Tom Brady was in Houston preparing for the Super Bowl. Migos and Jim Leyland were nowhere to be found. And then, over an hour before the ceremony even started, Michigan’s top remaining target picked the Wolverines on national television and faxed his letter of intent to Ann Arbor.
So while this year’s “Signing of the Stars” might have had less star power and suspense than its predecessor, National Signing Day — a day that has become like a holiday for those who follow recruiting — was no less sweet for the Michigan football team as it closed out its best class since recruiting rankings began.
Unlike last year’s class, which also ranked among the best in the nation, this year’s class came together much more smoothly for Michigan.
In 2016, the Wolverines received a flurry of commitments in the final few weeks of January before sweating out the signatures of Rashan Gary, Devin Asiasi and Lavert Hill. This year, though, Michigan’s class was nearly full before National Signing Day. But once again, Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the coaching staff waited on pins and needles for the decisions of several recruits.
The day got off to a slow start for Michigan. In the span of fewer than 30 minutes, two of the remaining four targets went off the board when Mekhi Becton and Willie Gay picked Louisville and Mississippi State, respectively.
The Wolverines, though, would close strong. At 10:30, Aubrey Solomon pulled out a white Michigan hat on ESPN, punter Brad Robbins committed during the event, and later in the afternoon, Nico Collins tweeted out a video of his commitment to the Wolverines.
Solomon’s final decision ended what had been a long-winding recruitment. The five-star defensive tackle from Leesburg, Ga., originally committed to Michigan during an unofficial visit in the summer. But he decommitted shortly after, citing a recruiting letter in which his name was misspelled. In the world of college football, recommitments very rarely occur, and it appeared Solomon would end up with a different team when he named Alabama as his leader in early January.
Yet the Wolverines came out on the right side of Solomon’s second choice of the process, beating out the likes of the Crimson Tide, Southern California and Georgia. In doing so, they added a crucial piece to next year’s team, as Michigan lacks depth on the interior of the defensive line, and perhaps earned a symbolic victory as well. Solomon’s high school, Lee County High School, was the site of a satellite camp hosted by Harbaugh and the coaching staff in June. Solomon was also heavily pursued by Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, two coaches who spoke out early and often against satellite camps.
“For two years, (Solomon’s) been one of the top guys on the board,” said defensive coordinator Don Brown on ESPNU. “It will be nice to see him and Rashan (Gary) play next to each other at times, so we’re very, very excited about it.
“We think we’ve addressed a number of needs, but it was a nice gift today, that’s for sure. … We’re excited, there’s no question … he’s going to be a great compliment in our four-down system.”
Collins was a victory for Michigan’s staff in the same vein. The 6-foot-5 receiver, ranked as a four-star recruit, is from Pinson, Ala. and was considering Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana State in addition to the Wolverines. Michigan rarely signs recruits from the deep south that are wanted by teams like the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs, yet on Wednesday, they got two that rank amongst the nation’s best.
Many of Michigan’s mid-year enrollees spoke Wednesday about recognizing the opportunity they have to play early in their careers, especially considering the Wolverines graduated most of last year’s team that finished just short of making the College Football Playoff. They will be significantly younger next year, and there will be growing pains along the way as inexperienced players find their way onto the depth chart.
But as Brown pointed out Wednesday, those inexperienced players are talented. And after Michigan put the finishing touches on its bumper crop of a recruiting class, Brown’s assertion only rings truer.