Each month, Michigan recruiting writer Kevin Goheen will look at the Wolverines’ to-do list. This outlook focuses on three concerns for the program’s recruiting efforts in the weeks ahead. In this edition, we look at what Michigan has to do as the final month of the 2018 recruiting cycle approaches.
Michigan has a better gauge on its 2018 class after signing 16 players during the December early period. The next five weeks will be about not just filling out the class but adding some top-100 ranked talent to it. The Wolverines’ 2018 class is ranked No. 14 nationally by the 247Sports composite, but there are four targets ranked among the best players in the country who remain unsigned and who are very much in play for Michigan.
Here are three things Michigan needs to accomplish this month:
Get Otis Reese on campus
Michigan received a commitment from Otis Reese on June 18, 2016. Defensive coordinator Don Brown has visions of the 6-foot-4, 206-pound defensive back from Leesburg, Ga., as a viper in his aggressive scheme. Brown and linebackers coach Chris Partridge have been to southwest Georgia on multiple occasions to see Reese, but the 4-star prospect hasn’t been to Ann Arbor since the spring game last April.
Instead, Reese has taken multiple trips to Athens, Ga., to watch and visit the Georgia Bulldogs. The home-state school has a lot of pull right now given its recent SEC Championship victory against Auburn and appearance in the College Football Playoff. The closer proximity helps UGA’s cause as well, but Michigan is not out of this battle. The Wolverines need to get Reese back to campus after the current dead period (when coaches and school officials can’t have contact with unsigned recruits) ends on Jan. 12.
Partridge was the lead recruiter last year when Michigan rebuilt a punctured relationship with defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, who was Reese’s teammate at Lee County High School, and sign him. The relationship with Reese is a good one, but it’s one that requires Reese visiting Ann Arbor if Michigan hopes to get his signed letter of intent.
Build on December momentum
The Wolverines had a lot of positives in December, most importantly the signing of those 16 players. They picked up a flip from defensive end Julius Welschof of Germany, a Georgia Tech commit who came to the staff’s attention last summer during a camp on campus. They also got a commitment from wide receiver Ronnie Bell, who had been signed to play basketball at Missouri State only to change his mind about his college athletic path.
Some of the momentum Michigan saw was more subtle. It continues to be in good position to land tackles Nicholas Petit-Frere and Jarrett Patterson, as well as defensive tackle Tyler Friday and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Petite-Frere is a 5-star prospect from Tampa, Fla., who visited Michigan on Nov. 25 and got to watch the Wolverines practice last week for the Outback Bowl at his high school, Berkeley Prep. He is ranked as the No. 17 overall prospect in the country and the No. 3 tackle. Patterson, a 4-star prospect from Mission Viejo, Calif., visited Michigan on Dec. 9 and will choose between the Wolverines and UCLA, with Notre Dame also showing interest in the former Arizona State commit.
Friday and Chase visited Michigan on Nov. 25. The Wolverines have long been considered favorites to land Friday, a 4-star prospect from Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey, but he’s also visited Ohio State and Alabama. The trip to Alabama was a late addition to Friday’s recruiting plans and may be Michigan’s biggest cause for concern. Still, Partridge’s connections in New Jersey and a good relationship between the Wolverines and Friday put them in solid contention.
Chase was committed to Florida before the school parted ways with Jim McElwain. He’s a 4-star prospect from the New Orleans area who is also considering LSU and TCU. Passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton made an in-home visit to Chase a few days after the official visit to Michigan.
Who’s staying, who’s going?
There is annual attrition from rosters as players who have used up their eligibility move on, whether that means getting a chance to play in the NFL, in another professional league, or starting real life. There are always more players leaving the program for personal reasons, most often dealing with playing time. Michigan already has seen some of this happen with the announced transfers of quarterbacks Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone, and wide receivers Maurice Ways and Drake Harris. All will be able to play immediately elsewhere as graduate transfers. Freshman offensive lineman Ja’Raymond Hall is transferring to Central Michigan.
That still leaves Michigan responsible for 87 scholarships in 2018 at this point. The NCAA limit is 85.
How many more players won’t be returning to Michigan next season? Defensive end Chase Winovich could declare for the NFL draft instead of using his final year of eligibility. There are seven other players who have fifth-year eligibility available: fullback Jared Wangler, tight end Ian Bunting, tackle Juwann Bushell-Beatty, defensive linemen Bryan Mone and Lawrence Marshall, linebacker Noah Furbush and cornerback Brandon Watson.
Not everyone can return, even if Michigan doesn’t plan on not signing another player to the 2018 class. That certainly isn’t the case. Before January ends, the Wolverines have some roster reshaping to do.