Last weekend in Ann Arbor, while Michigan lost to Wisconsin, 49-11, on the worst night of the Jim Harbaugh era, a group of commits and targets watched on from a nearby sports bar.
But while the Wolverines’ loss sparked despair in a fanbase starving for success, the group of recruits took to Twitter to express their support for Harbaugh and his program. Four-star receiver Xavier Worthy tweeted a “Go Blue,” five-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy told Michigan fans to take “three deep breaths” and three-star offensive lineman Tristan Bounds said he “can’t wait to play for (Harbaugh).”
“We’re all super confident in the guys that are there now and the coaching staff,” Bounds told The Daily this week. “And that’s why we’ve all been committed and continue to stay committed to this staff and the program.
“Just because we know what they’re capable of and a couple of wins and losses here and there aren’t defining of what a staff does or the way that they take care of their players. And we all know that coach Harbaugh is who we want at the helm of our team and we’re excited to get there and contribute.”
His statement exudes a confidence that, at first, seems unfounded. Michigan is 1-3, mired in a stunning three-game losing streak. But while Bounds acknowledges the inherent frustration of watching the team lose, the on-field struggles haven’t translated to the recruiting trail.
The only 2021 target to decommit — three-star receiver Markus Allen — did so in September before the Big Ten season started. When four-star defensive tackle Rayshaun Benny chose Michigan State after the Spartans beat Michigan, he said, “My mind was already made (before) that point.” The only commit to publicly acknowledge the Wolverines’ struggles have affected him is three-star receiver Andrel Anthony.
“That did open a lot of eyes,” Anthony told the Detroit Free Press. “I can tell you that. It opened eyes across the United States.”
For the majority of Michigan’s class, though, their eyes have remained fixated on the Wolverines. Even 2022 five-star cornerbacks Domani Jackson and Will Johnson — both of whom are uncommitted and visited last weekend — tweeted out a Michigan graphic.
The twist on this lost season is what it signifies to these recruits about future playing time. Amid their struggles, the Wolverines have entrusted freshmen and sophomores on both sides of the ball with a significant snap share.
“It’s great to see guys get on the field early as a recruit because it shows me that I’ll have the chance to compete to play early,” Bounds said.
And as the current team struggles, it only opens up more of those opportunities. Michigan’s 2021 class is ranked ninth nationally, even with its top target, four-star running back Donovan Edwards — who was in Ann Arbor last weekend — still uncommitted. If either of Jackson or Johnson commit, it’s hard to imagine the 2022 class won’t follow with another top-10 ranking.
So this weekend, the commits’ message to the uncommitted targets was to ignore Michigan’s slow start. The more important area for recruits to focus on, Bounds said, is everything the Wolverines can still offer them.
“While the record may show that we’re having a tough go of it and there’s definitely been a couple losses this year, I don’t think that should be a turnoff to anyone,” Bounds said. “And I think just the environment that’s being cultivated at Michigan and the feeling among the ‘21 class is great, so I don’t see any reason why Michigan isn’t a super desirable place.”
It’s easy, though, for a commit to say that. Their goal is to sell the school to those who are undecided.
The real evidence will lie in the coming weeks and months, starting with early signing day on Dec. 16, when Edwards plans to make his decision. But, at the very least, the Wolverines’ commits aren’t fazed by a tough month. Despite Michigan’s 11-9 record over its last 20 games, Bounds and his classmates are confident the program is on an upward trend with its incoming classes.
And if the Wolverines can sell that message, maybe they will be.
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