As the Michigan football team adjusted to a new norm in early March, coach Jim Harbaugh and director of recruiting Matt Dudek found themselves working on a new playbook.
With the Wolverines’ spring practice slate wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harbaugh and Dudek turned their attention toward preventing Michigan from missing a beat on the recruiting trail. According to running backs coach and special teams coordinator Jay Harbaugh, that gameplan boiled down to four questions:
How long will this last? How is it going to impact recruiting? How are we going to separate ourselves, be different and do a great job? What’s the day-to-day plan?
So far, the playbook is paying dividends. Michigan has secured commitments from a trio of four-star prospects — linebackers Junior Colson and Jaydon Hood and defensive lineman Kechaun Bennett — in the last week alone, propelling its 2021 recruiting class to a No. 5 national ranking, per 247Sports.
“All of it goes back to the beginning of this whole deal,” Jay said in a teleconference Friday. “It all started with that and (Harbaugh and Dudek) presented an awesome vision and we all bought into it and really stuck to it day in and day out. All these coaches do such an awesome job connecting with players, with high school coaches, finding ways to keep things interesting.
“I think as time goes on, some of these players, they’re getting a little bit bored of being recruited the same way. They can’t go on campus (and) there are certain things they’re just not able to do, so the staffs that have been able to keep things engaging are feeling the benefits there.”
Even without a chance to host prospects in person, the Wolverines continue to round out their 2021 recruiting class. Michigan has received 14 pledges during the NCAA’s extended dead period, surpassing other Big Ten programs Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa in the national team rankings.
The pandemic has challenged the Wolverines, like every other team, to think outside the box. And in a time like this, the more creative a program is, the more successful its recruiting is.
“You’re finding all creative ways (to recruit),” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said in a teleconference on May 14. “Whether it’s virtual visits, whether it’s virtual meetings, FaceTimes, you’ve got to be as creative as possible to be able to showcase your university and program in these times when they currently can’t come visit.”
Added Jay: “(Recruits) are able to do the virtual tours, they’re able to see things on Google Maps and streetview. They’re able to reach out to players and talk about things, ‘Hey, what’s it like day to day?’ … You have to gather all the information you can, talk to all the people you need to from each school — the players, the staffs — you go on the virtual tour, you do virtual visits and all that stuff and you make the best decision you can.”
With visits currently paused through the end of July, Michigan stands to benefit from previously hosting a handful of top targets. But for the prospects yet to step foot on campus, especially those who would need a long-distance trip to make it to Ann Arbor, the pandemic has created additional obstacles.
In those cases, the Wolverines’ staff has leaned on its new recruiting playbook. And with recruiting still in a state of flux, Michigan’s answers to those four questions have made all the difference.
“These recruits, they’re going through this whole thing (and) like everyone else, they’re having to adapt,” Jay said. “I think that’s kind of the way recruiting is right now.”