ANN ARBOR, Mich. – As he sat on the stage at Michigan’s “Signing of the Stars,” Graham Glasgow gave Michigan’s incoming recruits some sage advice:
“Coach (Tim) Drevno and Coach (Jim) Harbaugh are always right.”
Glasgow, a former Michigan center who recently completed his first season with the NFL’s Detroit Lions, spoke from experience.
So did JaRaymond Hall, who is just learning as much.
“All coaches are always right,” said the offensive tackle, who is about to complete his first month of college at Michigan. “You don’t want to go against what the coach says. Because that’s the coach.”
That’s a reality at Michigan. Moments after the end of “Signing with the Stars,” the second showcase of Michigan’s incoming recruits, the incoming class saw the reality not just of the day but of the next few months. Maybe even the next four years.
For some of Michigan’s incoming recruits, this might be the best day of the year. The recruiting cycle is over. The National Letter of Intent is signed, faxed and delivered.
And the lovefest was in full force Tuesday at the Crisler Center.
Michigan’s incoming freshmen rubbed elbows and got praise from former Michigan stars, such as LaMarr Woodley and Devin Funchess. They had a few laughs courtesy of the Sklar brothers, comedians who emceed the event and provided comic relief by lampooning Grayson Allen, the Duke basketball team’s serial tripper, and the officiating crew in the Michigan-Ohio State game. (Because nobody can throw a party at Michigan without mentioning that now.)
They basked in the glow of Michigan’s biggest headliner, third-year head coach Jim Harbaugh.
But as soon as the house lights went up, the fun was officially over. The hard work begins. There’s another side to the glitz of National Signing Day: all the days that come after it.
Eleven of Michigan’s incoming freshman class of 2017 have already found that out, as early enrollees. At first glance, the program has fostered a certain family environment, one that drew cornerback Benjamin St.-Juste from Montreal.
“That feeling of family at Michigan, that’s the reason I’m here right now,” St.-Juste said. “That’s the reason I’m not at other schools. You want to wake up in the morning and feel comfortable where you’re at, and Michigan offered that.”
But after waking up, there’s a schedule for Michigan’s freshmen, one that begins with a mandatory breakfast before classes, an afternoon workout session after lunch, then a film session and time at the academic center.
“It’s just about being independent and doing everything on your own,” Mason said. “You have to be accountable and get to all your classes on time. You have to do your own laundry, make sure you wake up on time. Just little things like that. Being independent, that’s one of the biggest adjustments.”
The grunt work brings a sharp contrast to the flashiness of National Signing Day.
“A lot of people think of football and they just see what happens on Saturdays and Sundays,” Mason said. “The work that goes into it is so much more than that. The countless hours that you put in studying film of opposing teams, looking at ways to improve your own game. Even working in the weight room. Not a lot of people understand what it takes to play football.”
Some of Mason’s classmates have already learned that lesson, including Ambry Thomas, a 4-star running back from Detroit’s King High School.
To enroll early at Michigan, Thomas had to take three online courses in his final semester at King, and thought about abandoning that route. But he reminded himself that it was a means to an end that carried some relief.
“People don’t know that it (recruiting) is a stressful process, as far as the coaches, as far as the fans, as far as everything,” Thomas said. “It’s really stressful. You still have to maintain school work and you still have to keep in mind that you have a football season. I’m just happy it’s over. I’m finally focusing on the task at hand.”
Braylon Edwards, one of Tuesday’s presenters, offered a holistic perspective, telling this year’s crop of Michigan recruits to take advantage of everything the university had to offer, from academics to the people around them. His advice was almost out of an admissions brochure. But what about when someone is overwhelmed?
“Stop and think about it,” Edwards said. “Ask yourself, ‘Why am I here? What you have to do in that situation, help people reaffirm their purpose? You chose to do this. Why did you choose to do this? What made you do this? What was your initial thought? I want to do this because …
“Once you can get back to that original message, it will always help you. Those times do happen. They are tough. We all hit that point freshman year. Remember what got you there. What got you through the SAT, winter conditioning, early enrollment. Go back to that initial message.”
And listen to your coaches. This isn’t going to be easy. And, sometimes, it won’t be as fun.