Google Maps calculates the quickest route between Cass Tech High School in Detroit to Michigan Stadium as 43 miles. That seems long.
Safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell announced his commitment to Michigan last November. Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones followed suit a month later. When the pair from Cass Tech enrolled early for classes in January, it continued the resurgence of a pipeline that has been very good to Michigan the past nine years.
Peoples-Jones is the No. 1-ranked wide receiver and No. 12 overall prospect in the country by the 247Sports composite ratings system for the class of 2017. Kelly-Powell is the No. 5 player coming out of the state of Michigan.
Michigan has signed 13 players from Cass Tech since 2008. The Wolverines missed out on Cass recruits in 2014 and 2015, most famously when safety Damon Webb (2014), running back Mike Weber (2015) and defensive end Joshua Alabi (2015) chose Ohio State. But Peoples-Jones and Kelly-Powell now join offensive lineman Michael Onwenu (2016) on the Wolverines roster.
The Technicians are coached by Michigan alum Thomas Wilcher, but there’s more to the connection than just a former Wolverine great leading the program.
“I’ve been asked that question a couple of times, and I really don’t know,” said Peoples-Jones about the Cass Tech-Michigan relationship. “I know at Cass Tech we have some great coaches there, and our coaches just emphasize do what’s best for you. It just so happens to be that a lot of great players that have come out of Cass, they figured that Michigan was the best place for them.”
Cass Tech pipeline
The Detroit powerhouse high school program has been a good recruiting spot for Michigan. Here are the 13 Cass Tech players signed by Michigan since 2008:
|Year||Cass Tech players signed by Michigan|
|2008||DB Boubacar Cissoko|
|2009||DT William Campbell, ATH Thomas Gordon, RB Teric Jones|
|2011||CB Delonte Hollowell|
|2012||LB Royce Jenkins-Stone, CB Terry Richardson|
|2013||OL David Dawson, DB Delano Hill, DB Jourdan Lewis|
|2016||OL Michael Onwenu|
|2017||S Jaylen Kelly-Powell, WR Donovan Peoples-Jones|
Detroit is a hotbed of recruiting for schools throughout the Midwest, and its importance continues to grow nationally. Cass Tech has been the hottest of those recruiting sources. The Technicians had 16 players sign letters of intent last week, including nine with Division I FBS programs, after finishing the season as undefeated Division I state champions. They also finished at No. 15 in the final USA Today Super 25 poll.
Former Cass defensive back Jourdan Lewis, linebacker Delano Hill and offensive lineman David Dawson were all seniors on last season’s Michigan team. Sophomore-to-be LaVert Hill (younger brother to Delano) went to Cass Tech before transferring to Martin Luther King for his senior year. Lewis was a first-team consensus All-American and leaves as the program’s all-time leader in pass breakups with 45, topping the 43 career PBUs by Leon Hall (2003-06).
“It’s kind of a tradition,” Kelly-Powell said. “We talked about it a lot, especially Terry Richardson and Jourdan Lewis. Terry looks out for me no matter what. He texted me congratulations. Jourdan Lewis is always coaching me up, Delano Hill is coaching me up. LaVert, being one of my teammates, even though he’s older than me, I played with him a lot and he coaches me up a lot as well.”
‘I look at those guys as brothers’
Wilcher played running back for Bo Schembechler from 1983-86. He was an NCAA champion as a hurdler in track and field. He’s been the head coach at Cass Tech since 1997, winning three state titles and leading the team to seven straight state semifinal appearances.
“I don’t think there’s a coach who does a better job than him,” said Tom Lemming, editor of Prep Football Magazine and co-host of Lemming Report on CBS Sports Network. “He’s a big reason why Detroit has a lot of players. If you look, Cass Tech has a good number of them. He develops them.
” There’s always a lot of good athletes in Detroit, in Chicago, in Indianapolis and towns like that, but a lot of programs just don’t have the money or the coaches that are that interested in developing the ballplayers. Wilcher has proven time and time again that he’s done a great job. I give him a lot of credit.”
Part of that development has been giving his players the confidence and ability to make their own decisions. It just so happens that many of them have decided to go to Michigan.
“We never talked about recruitment. I look at those guys as my older brothers,” Peoples-Jones said. “They never tried to recruit me. They just told me about the program, told what I should do and what I should look out for.”