Jim Harbaugh, Michigan make late save on Ben VanSumeren

Allen Trieu
Special to The Detroit News
Ben VanSumeren

Ben VanSumeren was set to sign with Iowa on Wednesday, and he was more than happy and comfortable with his decision. The Hawkeyes had offered the Essexville (Mich.) Garber star as a linebacker in October and gained his commitment in November.

On Dec. 12, VanSumeren posted a video of himself bench-pressing 225 pounds 21 times. A weight-room warrior, this was not a surprise to anyone who knew him. When Michigan recruiting staff “liked” the post, it raised his eyebrows a little bit. He had grown up a Michigan fan, going to some Wolverine football games with his mom, a Michigan alum.

The next night, Wolverines assistant coach Jay Harbaugh called VanSumeren and told him Michigan wanted him if he was interested. Thus began a jam-packed week that culminated with VanSumeren signing with the Wolverines, as a fullback, on Wednesday.

School was cancelled last Thursday, so Garber head coach Jake Coquillard was out shoveling his driveway. VanSumeren had already alerted him the night before that Michigan would be calling, so it was not a surprise when the number came through.

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“I talked to Jay Harbaugh for 20 minutes and Jim Harbaugh for 25,” Coquillard said. “They had already offered Ben that morning. It was a quick turnaround there. I know they made phone calls to his parents, had a conversation with him and all of a sudden, before we knew it, Jay, Jim, and Greg Mattison were in Essexville.”

Mattison was VanSumeren’s area recruiter. In the summer, Michigan had asked Ben to come to their camp, but he had already agreed to camp at Notre Dame that day. Coquillard and VanSumeren reached back out to the Wolverines about coming to another camp, but did not hear back.

“They made funny comments about that,” Coquillard said. “Mattison said he almost lost his job.”

Michigan quickly showed how much they wanted VanSumeren in the class, though.

For one, they wasted no time getting to school. Class for the day had not even began yet when the Wolverine coaches arrived.

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“It was pretty surreal,” Coquillard said. “I didn’t realize it was going to be as big of a deal as it was. Not that I don’t think Jim Harbaugh does a great job, but the kids in the school just went crazy. There was quite an entourage for a while as they took a tour of the building and there was a lot of excitement. People were blowing up my phone and the town was going crazy about Jim Harbaugh being at Garber.”

The offer was on the table and three members of the Michigan coaching staff were in the school, and that is when they had some very honest conversations with VanSumeren and his coach about the process.

“Number one, they were very apologetic,” Coquillard said. “When they first talked to Ben, Ben’s one of those guys where, he asked them why they didn’t find him earlier. Coach Harbaugh said, ‘We dropped the ball on camp this summer, that’s completely our fault.’

“We asked if it was part of the process with (fellow recruit) Tommy Tremble going to Notre Dame and they said Tremble was going to be a tight end in their system, not fullback/H-back, where Ben was being recruited. Late coming or not, it’s Ben’s gain. They wanted him bad enough to drive up and to get him down there in a hurry.”

VanSumeren and his family drove down to Ann Arbor after Harbaugh and company left Garber. He asked Coquillard and his son to come with him. It was a difficult decision. At one time, VanSumeren had been committed to Western Michigan; now he was preparing to commit to a third school.

“The coaches at Iowa were phenomenal and this was a completely difficult decision for him,” Coquillard said. “It was very stressful because Ben’s family and him, and what I really think program is, everybody is loyal. Ben is a loyal person and it was tough enough for him to have to decommit from Western Michigan and that the biggest pull on him was that they didn’t want to have to do that to someone again.”

The combination of getting to play offense, his mom having gone to the school, and the proximity to home all played into VanSumeren’s decision to become a Wolverine.

He also has a chance to come in high on the depth chart at the fullback and H-back positions, where his 4.76 speed and physicality are sure to be assets.

Coquillard is not sure when he will coach another player like this, but VanSumeren does have a younger brother entering the 9th grade next year, and the Michigan coaches have already noticed his size.

Jim Harbaugh driving up to Essexville first thing in the morning for a kid few knew about at this time last year is something the coach can point to for the players in his program.

“The work ethic is what I point to,” Coquillard said. “Ben is not a partier. He’s all football. He is committed to both academics and making himself a better athlete through training. You don’t get those kids very often, but his attitude is phenomenal.”

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.