Jim Harbaugh didn’t have much time to put his first Michigan recruiting class together when he was hired as head coach on Dec. 30, 2014. Several players who had committed to the previous regime of Brady Hoke had changed their minds as the 2014 season plunged to a 5-7 finish with no bowl game.
Harbaugh ended up with a 14-player class to add to the roster Hoke had in place. That roster had talent but Hoke was unable to produce enough victories, especially against rivals Michigan State and Ohio State.
Fast forward two years. That first class will be juniors on the 2017 team, a team that has to replace a senior class that included 17 starters last season.
What does that class look like now? And how does it fit into the 2017 season?
QB: Alex Malzone, Zach Gentry; RB: Karan Higdon; TE: Tyrone Wheatley Jr.; WR: Brian Cole, Grant Perry; OL: Grant Newsome, Jon Runyan Jr., Nolan Ulizio; DL: Shelton Johnson, Reuben Jones; CB: Keith Washington; S: Tyree Kinnel; K: Andrew David
Yes. Cole was the highest-rated player in the class, per the 247Sports composite rankings, but he left the program after one season. He played at East Mississippi Community College last year and recently signed a letter of intent with Mississippi State. David redshirted his first season and has transferred to TCU. Perry isn’t completely gone but he is on indefinite suspension while he faces four charges related to an alleged sexual assault from an incident in East Lansing last October.
Newsome started the first five games last season at left tackle but suffered a season-ending knee injury against Wisconsin. His status for spring practice is unknown but his healthy return would bode well for the Wolverines, who lose three seniors from last season’s starting unit.
Nobody else in this class has starting experience, but vacancies at running back and secondary will provide Higdon, Kinnel and Washington opportunities. Higdon rushed for 422 yards and six touchdowns last season on 79 carries, while Kinnel played on defense and special teams.
Anyone switch positions?
Gentry was a 4-star recruit who had originally committed to Texas as a quarterback before signing with Harbaugh and Michigan. He and his 6-foot-7, 244-pound frame are now playing tight end. He made his debut at the position last season, playing in six games, and will have a chance to make a bigger impact this season.
Speaking of bigger impacts …
Gentry and Wheatley Jr. will have big roles to play this season. Jake Butt has graduated and, if the reports of Devin Asiasi transferring are correct, there will be a hole to fill behind expected starter Ian Bunting.
Jones was Harbaugh’s first commit after taking over, changing his mind after having committed to Nebraska. All four starters from last season’s defensive line were seniors, so Jones and Johnson will be in the mix to replace Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Taco Charlton and Matt Godin.
Runyan Jr. and Ulizio will have the same opportunities on the offensive line.
Malzone is in a tough spot. Wilton Speight is the starter and John O’Korn is the primary backup. Malzone will be competing with Brandon Peters and incoming freshman Dylan McCaffrey for the No. 3 spot.