ANN ARBOR, Mich. — One look at the ranking of the 2018 recruiting class didn’t force Kyle Kalis to cower. Instead, the former Michigan offensive lineman put an uncharacteristically low rating into perspective.
“Recruiting classes alone don’t win you games,” Kalis told Land of 10. “ Developing players, and getting guys with the right mindset that want to win do. I’m sure Coach [Jim] Harbaugh accomplished that goal with this class even if it’s not the No. 1 recruiting class.”
The Wolverines dropped from No. 5 in the 247Sports composite 2017 team rankings to No. 21 in the 2018 ratings, but former Michigan players such as Kalis aren’t down on the class.
Seven 4-star players are in the 2018 freshman class, including Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 6 strongside defensive end on the 247Sports composite, and Mustapha Muhammad, the No. 6 tight end.
“No need to hit the panic button,” said Chris Howard, a former Michigan running back. “It’s still a sound class that can provide some great depth and could really turn out to be astounding class that helps Michigan in the future.”
An 8-5 record — a mediocre year by Michigan standards — with the stumble at the end of the season and the lack of a fluid offense could have dissuaded some recruits from joining the Wolverines.
Furthermore, recruiting as a whole is sometimes a more competitive endeavor than playing football.
“It’s not the end of the world,” said Jack Miller, a center at Michigan from 2011 to 2014. “ From a reputation standpoint, it might hurt. There hasn’t been a lot of positive momentum Michigan can hang its hat on.
“But worse things have happened.”
Changing the narrative
Michigan recruited well in 2016 and 2017 because it won games and was able to establish momentum and a positive narrative. Harbaugh’s hire created a buzz about the program. So did back-to-back 10-win seasons and a New Year’s Six bowl berth in 2016.
But the way 2017 season unfolded and the final product on the field didn’t help Michigan’s recruiting efforts. It didn’t help the perception of the program, either.
Even the pursuit of Chris Partridge by other college football programs might have worked against Michigan — Partridge is regarded as one of college football’s top recruiters and it could have factored into the recruiting slide.
“Obviously, [Michigan] missed on some key guys on the offensive side of the ball, especially at tackle, but it’s going to be hard to get those guys if you don’t change the narrative and rumors of coaches leaving,” Howard said.
Development is vital
Michigan also finished with a smaller recruiting class than in previous seasons, signing 19 players. Michigan has averaged classes of about 22 players since 2009, including 30 players in its 2017 class.
Recruiting, however, isn’t just about what prospects a team is able to land.
Recruiting is the start of a development period that lasts a minimum of two years. That, Miller said, gets lost in the hype of recruiting.
“It’s very rare that guys are ready to play their freshman year, unless you look at a national championship team that can find guys who can come in and contribute right away,” Miller said. “At Michigan, it takes time to learn such a sophisticated game plan and plenty of time to develop and get in there and play. It’s a long haul for these guys.”
Michigan’s former players maintain faith in Harbaugh’s recruiting skills.
“People get caught up on how high you finish in polls and lists,” Kalis said. “The average person doesn’t factor in the intangibles of what makes a football player great. If you work hard, and love the game, that’s what Coach Harbaugh recruits. And that’s why he is successful.”