West Bloomfield — Makari Paige and Cornell Wheeler were taking advantage of West Bloomfield’s new weight room Monday afternoon, pumping some iron prior to one of the biggest days of their lives — Early Signing Day on Wednesday.
Paige and Wheeler were two of the top defensive players in the state and will be teammates at Michigan next year.
Paige, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound safety, is ranked No. 2 on The Detroit News Blue Chip list. He got in on 94 tackles while forcing three fumbles, intercepting two passes and breaking up seven to help West Bloomfield win the Oakland Activities Association Red Division title.
Paige and Wheeler combined to help West Bloomfield to a 30-8 record during the last three years, including a Division 1 state championship game appearance at Ford Field in 2017, followed by consecutive regional final appearances the last two seasons.
Paige was set to play in the World Bowl in Mexico City this weekend, but the game was canceled, meaning he could be working out at Michigan instead, as he is enrolling early.
Paige and Wheeler are determined to do their part to help the Wolverines end their slide against Ohio State and play for a Big Ten championship in Indianapolis.
“I’m excited to get on campus and get to work, make this process faster,” Paige said. “It will be good to get the recruiting process done with and make it official (on Early Signing Day) and just get ready to work.
“I was on campus this past weekend, took my official visit, watched the basketball game (overtime loss to Oregon). I was with Ambry Thomas, Vincent Gray, Lavert Hill and Brad Hawkins. They told me to come in ready to work and be serious about everything.
“I plan to be there Saturday. I decided to enroll early so I could get a head start on everything, be able to graduate in three years — all that sounded good to me.”
It must have sounded good to Paige since he took a visit to Penn State in mid-June with Lance Dixon, his former West Bloomfield teammate, as his host. He committed to Michigan in July.
West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy thinks Paige will fit right in with the Wolverines.
“He’s a freak, a kid who could play third level in the secondary or second level as an outside backer,” Bellamy said. “Our defense is much like Michigan’s; we run a 4-2-5 so we’re playing with five defensive backs and he’s a guy who can play multiple positions in the secondary.
“He’s 6-3, 190 and he played more physical this year. Last year it was more play center field for us. Senior year we have him playing all over the field.
“He was on Maliq Carr (Oak Park) 85 percent of the time and he shut him down. We then played Southfield A&T a couple of weeks later and we put him on Christian Fitzpatrick and he shut him down. So we took two big physical guys and made sure he took them out of the game. We were just fortunate to have a guy like him.”
Carr is set to sign with Purdue and Fitzpatrick with Louisville.
Wheeler grew up a huge Michigan fan. He was offered by Michigan his sophomore year and since then never had a doubt on where he was going.
“Every Saturday I watched Michigan play,” Wheeler said. “Then I got an offer from them my sophomore year and it was a special moment. I knew Michigan was a special place for me and I’ve kept in contact with Don Brown, stayed in touch with him pretty much every day.”
Bellamy is proud of how Wheeler prepares himself.
“He loves the game of football,” Bellamy said. “His approach every day is that he’s trying to win — that particular snap or that particular day he’s trying to get better, and you don’t often see that in high school kids. He’s relentless; even days when he’s tired and sore he gets the most out of it and that’s what’s going to help get him on the field early in college.”
Bellamy says Wheeler is “arguably the best defensive player in the state.”
Bellamy added: “He’s a better athlete (than last season), more explosive; the weight room has become his best friend.
Wheeler said he has formed a bond with fellow 2020 UM recruits like Port Huron Northern defensive end Braiden McGregor, Belleville defensive back Andre Seldon and Illinois receiver A.J. Henning.
Wheeler is also close to Paige, his current and future teammate.
Said Wheeler, “We hang out outside of football, outside of school, so we’re real close,” Wheeler said.