When Justin Newcomb got hired as head football coach at Sterling Heights Stevenson in the winter of 2018, one of the first players he heard about was Giovanni El-Hadi. El-Hadi had started on the varsity as a freshman and folks around the school told Newcomb to give him a look.
So Newcomb scheduled a meeting and then unknowingly walked past him.
“I was going to meet him and passed right by him because I thought he was a teacher,” Newcomb said. “I said holy smokes, this kid is 15 and has a full-grown beard. He looks the part, looks like Tarzan, but does he play like Tarzan? Then we saw how he worked in the weight room and how he pushed his teammates.”
Newcomb and El-Hadi sat down that first meeting and mapped out his goals. One of them was to play at the University of Michigan. Newcomb gave him a plan for what he needed to do to make that happen and almost exactly a year later, the Wolverines offered him a scholarship.
El-Hadi, an offensive tackle, accepted that scholarship several days after becoming Michigan’s first commitment in the 2021 class.
“He was excited when that Michigan offer came through,” Newcomb said. “When he first learned about it, he was in Coach Harbaugh’s office and the look on his face. … It was a long time coming and for him and for his mom too, it was the right move. She gets to keep Gio home, in-state, they are a close-knit family and to be 50-55 minutes away from campus and she can see Gio on Saturdays, that was a big part in his recruitment. It was a good fit. Some of his buddies and people questioned why he did it so early, but when he found something right for him and that was a good fit, he took full advantage and didn’t need to look elsewhere.”
El-Hadi had put together two seasons of excellent tape and was now 6-foot-6 and a lean 280 pounds. Then he went to a Rising Stars workout in February and that further pushed his name into the spotlight. From mid-February until he committed to Michigan a month and a half later, he went from no scholarship offers to eight. That included Power Five programs like Penn State, Purdue and Iowa State.
“The first thing when you turn on the tape is, he swallows up defenders,” Newcomb said. “He gets movement at the point of attack. He takes pride in the position. When he gets knockdowns, at the end of plays, he would always come back and say he got the knockdown. He motivates other guys and it’s exciting to be part of that when somebody works hard and takes pride in that.”
The same day Michigan offered, that evening, when Newcomb returned from Ann Arbor, he had a message from Alabama saying they wanted to send a coach up to see El-Hadi during spring evaluation.
“I said to Gio, ‘If Michigan is the one, you have to be OK with that when other schools still come in,’” Newcomb recalls. “And he said, ‘Absolutely, Michigan is it,’ and I said, ‘Then you’ve got it.’ So it’s been fun and he has been at ease with it.”
And Michigan has the foundation of their 2021 recruiting class.
Wolverines progressing with Ohio prospects
Michigan hosted several recruits from Ohio recently. One of them, Groveport Madison offensive lineman Terah Edwards, was offered a scholarship by the Wolverines. A powerful 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior, Edwards has additional offers from Michigan State, Northwestern, Kentucky and more. He has 22 offers in total.
The Wolverines also hosted Cincinnati Roger Bacon running back Corey Kiner, who is establishing himself as one of the top sophomores in the Midwest.
Kiner (5-10, 205 pounds) told multiple recruiting analysts afterward that Michigan was at the top of his list.
He finished his sophomore season with more than 1,700 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Allen Trieu covers Midwest football recruiting for 247Sports. 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.