The Opening is the most prestigious offseason recruiting event for high school football players. Nike’s annual gathering of top players from across the country at its headquarters in Oregon for the finals competition is a who’s who of that class.
The 2016 finals proved to be a foundation of Michigan’s 2017 freshman class.
Ten members of the eventual 30-player class were grouped together on Team HyperCool for the 7-on-7 competition. Some already were committed to the Wolverines, while some developed a better feel for the program they eventually would choose.
“We all got around each other for that full week together, and that’s kind of where our friendships took off and we got to know each other,” said wide receiver Oliver Martin, one of the players who hadn’t made a decision at the time. “It was a great experience.”
Ten members of Michigan’s 30-player 2017 recruiting class were teammates last summer at Nike’s The Opening finals 7-on-7 tournament. The friendships formed then helped shape the class.
|Jordan Anthony||LB||Silver Spring, Md.|
|Nico Collins||WR||Birmingham, Ala.|
|Oliver Martin||WR||Coralville, Iowa|
|Dylan McCaffrey||QB||Castle Rock, Colo.|
|Donovan Peoples-Jones||WR||Southfield, Mich.|
|Josh Ross||LB||Southfield, Mich.|
|O’Maury Samuels||RB||Los Lunas, N.M.|
|Drew Singleton||LB||Paramus, N.J.|
|Benjamin St-Juste||CB||Rosemere, Quebec|
Quarterback Dylan McCaffrey got the chance to throw passes to future teammates Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Martin, and hand off the ball to running back O’Maury Samuels. Cornerbacks Ambry Thomas and Benjamin St-Juste were covering receivers, with linebackers Josh Ross, Drew Singleton and Jordan Anthony joining them.
Safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell and center Cesar Ruiz were also at The Opening but not on Team HyperCool.
“It definitely helped my decision because it was the first time I was seeing a lot of those guys,” said Anthony, another player uncommitted at the time. “You hear about them on Twitter and stuff like that, but seeing how they actually played and how they operate the things they do and getting to meet them was a great experience.”
HyperCool comes to Ann Arbor
Nike typically will group players who already have committed to one school or who are garnering a lot of interest from the same school. While Team HyperCool was filled with players with Michigan ties, Team Alpha Pro was set up with players tied to Ohio State.
Martin said he and Peoples-Jones roomed together during the week, and he formed friendships with Collins, McCaffrey and others. That comfort level played a factor in Martin’s decision to choose Michigan over Michigan State and others. Martin and McCaffrey are planning to get together in June for some training sessions, even though Martin lives near Iowa City and McCaffrey is from the Denver area.
Peoples-Jones and Collins had to deal with minor injuries that forced them out of the 7-on-7 competition. Thomas was asked to play wide receiver to compensate, but that situation also allowed Martin and McCaffrey to build better chemistry on the field.
“Oliver was one of the legit receivers we had on our team, and I was trying to recruit him at the same time,” said McCaffrey, who committed to Michigan in February 2016. “That helped us out as I was trying to bond with him. Then at the Army All-American game, it was me, him and [offensive lineman] Chuck [Filiaga] as the only three Michigan kids on the West side. All the others were on the East side, so that helped a lot also because we spent practice and pretty much that whole week together.”
Peoples-Jones, St-Juste and Thomas were among the 11 early enrollees in the class, giving them a head start on their freshman seasons. The rest of the freshmen are due to arrive on campus by June 23, at which time they’ll be able to renew friendships and build on them.
“It’s a huge class, but I think we’ve all bonded really well, especially the times when all of us have gotten out there,” McCaffrey said. “The guys that graduated early have all loved it so far, and they’ve bonded even more than us. They’re willing to accept us all when we get there.
“This class has gone a long ways in terms of that, and I’m looking forward to it even more.”