Trieu: Roots of UM’s 2017 class go back long way

Allen Trieu
Special to The Detroit News
Donovan Peoples-Jones

Next Wednesday, Michigan will sign its 2017 recruiting class, and while that is the day the most eyeballs are on the recruiting world, recruiting classes truly take years to come together. In the case of this Michigan class, the roots go back nearly three years.

On Feb. 23, 2014, Michigan had just signed a relatively small class, ranked 27th in the nation by Scout, and was in the process of working on the future classes by having young prospects up to basketball games. That day, the Wolverines were playing rival Michigan State in hoops. Only a freshman then, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s linebacker Josh Ross attended that game and then-head coach Brady Hoke offered him a scholarship. He was the first recruit set to sign Wednesday to be offered.

The following November, Corey Malone-Hatcher finished school and received a message that he needed to call Michigan’s director of player personnel at the time, Chris Singletary. Singletary chatted with the St. Joseph (Mich.) defensive end, then a sophomore, for a minute before giving the phone to Hoke, who extended a scholarship offer. That offer left Malone-Hatcher’s mom in tears. He had camped at Michigan and been to several games. He also made it no secret that his family members were big Alabama fans. Mom’s reaction made it clear Michigan would be a factor in his recruitment.

On Dec. 3 of 2014, Hoke was fired. Less than two weeks later, Jim Harbaugh was hired as Michigan’s head coach. A frantic period of recruiting and closing out that 2015 class followed. Soon after National Signing Day, Harbaugh turned his attention to the underclassmen.

Two years earlier, Detroit Cass Tech was doing summer testing when a skinny freshman jumped so far on the broad jump that head coach Thomas Wilcher questioned the result and made assistant Jermain Crowell measure it again. Indeed it was correct. This freshman had jumped over 11 feet. When the team later went to football work and he was competing with heavily-recruited cornerbacks like Damon Webb, the staff knew they had something special in Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Throughout his freshman season, he flashed superstar potential. By the time he was a sophomore, those flashes became clear and there were visible signs he was a national prospect. That talent, coupled with his dad being a Michigan alum, caused many to be baffled that, as offers rolled in from around the country, the Wolverines were not among them.

At halftime of a basketball game on Feb. 18, 2015, Harbaugh pulled Peoples-Jones aside and let him know he had a scholarship from Michigan. The following day, Harbaugh offered a scholarship out in Colorado to a quarterback named Dylan McCaffrey, who at that time only had offers from Colorado and Colorado State.

Former UM pass game coordinator Jedd Fisch would recruit McCaffrey and visit him at the school to see him throw that spring. The month of April that year proved to be a critical time in the formation of this class.

On April 4, the Wolverines offered a legacy prospect, in-state tight end Carter Dunaway. Within the same week, offensive tackle JaRaymond Hall, safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell, linebacker Drew Singleton and cornerback Ambry Thomas were all offered scholarships. Shortly after that offer flurry, on April 20, Dunaway committed.

Blue Chip countdown: Malone-Hatcher driven to excel at UM

The next month, Jay Harbaugh attended a workout at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut when a tall, smooth receiver named Tarik Black caught his eye. Black would be offered a scholarship that day.

In June, during Harbaugh’s first summer camp, a tall, skinny Canadian cornerback with no recruiting profiles and scarcely any film continued to lock down receivers during one-on-ones. The defensive backs coaches let Harbaugh know he needed to come watch this player. He liked what he saw and Benjamin St. Juste left that camp – during which he stayed for several days where many top prospects only work out for one day – with a scholarship offer. He committed shortly after returning home.

That August, Michigan extended an offer to running back Kurt Taylor. He committed in October, following St. Juste and Dunaway as the third commitment in the class. Hall followed in December, then wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman, Taylor’s teammate.

In February, McCaffrey committed, giving the Wolverines their quarterback, but Holloman decommitted. (Dunaway would later decommit, as well.) Then the class began to take off in March. Ross, over two years after Hoke offered him at that basketball game, committed. Safety J’Marick Woods closed out the month with a commitment and defensive tackle Phil Paea started April off with a commitment. The following day, a speedy running back from New Mexico the Wolverines had uncovered named O’Maury Samuels committed. He would catch the national radar in the coming months and would be a verbal commitment the Wolverines had to protect right up until this very week.

By the time December rolled around and the crew of Thomas, Peoples-Jones, Black and Singleton – all of whom had all been offered nearly two years before during a two-month span – committed to Harbaugh and Wolverines, the class was now ranked in the national top 10.

Last week, in the midst of the Wolverines looking to close out the 2017 class by doing in-home visits and visiting high schools of a smaller pool of final prospects, the staff also extended a fair number of offers to prospects in the 2018, 2019 and even 2020 classes.

As demonstrated by this 2017 class, those offers are important as a good portion of the group that will sign next Wednesday began their relationship with the Wolverines from an early age.

New offers in Ohio

Among the underclassmen offers handed out this week were two in the state of Ohio, a place fans have hoped the Wolverine staff would become more aggressive. Toledo St. John’s Jesuit linebacker Dallas Gant, the cousin of former Wolverine Allen Gant, was offered a scholarship. A 6-foot-3, 215-pound prospect, Gant holds offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Penn State and more.

The Wolverines also offered Cleveland Heights defensive end Tyreke Smith. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Smith holds offers from Michigan State, USC, Penn State and more.

Both prospects are ranked among the top 200 in the country in their class by Scout.

More information

Donovan Peoples-Jones profile

Ambry Thomas profile

Tarik Black profile 

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.