stops at Clark’s school in recent weeks, and Malzone has been in frequent contact as well.
“I talk to him all the time,” Clark said of Malzone. “I like him a lot, and I’m going to be able to hang out with him when I go to visit Michigan. It will be cool to finally meet him in person. We talk a lot. We talk a bunch, just text messaging and stuff.”
As is the case with Newsome, Clark’s trip to Ann Arbor will likely be his last recruiting stop before announcing his decision. Before that he also plans to visit Tennessee June 2, North Carolina (the school he was previously committed to) June 4, Arizona State June 10, Ohio State June 16-17, and Michigan State June 18. The 6-6, 250-pounder will then announce his decision during Nike’s The Opening which takes place in Beaverton, Ore., July 7-11.
Michigan’s opportunity to close things out could provide a decided advantage if their presentation with mom in attendance is as impressive as the one it made back in April.
Said Clark, “We checked out a lot of the facilities. Obviously walking around the Big House was pretty sick. It’s so much bigger than you thought. It’s big on television, but then in person it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so big’”
“I think all the coaches there are real guys — real honest. (None of) what they said was, to me, a lie, or suspect or questionable. I thought they were being real honest the entire time I was there, and it’s something I really appreciated. I enjoyed hearing about that and the program they run. The whole network at Michigan is awesome and a lot of really successful people have come from Michigan so, it’s a really awesome university.”
But his favorite part of the visit was his time with the man who would be charged with coaching him.
“I just really liked Coach Ferrigno,” Clark said. “I like him a lot. He’s the favorite tight ends coach right now that I’m kind of dealing with. He’s just really cool and I enjoyed spending time with him. His wife came out to lunch with us, too.”
“I just like him, man. He coached Tony Gonzalez at Cal. He has been around and (has been) successful in college football, so he’s definitely a guy I could see myself playing for.”
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.