Webb: Michigan strengthens standing with Ambry Thomas, mom

Sam Webb
Special to The Detroit News
Ambry Thomas

Detroit King four-star cornerback Ambry Thomas had been to Michigan’s campus plenty of times prior to his trip over for last Saturday’s BBQ at the Big House. All of that familiarity meant that the Maize and Blue was going to have to step up its game to impress the No. 56 prospect in the country, according to Scout.com.

The Wolverines did just that.

“I’m going to start out with the food,” Thomas said. “The food was way waaay better than last year.”

That the cuisine came from Detroit’s Slows Bar BQ was a nice touch in the eyes of the Motor City standout.  The hometown dinner proved to be a fitting capper to a day that helped Michigan strengthen its case for one of the top prospects on its 2017 recruiting board.  The visit began with a scavenger hunt that allowed recruits and their families to get acquainted both with the campus and with one another.

“They put us on teams by position,” said Thomas.  “We had all of the defensive backs in our group. Me and (Calabasas, Calif., five-star cornerback) Darnay (Holmes) were kicking it. They had us going around campus. We’d go to a destination and they would ask us something like, ‘Who has the most yards in Michigan history?’ If we answered it right, we got points.”

The excursion seemed to have been enjoyed by all, but his mother Carmen Thomas seemed to really enjoy it.

“Yeah, she was having a little too much fun,” Ambry said laughingly.

"It was good,” Mrs. Thomas later added.  “I'm definitely an outdoors person and I'm very competitive, so it was right up my alley. When I heard about the scavenger hunt I was like, ‘Oh that's going to be so much fun!’"

At one of the stops she could be heard uttering the words, “Who’s got it better than us?”… an obvious nod to Jim Harbaugh’s mantra and the basis for his recently-released theme song.

"I watched the actual video of Coach, so that was part of my thing,” she explained.  “On Snapchat (the videos each team recorded at each scavenger hunt stop), had to be better than the next person, so why not throw that in there?"

And her thoughts on Harbaugh’s rap video?

"It was hilarious,” she said.  “He gets an ‘A’ for effort."

Michigan’s coaching staff received a similar mark for the effort put forth to connect with her during the visit.  Numerous coaches including Harbaugh made it over to chat throughout the day, but there were two with whom she interacted the most.

Trieu: Top targets like flavor Michigan served up at BBQ

"(During the BBQ) it was really just about networking with the different coaches,” Mrs. Thomas said. “It was then that I spoke with Coach Wheatley a lot and Coach Partridge. I spoke to them (about) my questions and concerns."

For her, the single biggest factor in her son’s recruitment is academic support.  Michigan’s presentation on that front addressed the topic quite effectively.

"I was very impressed,” she said.  “My biggest take away was the M-PACT (Michigan Professional and Career Transition) program because a lot of the colleges get the kids there to win, win, win – and nobody is concerned with what's going on after the fact. That was big to me. They keep the kids focused. ‘You're here to play, but there's a career after the fact so let's get this in order.’"

Ambry Thomas and Carmen Thomas pose for a photo at Michigan Stadium.

It was Mrs. Thomas’ first time visiting Michigan, and thus her first time hearing about the tools the program has in place to help ensure scholastic success. It wasn’t Ambry’s first time, though, so he was much more focused on connecting with the players and coaches.

“Me and (Jourdan Lewis) were kicking for a minute,” said Thomas.  “Kicking it with J.D. (stood out the most).”

Michigan’s All-American corner has become a mentor of sorts for Thomas since coaching him during Nike’s The Opening in Beaverton, Ore., last month.  During the BBQ the Wolverine assistants looked to make similar strides in their relationships with Thomas.

“Me and Coach Zordich were kicking it,” said Thomas. “Me and Coach Partridge are like the closest out of everybody.  When I first got the offer (last year) he is the person I talked to.  Ever since then we’ve been talking, but me and Coach Z are close too.”

Exactly where Michigan now stands on a list of favorites that also includes Florida, Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Arizona continues to be a closely-guarded secret. At The Opening, Thomas mentioned Florida as a program surging on his list; he has extremely strong connections with a number of coaches and players at Michigan State; a recent trip to South Bend seems to have fortified Notre Dame’s standing on his list; and he has long expressed a desire to visit the sleeper pick in his recruitment, Arizona. If it was up to his mom, the choice among those schools would be made sooner rather than later.

Said Mrs. Thomas, "I'm telling him he needs to do it prior to the season. He's telling me he's going to do it after the season."

On that point her talented offspring won’t budge.

“I’m going to decide after the season,” he reiterated.

“I’m going to go back down (to Florida) for an official, I’m going to go up to State (for an unofficial), then official visits after that – the majority to Pac-12 schools.”

Not long after those trips are taken he plans to commit to one of those programs, but don’t count on finding out about his decision right away.

“I might not let nobody know until I get to my destination,” he said laughingly.

Detroit News contributor Sam Webb is managing editor of TheMichiganInsider.com and co-host of “The Michigan Insider” show on WTKA 1050 AM in Ann Arbor.