Otis Reese fulfilled the fears of Michigan fans when he picked up and put on the red hat emblazoned with the black “G” of Georgia on National Signing Day. Reese had proclaimed his commitment to sign with the Wolverines on June 18, 2016, but the 4-star linebacker prospect changed his mind and decided to stay close to home.
That recruiting loss won’t change the Wolverines’ philosophy of blanketing the Peach State, but it is a reminder of how hard it will be to keep getting top players from there.
Georgia is among the most talent-laden areas of the country, and it’s an area Michigan has made a priority in recruitment under coach Jim Harbaugh. The top 43 players in the 247Sports composite rankings of 2019 Georgia prospects are rated 4- or 5-star recruits. Three of the five players Michigan has commitments from in the class of 2019 are from the Peach State: 5-star defensive end Christopher Hinton, 4-star tackle Trente Jones and 3-star linebacker Charles Thomas. Thomas plays at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., but is from Fairburn, Ga.
The Wolverines haven’t been discouraged by Reese’s flip.
“I would say that the Otis Reese situation happens at every program,” said Kenyatta Watson Sr., Southeast recruiting coordinator for the Under Armour All-America Game. “I know a lot of Michigan fans are scared of coming back to Georgia because of that but it was just the year before that Aubrey Solomon was a top player in the country and Michigan came down here and stole him from Georgia, stole him from the SEC, period. You win some, you lose some, but to me, Michigan is a great place. Quality education and I know several players who played there.”
More ups than downs in Georgia
It was just last year that Michigan signed Solomon, then the No. 23-ranked player in the country, No. 2 in Georgia and No. 2 defensive tackle in the country from the same Lee County High School program that produced Reese. Michigan also signed running back Kurt Taylor Jr. from Grayson High School in the 2017 class, then added three more Georgia players in the 2018 class: cornerback Myles Sims, running back Christian Turner and athlete Michael Barrett. Sims (Westlake) and Turner (Buford) are from the Atlanta area, while Barrett was the Class 7A Offensive Player of the Year while playing quarterback at Valdosta Lowndes High School.
Like the rest of the 2018 class, they are good players who have been overshadowed by talk of players such as Reese the Wolverines didn’t sign.
Hinton is from Norcross and plays at Greater Atlanta Christian, along with younger brother Myles, who is a 5-star tackle and a Michigan target in the 2020 class. Hinton is the No. 4-ranked player from Georgia in 2019 and is the son of former NFL offensive lineman Chris Hinton, who played 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings. He was a NFL contemporary of Harbaugh and is in the Colts’ Ring of Honor.
Thomas visited Michigan last summer for a camp and became the first player to commit to the Wolverines for the 2019 class.
Jones is the most recent to commit. He visited on Feb. 18 and announced his choice a few days later. He attends Grayson, the same school Taylor Jr. played at his senior season, and is one of a plethora of Grayson players who already have garnered Division I scholarship offers.
“Every coach that has come through here from the University of Michigan, you can tell that they’ve done their due diligence,” Grayson coach Christian Hunnicutt said. “They’ve done their backgrounds on all the players and they ask the questions that need to be asked in terms of what kind of football character do they have and what are the intangibles of each kid.
“They don’t get caught up on the measurables. They certainly do their due diligence.”
Among the many Division I prospects at Grayson is Kenyatta Watson II, the son of the Watson Sr. from Under Armour. The younger Watson is a 4-star safety who owns an offer from Michigan. He was scheduled to visit Ann Arbor the same weekend as Jones but a family situation arose and caused a postponement. Watson Sr. said they are hoping to come to Michigan for the Wolverines’ Junior Day on March 17.
Relationships are key
Safeties coach and recruiting coordinator Chris Partridge was the lead recruiter for Solomon as well as Reese. He’s the point man for many players in the state, but recent hire Al Washington has been a good addition to the staff, says Watson Sr., because of his recruiting abilities.
“If they’re down here, every year they should get two or three high-level guys out of Georgia,” Watson Sr. said. “They’re great people, and they’re genuine, first and foremost. I’ve been around them a lot. Al and I are good friends and I’ve been around Chris the last three years. They’re good people. They don’t come off as used car salesmen, just telling you what you want to hear. They’re recruiting for need and not just to fill roster spots.”
No one wants to lose a recruit, especially not one as talented as Reese who was verbally committed for so long, but those things happen every year across the country. The goal is to minimize those losses and accentuate the gains.
There is a lot to be gained recruiting in Georgia.