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How Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan recruits are working out

By Allen Trieu
Special to The Detroit News
Karan Higdon

This fall will be Jim Harbaugh’s fourth as head coach at Michigan. While there are still a handful of players who were recruited before Harbaugh and his staff got to Ann Arbor, the vast majority of the roster is now his recruits. Here is a look back at his first few recruiting classes (all team rankings by the 247Sports Composite).


Final team rankings: 37th nationally, fifth in Big Ten

Harbaugh was introduced as Michigan’s head coach on Dec. 30, 2014. He had to get to recruiting quickly, but it took nearly a month for the first commitment to come in, which was defensive end Reuben Jones.

Reuben Jones, defensive end, Lakeland (Fla.) Lake Gibson: Then-defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and Greg Mattison went down to Florida to Lake Gibson, and Jones came up on an official visit to Michigan and flipped from Nebraska. He has appeared in 11 games as a Wolverine.

Karan Higdon, running back, Sarasota (Fla.) Riverview: The jewel of that first class to this point, Higdon flipped from Iowa on Signing Day, which famously sent Detroit Cass Tech’s Mike Weber to Ohio State. He has 1,438 career rushing yards, 994 of those coming during last fall’s breakout campaign. He also scored 11 touchdowns last season.

Grant Perry, wide receiver, Birmingham Brother Rice: Like Higdon, the Wolverines flipped Perry from a Big Ten foe, this time Northwestern. That happened just days before National Signing Day. Perry has appeared in 34 games at Michigan, catching 52 passes for 618 yards and three touchdowns.

Zach Gentry

Zach Gentry, tight end, Albuquerque (N.M.) Eldorado: Gentry was committed to Texas and was recruited as a quarterback. Michigan brought him in as a second quarterback as Alex Malzone was already committed and enrolled during Harbaugh’s first month as head coach. Gentry flipped to the Wolverines, moved to tight end his second year, and made an impact last season catching 17 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns.

Shelton Johnson, defensive end, Delray Beach (Fla.) Atlantic: Even with in-state powers Florida State and Miami after him, Johnson officially visited Michigan and committed to the Wolverines on Signing Day 2015. He did not appear in any games for two seasons, was suspended in 2016, and is no longer with the team.

Nolan Ulizio, offensive tackle, West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West: Ulizio was committed to UConn when Michigan came calling. He was offered and took an official visit in January, then flipped to the Wolverines. A two-year letterman, he has started six games at tackle for Michigan.

More: Early look at The Detroit News’ top high school football players

Other players in 2015 recruiting class: Brian Cole, WR, Saginaw; Andrew David, K, Massillon (Ohio) Washington; Tyree Kinnel, S, Dayton (Ohio) Wayne; Alex Malzone, QB, Birmingham Brother Rice; Grant Newsome, OT, Trenton (N.J.) Lawrenceville School; Jon Runyan Jr., OT, Philadelphia St. Joseph’s; Keith Washington, ATH, Prattville (Ala.); Tyrone Wheatley Jr., TE, Buffalo (N.Y.) Canisius.


Final team rankings: Eighth nationally, second in Big Ten

The robust 2016 class was Harbaugh’s first full recruiting class. While defensive end Rashan Gary was the prize of this group, many others have already become solid contributors.

Rashan Gary

Rashan Gary, defensive end, Paramus (N.J.) Paramus Catholic: The No. 1 recruit in the country that year, Gary played as a true freshman, then became the full-time starter as a sophomore, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. He enters this season expected to be one of the country’s top defensive players and a potential high draft choice whenever he enters the draft.

Ben Bredeson, offensive lineman, Hartland (Wis.) Arrowhead: Michigan did well to go up to Wisconsin and beat the Badgers for a nationally sought-after recruit. Bredeson has lived up to expectations, starting 20 games, including eight as a true freshman and earning second team All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore.

Brandon Peters, quarterback Avon (Ind.): A highly-ranked recruit, Peters started at the end of the 2017 season, and enters 2018 with transfer Shea Patterson as front-runners for the starting job.

David Long, cornerback, Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola: A significant recruiting win for Michigan that year, he held down one of the cornerback spots as a sophomore last fall, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

Devin Asiasi, tight end, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle: It was a surprise to many when Michigan landed Asiasi on National Signing Day. He quickly showed his four-star rating had merit, playing as a true freshman and catching two passes with one touchdown. However, wanting to be closer to home, he transferred to UCLA, where he sat out last season and will play this fall.

Michael Onwenu

Michael Onwenu, guard, Detroit Cass Tech: A multi-year starter at Cass Tech, Onwenu was a national Top 100 recruit per the 247Sports Composite. He started eight games during the 2017 season and is one of the top returners on the offensive line.

Kareem Walker, running back, Wayne (N.J.) De Paul Catholic: A highly sought-after recruit and one who was once committed to Ohio State during the recruiting process, Walker was a high four-star prospect, but only had 20 carries for 68 yards and one touchdown during his first two seasons. Various reports have him transferring from the program.

Kekoa Crawford, wide receiver, Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) Catholic: Caught 21 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns during his first two seasons at Michigan, but is now appears to be on the verge of transferring.

Lavert Hill, cornerback, Detroit King: Hill was committed to Penn State early, but Michigan turned the tide and got him into the class. He emerged as one of the best cover corners in the Big Ten last season and teams with David Long to give the Wolverines an excellent duo.

Ron Johnson, defensive end, Camden (N.J.): Highly-productive prep player (196 tackles and 13 sacks in two high school seasons) but has yet to make an impact at Michigan.

Carlo Kemp, defensive end, Boulder (Colo.) Fairview: Appeared in 13 games a year ago and is expected to compete for more time this fall.

Devin Bush

Devin Bush, linebacker, Hollywood (Fla.) Flanagan: He has developed into one of the best players on the team, a Butkus Award finalist and should be on the list for other awards and accolades this season.

Chris Evans, running back, Indianapolis (Ind.) Ben Davis: Made a quick impact as a true freshman and has rushed for 1,299 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons. He teams with Karan Higdon to give the Wolverines a good 1-2 punch in the backfield.

Nick Eubanks, tight end, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) American Heritage: Something of a surprise commit in high school, Eubanks has two receptions for 61 yards in his Michigan career, but has greater upside than that because of his size and athletic tools.

Eddie McDoom, wide receiver, Winter Garden (Fla.) West Orange: Speedy slot who played immediately as a true freshman. Has 203 career receiving yards and 140 rushing.

Khaleke Hudson

Khaleke Hudson, viper, McKeesport (Pa.): Started 12 games at viper as a sophomore last season and made 83 tackles (18.5 for loss) with 11 pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He returns this season as one of the key pieces to the Michigan defense.

Elysee Mbem-Bosse, linebacker, Ellenwood (Ga.) Cedar Grove: Appeared in 11 games as a Wolverine before leaving the team last November. He made threatening tweets against Jim Harbaugh in April and University of Michigan Police investigated. He apologized via Twitter and the case was closed in May.

Nate Johnson, wide receiver, Thompson’s Station (Tenn.) Independence: Johnson played as a true freshman at receiver, catching one pass in 2016. He moved to cornerback as a sophomore but was dismissed from the team following a domestic assault and battery charge. He is now at Arizona Western.

Quinn Nordin, kicker, Rockford: Considered the nation’s top kicking recruit by some services, Nordin is 19-for-24 on field goals in his Michigan career, including a career long of 55 yards. He has a strong leg and can be a weapon for the Wolverines if he can continue to improve his consistency. He made his last five field goals attempted last fall.

Joshua Uche, defensive end, Miami (Fla.) Columbus: Uche has seen the field in 14 career games, making six tackles, but his speed has some program insiders optimistic he can make more of an impact this season.

Kingston Davis, fullback, Prattville (Ala.): Left Michigan after playing in one game as a true freshman. Went to Independence Community College, where he rushed for 37 yards, and is now at UAB.

Stephen Spanellis, guard, Baltimore (Md.) Gilman: Has played center, guard and tackle while contributing on special teams. Was the recipient of the top GPA team award last season.

Josh Metellus, safety, Hollywood (Fla.) Flanagan: Played in several games as a true freshman, but broke out last season as the full-time starter, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

Sean McKeon, tight end, Dudley (Mass.) Shepherd Hill: McKeon was not one of the higher-ranked recruits in the class, but made an impact last fall, catching 31 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns, good enough to earn him honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

Michael Dwumfour, defensive tackle, Wayne (N.J.) DePaul Catholic: A Penn State flip during recruiting, Dwumfour has appeared in 10 games as a Wolverine, making six tackles (two for loss). He is expected to be one of the players replacing Maurice Hurst this fall after turning in a good spring.

Devin Gil, safety, Hollywood (Fla.) Flanagan: Hybrid player in high school who has been a linebacker at Michigan. Has appeared in 13 games and has been a special teams contributor.

Brad Hawkins, safety, Camden (N.J.): Hawkins was committed to Michigan out of Camden, but went to one year of prep school at Suffield Academy before making his Wolverines debut last fall. A wide receiver recruit, his size and strength give him an opportunity to push for more time this season after getting acclimated a year ago.


Final team rankings: Fifth nationally, second in Big Ten

The 2017 class boasted a pair of five-star prospects (Donovan Peoples-Jones and Aubrey Solomon) and 19 four-stars. While these young Wolverines are just getting rolling in their college careers, many have already flashed impressive ability.

Donovan Peoples-Jones, wide receiver, Detroit Cass Tech: Expectations were very high for this five-star recruit. He finished the season with 22 receptions for 277 yards and 57 rushing yards. He also had 320 yards and one touchdown as a punt returner. He is expected to make a big jump forward as a sophomore.

Aubrey Solomon

Aubrey Solomon, defensive tackle, Leesburg (Ga.) Lee County: Flashed the ability that made him a highly-decorated recruit, appearing in all 13 games as a true freshman and making 18 tackles (two for loss). He started against Wisconsin, recording four tackles in that game. He is expected to make even more of an impact this season.

Cesar Ruiz, center, Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy: Ruiz was pegged as the Michigan center of the future during the recruiting process, but ended up starting at guard for six games as a true freshman. He can still play either position, but should be the team’s starting center this year, and is on track to live up to his recruiting rankings.

Luiji Vilain, defensive end, Alexandria (Va.) Episcopal: Vilain redshirted last season, but there was good buzz about him during camp. He missed time during the spring with an injury, however.

Drew Singleton, linebacker, Paramus (N.J.) Catholic: After tearing his ACL as a senior in high school, Singleton redshirted last season, but is fully healthy and expected to be one of the young players in competition at linebacker this fall.

Ambry Thomas, cornerback, Detroit King: A top 100 high school recruit, Thomas saw time at cornerback and special teams as a true freshman. Wolverine fans can expect to see him more this season, and he is considered one of the fastest, more athletically-gifted players in the secondary.

Jordan Anthony, linebacker, Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy: Another young linebacker who will have an opportunity to compete for the spot vacated by Mike McCray’s graduation or provide further depth at another spot.

Chuck Filiaga, offensive tackle, Aledo (Texas): A big addition to this recruiting class during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, there was some buzz that Filaga would compete for time last season, but he ended up redshirting. He has worked at both guard and tackle and is in the mix this year.

Tarik Black

Tarik Black, wide receiver, Cheshire (Conn.) Academy: Black got off to a fast start in his true freshman season, catching 11 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in three games before a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. Now healthy, he looked like a potential star in the spring and teams with Donovan Peoples-Jones to give the Wolverines a dynamic pair of outside receivers.

Dylan McCaffrey, quarterback, Littleton (Colo.) Valor Christian: Redshirted last season. He is not expected to compete for the starting job this fall with Brandon Peters and Shea Patterson there, but long-term, McCaffrey and true freshman Joe Milton will be in competition for that job at some point.

Nico Collins, wide receiver, Pinson (Ala.) Clay-Chalkville: Collins got time in several games, catching one pass as a true freshman. He was injured in the spring but gives the Wolverines another big, talented body at the position.

Oliver Martin, wide receiver, Iowa City West: Even though there was good buzz about him during camp last year, Martin ended up redshirting. That buzz grew this spring. Wolverine fans should expect to see Martin in the slot this fall and he may even push for a starting job.

Josh Ross, linebacker, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s: Ross made some big hits on special teams as a true freshman and got his feet wet some on defense. His workload is expected to increase this season.

James Hudson, offensive tackle, Toledo Central Catholic: Recruited as a defensive lineman, Hudson has moved to offensive tackle, where he played well as a high school senior and has a bright future at Michigan. He may even be a candidate to get into the starting mix this season.

Deron Irving-Bey, defensive end, Flint Southwestern Academy: When Irving-Bey was being recruited, the book on him was, he was a talented player who may need some time to reach his full potential. After redshirting last season, this is the year we will first get to see how close he is to capitalizing on his athletic gifts.

Jaylen Kelly-Powell

Jaylen Kelly-Powell, safety, Detroit Cass Tech: Michigan was able to have him practice at several spots last year. He saw meaningful snaps in several games and gives Michigan depth at safety and cornerback going into this season.

Corey Malone-Hatcher, defensive end, St. Joseph: Retired from football due to injury before last season.

O’Maury Samuels, running back, Los Lunas (N.M.): Carried the ball eight times for 13 yards as a true freshman. He dealt with some injuries in the spring, so it is still to be determined how much of a contributor he will be this fall.

Donovan Jeter, defensive end, Beaver Falls (Pa.): Jeter may have played some last fall, but was lost for the season with an injury. He is back at full strength and should see the field this year.

JaRaymond Hall, offensive tackle, Oak Park: Enrolled early and went through spring practice, but did not play during the fall. He transferred to Central Michigan following the season.

Benjamin St-Juste, cornerback, Montreal (QC) Cegep Du Vieux: Enrolled early and flashed his talent, intercepting a pass in the spring game. Then he played, mostly on special teams, as a true freshman, but gives the Wolverines size and depth at cornerback going into this season.

Andrew Stueber, offensive tackle, Darien (Conn.): After redshirting last fall, Stueber rotated at tackle in the spring and is one of the names in the mix for an open competition at that position, as well as guard.

J’Marick Woods, safety, Florence (Ala.): Lettered as a true freshman and ended his first season strong, making five tackles against Ohio State and then starting in the Outback Bowl. Consensus among program insiders is that his future is bright.

Joel Honigford, offensive tackle, Sugarcreek (Ohio) Garaway: Honigford did not play as a true freshman and after playing tackle in high school, appears to be competing more at guard now.

Phil Paea, defensive tackle, Berrien Springs: Paea was recruited with the possibility of him playing either side of the ball. That versatility already has shown up as he worked as a defensive tackle last fall, but is now with the guards.

Kwity Paye, defensive end, Warwick (R.I.) Bishop Hendricken: Paye played as a true freshman, recording five tackles and a sack. Now bigger and stronger, there is a lot of talk around the program that he is ready to take a massive step forward this year.

Ben Mason, fullback, Newtown (Conn.) Sandy Hook: Mason appeared in every game, starting one, as a true freshman, and earned the team’s toughest player award. He missed part of the spring with an injury, but will be fully healthy for fall camp.

Kurt Taylor, running back, Covington (Ga.) Grayson: Taylor did not see the field as a true freshman.

Brad Robbins, punter, Westerville (Ohio) South: Honorable mention All-Big Ten selection after averaging 40.4 yards per punt last season.