The name Brady Hoke isn’t uttered often in Ann Arbor. The former head coach of the Wolverines was known for his success off the field as a recruiter but struggled on the field, resulting in his firing in December 2014 after four seasons at the helm.
Hoke, now the associate head coach at Tennessee, was fired little more than a month before his final recruiting class’ National Signing Day on Feb. 4.
Between his firing on Dec. 2 and that National Signing Day, a new coach was hired in Jim Harbaugh, becoming official on Dec. 30.
That left the new head man just a month and some change to fill out that 2015 recruiting class that Hoke had started.
Multiple de-commitments upon Hoke’s firing nearly left it in shambles, but the class has a few players who have made some noise. And some more that we expect to.
Here’s a look at some of the players who believed in Harbaugh and stayed with the Wolverines — and are seeing the results.
Safety Tyree Kinnel
Tyree Kinnel is a player we spoke about to look out for in 2017 as a potential game-changer for the Wolverines defensively.
He happens to be a part of this small, 14-man 2015 class that only managed to rank No. 37 overall in the country, per the 247Sports composite rankings.
Tyree Kinnel almost got his hand on another punt pic.twitter.com/GWJ28xx2Vn
— Dustin Johnston (@DJPhotoVideo) October 22, 2016
Kinnel’s presence was felt on special teams in the 2016 season, having blocked a punt against Colorado and coming close to multiple blocks on numerous occasions.
The junior is expected to start this season and has the best shot to be the Wolverines’ star player in the secondary because of his high combination of skill and in-game experience.
Offensive tackle Grant Newsome
The No. 1 thing people think of when they hear Grant Newsome’s name is his gruesome right knee injury during the 2016 season that nearly ended his career.
Luckily, it sounds like Newsome eventually will play, but we’re not entirely sure when that day will come. But Harbaugh already has announced that it won’t be during the 2017 season.
— Logan Lamorandier (@LLamorandier) October 1, 2016
But don’t let that distract you from what Newsome meant to the 2016 team, which saw a lot of struggles at left tackle after he was lost. The 6-foot-7 sophomore anchored the left side of the line, making a big impact in pass protection.
Michigan was granted his talents for a portion of the 2016 season, but its struggles without him showed how truly valuable he is.
Newsome has the highest NFL ceiling of any member of the 2015 class, and the Wolverines hope to see him return by the 2018 season.
Running back Karan Higdon
Karan Higdon, a small, 5-10 back, is known for his unexpected ability to break through tackles and run like a big back despite his size. He’s also fast; both skill sets are obvious in this clip.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 25, 2016
Higdon played a key role in Michigan’s RB-by-committee strategy in 2016, having 425 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns during his sophomore campaign.
He will battle Chris Evans and Ty Isaac for the starting position in 2016, assuming the committee strategy sees its end following the departure of running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley.
Tight end Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
Another name to watch for in 2017, Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is a big-body tight end and a top-notch blocker with room to improve on the receiving end.
He is nearly the same prospect he was from high school.
But this could be the year for Wheatley, who caught 1 touchdown in 2016 in minimal action.
The catch is, well, this catch below … if he can do this, they’re going to know his name in a lot of places besides Ann Arbor.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) October 26, 2016
Wheatley Jr. was a Harbaugh recruit, too, having been added to the class on National Signing Day following the hiring of his father as running backs coach.
Other notes on Michigan’s Class of 2015
- Two players have transferred: The top-ranked recruit, Brian Cole, was dismissed from the program and is now at Mississippi State. Kicker Andrew David transferred to TCU.
- The quarterback from the class — Alex Malzone — is close to last on the Wolverines depth chart, having at least three players ahead of him: Brandon Peters, Wilton Speight and John O’Korn.
- The two defensive end commitments have had no serious in-game action. Reuben Jones lined up at linebacker in the spring game, while the other, Shelton Johnson, was suspended for the 2016 season. His status for 2017 is unknown.
- Grant Perry has shined on the field, with 27 receptions for 311 yards in his first two seasons. But he missed three games last season after sexual assault allegations led to criminal charges in East Lansing. Perry since has returned to the team but not much is known whether he will play in 2017.