Trieu: Michigan becomes real contender for Illinois safety Justin Walters

Allen Trieu
Special to The Detroit News
Justin Walters

Just over a month ago, Bolingbrook (Ill.) junior safety Justin Walters was trying to tackle Michigan commit A.J. Henning, a star running back at Lincoln-Way East, in one of the key early games of the Illinois high school season.

Fast forward to last Saturday and Walters and Henning were both at Michigan Stadium for the Wolverines’ home game against Notre Dame, and Walters was breaking the news to Henning that Michigan had offered him a scholarship.

The Wolverines now become a real contender for Walters, a long 6-foot-2, 185-pound prospect who also holds offers from Notre Dame, Northwestern, Iowa, Wisconsin and more.

“It means a lot from a recruiting standpoint to get an offer from Michigan,” he said. “They are a big program with good alumni connections and a great business school.”

Walters’ older brother Brandon plays running back for Army, so he had already been to Michigan Stadium in September when the Black Knights visited Ann Arbor.

“In both instances, the gameday environment was insane, especially with the stadium being sold out,” he said.

He also has one more connection with Michigan in Todd Howard, who played cornerback for the Maize and Blue from 1998-2001. Walters did some training with Howard in the summer as part of Howard’s TNC University, which works with football players in the Chicagoland area.

“I think the first thing that stands out is he passes the eye test,” Howard said. “When you see him, when you walk up to him, he’s this tall, lean kid who’s kind of ripped up and has that prototypical look that college coaches are looking for. I see lot of coaches get attracted to guys that look the part and he definitely does that. Then he’s just a really good kid. He’s a well-mannered, yes sir, no sir kind of kid. Sometimes kids get this sort of recognition and they start to smell themselves a bit, so to say. But he’s an open book, always wanting to learn, very self-critical and looking for ways to get better.”

With that desire to improve and the frame to get bigger, Walters’ best football is likely still in front of him, which is why colleges are so eager to recruit him.

“The sky’s the limit,” Howard said. “He’s just breaking the surface of the player he can be. He just has to keep working on technique, which any defensive back or any football player needs to do for their whole career. He played linebacker in youth ball and people shared stories of not being able to run his way, and I can relate to playing safety in high school, which was like a defensive back-linebacker hybrid and you don’t get to work on coverage skills as much. So once he gets in the habit of covering guys more, working on technique and pad level because he is this big, tall guy, I think that sky’s the limit for Justin.”

Walters is ranked as the No. 12 junior in the state of Illinois by 247Sports.

Young quarterback offer

Tanner Bailey, a sophomore quarterback from Gordo (Ala.), was offered by Michigan following his visit to Ann Arbor for the Notre Dame game.

The 6-foot-0, 179-pound Bailey started on the varsity as a freshman and led his team to a 9-1 record, passing for 1,547 yards and 20 touchdowns along the way. Offers from LSU, Tennessee and more followed.

Michigan is his first offer in the Big Ten.

Change of plans for four-star tight end

Windsor (Ontario) Holy Names tight end Theo Johnson was supposed be at Michigan for an official visit on Saturday but the weather changed those plans.

Johnson will instead make an official visit to Michigan on Nov. 16 when the Wolverines host Michigan State. He might have visited for that game regardless, but that is the new date of the official.

Following that, Johnson is likely to be done with visits and will move toward making a decision, with Penn State, Georgia and Iowa also in the running.

More information

Justin Walters profile 

Tanner Bailey profile 

Theo Johnson profile 

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