Wojo: Weber learns lesson in vicious game of recruiting

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News

It's an ugly game and Urban Meyer plays it better than anyone. So when he overplays it, or plays it without remorse, it's hardly a shock – unless you feel you got played.

Mike Weber realizes it more than he did a few days ago, which is unfortunate. Weber is hurt that Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton left for the Chicago Bears barely 24 hours after Weber committed to the Buckeyes. Detroit Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher is angry about the deception, and he should be.

This is the nasty game, the one that helps Meyer win national titles, the one Michigan and others must find a way to handle. It's distressing for Weber, but I'll add this: If he picked Ohio State over Michigan primarily because of the position coach, he didn't think it through. Players should commit to a head coach, a program and a school. If Weber was so torn, as he indicated Wednesday, he should've delayed signing his letter of intent, as some top recruits do.

After Drayton left, Weber sent a tweet saying "I'm hurt as hell," but hasn't indicated what he'll do next. Meyer could release Weber from his commitment and it would be the honorable thing to do, but recruiting has so little to do with honor, it's laughable. Meyer said Friday he'd spoken to Weber but offered little else.

The temptation is to call Meyer sleazy for duping a kid, when he seemingly had to know Drayton was leaving. And it would be easy to portray Weber as another unwitting pawn in a ruthless business. But let's be fair -- Weber also pitted rivals against each other during his recruitment as one of the top running backs in the country, and he's not the first to feel burned. Ohio State isn't the lone deceiver either, with position coaching changes the past couple days at UCLA, Notre Dame and Florida.

Cautionary tale

Weber's situation should serve as another cautionary tale for kids who get their heads swelled by flattery, and actually start to believe the nonsense that a recruit's best interest supersedes a program's best interest. Weber learned a painful lesson, but I think his best option at this point is to stick with Ohio State. His feelings are hurt but his career isn't. He should excel there, if he doesn't get sidetracked, and it's not his obligation to launch a referendum about the inequities of recruiting.

No, that's up to others, if they're deeply bothered by Meyer's methods. That's up to Detroit high school coaches and especially Wilcher, who said he felt disrespected and misled by Ohio State. Wilcher is a former Michigan running back but I don't think this is about school loyalties. Cass Tech star Damon Webb Jr. chose Ohio State last year and Joshua Alabi joined Weber this year.

While Meyer won a big prize in Weber, he may have lost important support in Detroit. This is just getting started, with Jim Harbaugh warming up at Michigan and Mark Dantonio heated up at Michigan State. If Harbaugh didn't completely recall how recruiting battles were waged after four years in the NFL, this was the perfect face-slapper. And you can bet he and Dantonio have the competitive fire to counter.

In fact, Harbaugh already has. He flipped six recruits from other programs in the past few weeks, including Florida running back Karan Higdon, who was one of Iowa's prized prospects. Higdon reportedly said yes to Harbaugh moments before Weber said no, and feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Playing the game

Weber said Higdon's commitment was a factor, because he assumed Michigan was only signing one running back. Did Harbaugh get the sense he was losing Weber, so he did the right thing for his program and grabbed a replacement? Or was Weber bothered by the increased competition and made a rash decision in response?

Harbaugh will play the game, although four years at Stanford probably taught him certain boundaries. I imagine Meyer found different boundaries in his six years at Florida in the SEC. But the era of modest resistance from Michigan has to be over, and there are signs it might be.

In a bold move, Harbaugh reportedly hired 34-year-old Chris Partridge as his recruiting operations coordinator. Partridge was Jabrill Peppers' coach at New Jersey's Paramus Catholic High School, which also has a top 2016 prospect in defensive tackle Rashan Gary. Harbaugh has been given substantial resources for his staff and support system, and the guess is, it'll bear more recruiting fruit next year. In the meantime, it's fair to expect an immediate impact from Harbaugh on the field.

This was the first skirmish, and it showed how determined Meyer is to hold his place. Weber was used as a political recruiting football, committing to Michigan under Brady Hoke, flipping to Ohio State when Hoke's status grew tenuous, then nearly flipping back. When he signed with the Buckeyes, it was celebrated as another victory in the rivalry, and Meyer smugly noted, "We do keep score against the rival in everything we do."

It's a vicious game and that's how it's played, and overplayed. Everyone keeps score, and you can bet there are scores to settle.