Michigan received two commitments to start the week as junior Josh Ross and sophomore Antwuan Johnson, both linebackers, gave their verbal to the Wolverines.
Ross hails from in-state (Orchard Lake St. Mary’s), where Michigan had three signees in the 2016 class and Johnson is a native of Ohio, a state from which Michigan signed no players during last year’s cycle. While some wondered if the Wolverines wanted to focus recruiting attention away from those states, their aggressiveness in Michigan and Ohio to start the 2017, 2018 and even 2019 classes says otherwise.
“I don’t think it’s a reaction to the criticism,” says The Michigan Insider’s Sam Webb. “I think any misses last year were more a function of timing than interest when it comes to recruiting Michigan and Ohio. Michigan offered a number of prospects in-state last year, wound up with three, but had offered more than that. In Ohio, by the time Harbaugh came in, most of the guys they wanted were either committed or close to it.”
Ross gives the Wolverines three in-state commits in 2017 already, joining Oak Park offensive tackle Jaraymond Hall and Birmingham Brother Rice tight end Carter Dunaway. Including the three verbal commitments, Michigan has extended 13 scholarship offers to in-state players.
“Michigan State, here in-state, is popular with kids and Ohio State has a presence up here now as well,” Webb says. “And recruiting is about relationships, and so many of those relationships that have aided those programs, had been building for years. So Jim Harbaugh stepping in in his first year wasn’t going to be able to have those relationships off the bat, and there was some wait-and-see reactions with him too. After the season he and the team had, it calmed a lot of those concerns, in addition to him now building more relationships.”
Wait and see was something Ross did with new defensive coordinator Don Brown. His older brother James was a multi-year starter at Michigan, but never for Brown, who takes over this season. As a result, Ross needed time to get to know Brown and his scheme. Once he could do that, the right fit became clear.
“After I sat down with Don Brown I knew it was time,” Ross said. “Just based on what he showed me with that defense, it fits me perfectly. I just can’t pass the opportunity up. I just had to take it. He really blitzes his linebackers. I know last year there was a couple of plays where I got right through on blitzes, and I’m getting better and better at blitzing. That’s a lot of what he does and I can see myself in his system.”
Johnson visited Michigan on Saturday along with Ross and several other recruits. He is the quintessential example of how building an early relationship can make all the difference. Michigan offered him in January, and while it was not his first offer, it was enough time for him to learn about the school and get to know the staff.
“He had a great visit up to Michigan,” Webb said. “He was impressed with how quickly they forged a rapport. To be frank, Michigan beat some of the other schools to the offer table on him. I don’t think that’s a negative on the kid, more that Michigan realized very early what it wants and how he fits into their system.”
Michigan has also offered his teammate and fellow sophomore standout Leonard Taylor, a pass-rushing defensive end. Ohio State offered Taylor this week, ensuring a Wolverine-Buckeye battle there.
Ross says he will now recruit on behalf of Michigan and two of his first priorities are Detroit Cass Tech safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell and St. Joseph defensive end Corey Malone-Hatcher, both from inside the state.
Whether or not Michigan lands all of those recruits, it is clear the Wolverines’ 2017 and 2018 classes are likely to have a decidedly more Midwest flavor.
Sunshine State visitors
A group of visitors from Miami Carol City will be at Michigan on Wednesday. Four-star linebacker DeAndre Wilder, who has an offer from the Wolverines already, is one of the notable names. Joining him will be freshman running back Nayquan Wright, a phenom who already holds offers from Alabama, Miami, Florida State, LSU and Notre Dame.
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.