Land of 10 has embarked on a series of “Next Generation” articles, a project that aims to bring our readers greater insight into the Class of 2018 signees. Land of 10 Michigan reporters Rachel Lenzi and Kevin Goheen will introduce the Michigan fan base to the newest Wolverines. In this edition, we feature tackle Jalen Mayfield.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Jalen Mayfield always has been a fast learner.
“He crawled for a couple weeks and just took off walking at nine months. That was it,” said Heather Mayfield, his mother.
Don’t be surprised if Mayfield starts the season opener for Michigan at Notre Dame.
Mason Cole, the Arizona Cardinals’ third-round draft pick in April, is the only freshman offensive lineman to start a season opener for Michigan. But both tackle spots are open, and the 6-foot-6 Mayfield wants one of them. He already has bulked up from 275 to 290 pounds.
“I fully expect to play,” Mayfield said. “I hope nobody beats me out.”
Mayfield’s high school football career started with the junior varsity team at Grand Rapids Catholic Central in his freshman season, but that assignment didn’t last long into the season.
One Wednesday he was told he was practicing with the varsity. Thursday would bring either another varsity practice or the JV game. But which?
“I didn’t know if I was practicing or playing in the [JV] game so I walked into the coach’s office and asked, ‘Am I going to play today?’ He goes, ‘Why would you play today? You practiced with us yesterday.’
“I guess I’m playing. I started on Friday but had no clue on calls or anything. Luckily we had a senior quarterback who helped the whole game and the rest of the year.”
GRCC coach Todd Kolster saw the potential. And when Mayfield was a 225-pound sophomore and recruiters wondered if he’d ever be big enough to play tackle in college, Kolster would reassure them.
“I’m like, ‘Jeezle Pete’s, how do you not think that kid’s going to be big enough?’ ” Kolster said. “I told them by the time he gets out of here in high school, he’s probably going to be 290. He’s going to be 310, 315, 320 playing athletically at a good weight.”
With Mayfield playing tackle and defensive end, GRCC won consecutive state titles his junior and senior seasons. He was named to the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News all-state Dream Teams as a senior. The 247Sports composite rated him a 4-star prospect, and ranked him the No. 16 tackle in the country and the No. 4 overall player in Michigan.
“He was dominant — physically dominant, of course, but I think he was that way the year before [as a junior],” Kolster said. “This year, he was just so much better understanding the game, understanding concepts we were trying to do. … When players understand that, that’s when they can become great.”
Change of mind, never of heart
The maize and blue runs thick for the Mayfields. Brian Mayfield, Jalen’s father, grew up in Grand Rapids as a big Michigan fan. He passed that devotion of the Wolverines down to his son.
Brian was at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 24, 1994. That was the day Colorado wide receiver Michael Westbrook caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart with no time left on the clock to beat the Wolverines, 27-26.
“That was the sickest feeling,” Brian said.
Jalen remains stung by the 2015 loss to Michigan State when the Spartans returned Blake O’Neill’s fumbled punt attempt for the game-winning touchdown as time expired.
Jalen would play NCAA Football on PlayStation as Michigan. A Tate Forcier fan, he would be the Michigan quarterback throwing to Roy Roundtree. Jabrill Peppers and Charles Woodson are two of his other favorites.
But Jalen Mayfield didn’t commit to Michigan first. He chose Minnesota. Michigan had yet to offer him, and the Gophers had a new staff with former Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck in charge and Ed Warinner as offensive line coach.
Jalen committed to Minnesota on Feb. 18, 2017, but a couple of weeks later he got a phone call. It was then-Michigan offensive line coach Tim Drevno.
“I was kind of surprised,” Jalen said. “I always talked about going to Michigan but it never sunk in until I got that first call. He said, ‘This is Tim Drevno from the University of Michigan,’ and my eyes got wide open. My mom had gone into the store and I was in the car alone. I wasn’t sure this was happening.”
Jalen and his family took an unofficial visit to Michigan for its pro day. They were talking with Jim Harbaugh outside his office when Harbaugh asked a question.
Heather Mayfield recalled it this way. “He just said, ‘Has anyone [from Michigan] offered you?’ ”
No one had. Harbaugh’s next words might have come out as nonchalant, but they nearly buckled Heather.
“ ‘Oh. You’re offered,’ ” Heather remembered. “I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I had to be cool and calm but I kind of hit [Brian]. I shed a tear and then acted like I’d been through this before. I knew that was [Jalen’s] dream, so that was pretty cool.”
Jalen called Fleck and Warinner and told them he had changed his mind.
On his 17th birthday, May 23, he committed to Michigan.
“It was awkward because those guys are great people, too, and they want to do the best for their program but I wanted to do what was best for me,” Jalen said about the conversation.
Warinner will end up being his position coach after all. Drevno and Michigan parted ways this offseason, and Warinner was hired to replace him.
“It was kind of mind-boggling knowing Drevno wasn’t going to be there but as soon as they announced [Warinner] as the O-line coach it sat with me that I’m still really comfortable here,” Jalen said. “Because P.J. and those guys had him over there, that was one of the reasons I was committed to Minnesota. To have him at Michigan helped me transition the best possible way.”
Jalen Mayfield was one of three Michigan signees invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January. Kolster was there, too.
Kolster said he thought center Justin Dedich, who is now at Southern California, was the best offensive lineman he saw that week.
“Then I thought Jalen was the next-best offensive lineman there,” Kolster said. “Obviously I’m biased, but I do think I look at things objectively when I look at the skill sets of the kids, and I look at the ability to do things, the ability to improve and the upside of things. I didn’t see anyone on the offensive line that had his upside, that had his ability.”
Mayfield rotated at right tackle in the first half for the West, then moved to left tackle in the second half and played every snap against players such as Xavier Thomas and Micah Parsons. Thomas played at IMG Academy and is now at Clemson after being the No. 1-ranked defensive end in the country. Parsons was ranked No. 2 and is in the mix to be a starting outside linebacker at Penn State this fall.
“Those are kids that he consistently blocked and blocked well,” Kolster said.
Mayfield left a good impression on San Antonio MacArthur coach Ben Cook, who coached the West offensive line. Cook told Rivals.com that Mayfield didn’t hesitate to say yes when asked to switch sides at halftime.
“I think that gives you a view of what his upside is going to be at the college level,” Cook said. “I think he actually did better on the left side and he looked very comfortable there. He played a clean game over on that left side, so I think he could really do it all.”
The Michigan High School Athletic Association has seven divisions for football. GRCC plays in in the mid-sized Division 4. Practicing and playing with and against elite athletes at the bowl game proved educational. As fast as they were, Mayfield found that he was athletic and quick enough to keep up.
“I loved it,” Mayfield said. “Going against guys like Xavier Thomas and Micah Parsons, all those guys give you a lot of problems. Their strength and speed can wear on you over time. The way I play, trying to be aggressive all the time while being quick and athletic doing it is what helped me in the end. I just kept going after them every play. If I got beat one play, just bounce back and get them the next play.”
Brian Mayfield lauds his son’s mental approach to the game. He isn’t speaking as just a biased father.
Brian is a former tackle himself, at Ferris State, and now is a GRCC assistant coach.
“Jalen studies his opponent,” Brian said. “He sees them and what they can do. That’s another strength of his. He doesn’t like to take a rest. Every day, he’s going to want to go against [Michigan defensive ends] Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich and those guys to get better.”
Will Jalen be able to progress quickly enough to win a tackle spot for the opener? Redshirting him as a freshman would help his long-term development, Brian Mayfield and Kolster said.
But Michigan’s starting tackle positions are up for grabs. Grant Newsome has been attempting to come back from a severe knee injury suffered in 2016 but doctors have not yet cleared him to return to full participation. Redshirt freshmen Chuck Filiaga, James Hudson and Andrew Stueber rotated with fifth-year senior Juwann Bushell-Beatty and redshirt junior Jon Runyan during spring practice competition but nothing has been settled.
The competition will continue into preseason practices.
“He’s really smart. He’s going to pick things up quickly,” Kolster said. “He won’t be sitting in a meeting, and when they ask a question, he won’t be going like, ‘Uhh? I don’t know.’ He’s going to know. I think that gets overlooked in the recruiting process and in the evaluation process, and I think that’s why you have so many busts.
“The nice thing with Jalen is, he’s not a bust. That’s one guarantee I have. Is he going to be as great as everybody hopes? I don’t know. I think he will be, but the one guarantee I do have is there is no way he will not play for the University of Michigan unless there is something drastic that happens. He’s too smart, he’s too talented and he’s got the mentality and understanding.”
No matter what happens with the opener, Todd Kolster doesn’t just see Jalen Mayfield being a success at Michigan.
“Barring anything crazy,” Kolster said, “if he puts his mind to it, I don’t think there’s anything standing in his way of being an NFL draft pick.”