It was the fall of 2014 when Starkville (Miss.) High School took on Southaven in a playoff game. Southaven tried a trick play – a backward pass to a wide receiver who then let a deep pass fly to a receiver running down the field.
Like a bolt of lightning, a Starkville defender flew over to the ball and intercepted the pass. To the surprise of some, that player was not a safety or a cornerback, but a linebacker. And he was not a junior or a senior; he was a sophomore.
By that point in the year, many knew who Willie Gay was, but that was one of the plays that cemented the now-senior as a special talent.
Gay is now a four-star, top-100 national recruit, an Army All-American and a prospect described by The Michigan Insider’s Sam Webb as the arguably the best prospect he saw at any of the Michigan summer satellite camps. The speed that allowed him to run down that play is a major part of his accolades and scholarship offers.
He is also a prospect who, despite his attendance at that satellite camp and positive remarks about Michigan, seemed like a longshot for the Wolverines at that time, as he was committed to Ole Miss. A recent official visit to Ann Arbor and a decommitment from the Rebels has changed that.
Michigan is now the odds-on favorite to land his commitment.
“I took a visit to see what other schools had to offer,” he said to Scout’s Chad Simmons. “Even though it was a first visit, I connected with the coaches, players, fans. I felt at home up there. It felt like I was still at Starkville.”
The Wolverines have signed players from the South before, but not many from Mississippi. With prospects who come north, the questions are always: How will the recruit and family deal with distance? How do they feel about the cold?
Gay says he is not worried about the weather, and after visiting with her son, his mother is firmly on board.
“My mom wanted to stay an extra day,” he said.
Then there is the connection with the current roster. He says Jabrill Peppers is his favorite player and Wolverine freshman Rashan Gary was his host on the official visit. Gary also went through the rigors of recruiting as a top national prospect. He had Michigan in the lead for quite some time, but was nearly swayed by other schools.
“I spent a lot of time with Rashan,” Gay said. “He’s a very cool dude. I’m glad I got to spend some time with him. He was just saying, ‘You know man, you’re going to have a lot of schools telling you what you want to hear. Just know that this place right here is really legit.’”
Like Gary, Gay plans to wait until National Signing Day to announce his commitment.
His next official visits are to Florida this weekend and Ole Miss on Nov. 26.
Wolverines make move with Becton
Michigan had Highland Springs (Va.) offensive tackle Mekhi Becton up for an official visit last Saturday. It was his first visit to Ann Arbor and he says he learned and saw everything he needed.
"The visit helped Michigan and it affects my recruitment a lot,” he said. “I'd say they're standing out a little now."
Penn State, Pitt, Virginia and Virginia Tech are among the other schools the Wolverines are battling. He plans to wait until Signing Day to make a decision.
Wolverines offer junior Texan
Caden Sterns, a junior four-star athlete (running back/safety) from Cibolo Steele in Texas, was offered by Michigan recently. Sterns (6-1, 173 pounds) is ranked as the No. 34 overall prospect in the country on Scout and holds offers from LSU, Oklahoma, Texas, UCLA and more. He has not yet been to Michigan’s campus.
Allen Trieu began covering the state of Michigan for Scout.com in 2005 and began managing the entire Midwest in 2009. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.