Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the Michigan football coaching staff are near the end of a month-long satellite camp tour that has taken them across the United States and to international locales such as Australia and American Samoa.
The presumable cause: to help secure the best recruiting class possible.
Harbaugh and company are looking to build upon a 2016 recruiting class that finished fifth in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite Ranking.
Currently, the Wolverines have the fourth-ranked 2017 class with the potential to rise even higher.
It all starts with quarterback commit Dylan McCaffrey. The son of former NFL player Ed and younger brother of 2015 Heisman runner-up Christian, Dylan is a highly-touted prospect in his own right. A 6-foot-5, right-handed passer that plays at perennial powerhouse Valor Christian in Colorado, McCaffrey is ranked as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the nation and No. 22 player of any position, according to the 247Sports Composite Ranking.
“(McCaffrey) is a really good prospect,” said Scout.com Midwest Football Recruiting Manager Allen Trieu. “He has great intangibles, he’s accurate and I think, if you watch him in pressure situations, like the state title game he played in, you really see those intangibles. He’s a leader, he’s cool under pressure and really exhibits the characteristics you’d expect from a kid who grew up around sports his whole life. I’d say his arm strength is an area he can continue to improve in, but he’s also a good athlete who can run.”
McCaffrey committed to Michigan earlier this winter, less than two weeks after National Signing Day, which, according to Trieu, has helped Michigan out in more ways than one.
“I thought he was a huge commitment,” Trieu said. “Not only because he's a great player in his own right, but because he (also) helps with recruiting other players.”
Thunder, lightning and a cloud of dust
O’Maury Samuels is another similarly-touted Michigan commit from out west.
Samuels, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound running back from New Mexico, also holds the distinction of being perhaps the most athletic high school football player in the country. His Nike SPARQ rating, derived from a series of tests that assess one’s speed, power, agility, recovery and quickness, is the highest in the country at 138.30.
“Samuels is a great athlete,” Trieu said. “He’s a home run hitter, which is something Michigan hasn’t had a ton of in the backfield of late. Great job by the staff getting in on him early, but now they’re fighting for him a bit.”
Samuels is ranked as a four-star and the No. 20 running back prospect in the nation.
While Samuels and his laser-timed 4.45 40-yard dash bring speed to the class, the Wolverines also have two more running back commits that bring different skill sets to the table.
And for A.J. Dillon, a 6-foot-1, 230 lb., three-star prospect from Massachusetts, that set is a unique combination of power and athleticism.
His athleticism is apparent from his SPARQ score of 127.53 — which includes a 4.53 40-yard dash — while his bruising style of running can be seen in his highlight tape.
And then there’s Kurt Taylor, a three-star from Georgia.
“Dillon is a big, physical back who has shown that, despite his size, he has speed too,” Trieu said. “Taylor is sort of in between (Samuels and Dillon) style-wise. I think, if you’re going to take three backs, they should all be different from one another and that’s what you have here, three guys who bring three very different styles.”
The big uglies
The Wolverines appear to have recruited the offensive line with similar goals as they have the running backs.
They currently have three offensive linemen committed and look poised to add more to offset the losses the team will suffer after this season. Michigan will graduate fifth-year senior guards Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden and fifth-year senior tackle Erik Magnuson from its starting lineup alone, and junior center Mason Cole becomes draft eligible as well.
Currently in Michigan’s recruiting class are JaRaymond Hall, Andrew Stueber and Joel Honigford. Hall, a four-star from Michigan, is the higher-ranked prospect of the three and appears to have the requisite length and athleticism to stick at left or right tackle.
Though Hall is ranked higher than his counterparts, both Stueber and Honigford have been heavily-recruited prospects throughout this cycle.
Stueber has garnered more than a dozen offers despite being from Connecticut, a state that typically isn’t highly scouted and doesn’t put out many Division 1-caliber recruits. According to 247Sports, he holds offers from Duke, North Carolina, Penn State and Tennessee, among others. Stueber, who weighs in at 6-foot-6, 285 pounds, is also a tackle.
Honigford — like his two classmates — is a tackle, standing at 6-foot-6, 249 pounds. Like Stueber, Honigford holds more offers than his ranking would suggest, having received more than two dozen offers already, including tenders from Michigan State, Oklahoma and Auburn. The three-star is from Ohio and committed to Michigan in a statement released on Twitter on Wednesday.
Michigan holds commitments from two athletes in Chase Lasater and Ben Mason who could end up as blockers in the Michigan offense (as fullbacks) — though the former appears more likely to do so than the other.
“Lasater is a physical fullback who can carry the ball,” Trieu said. “I think Michigan has shown with Sione Houma that they’ll use that position too so (Lasater’s) an asset. Mason is a bigger kid who can play linebacker or defensive line. We’ll see how he continues to grow and what his body develops like will determine where he will play.”
Dipping down south
Considering their geographic locations, it would be silly to say that Michigan’s much-talked about satellite camps haven’t affected three-star safety commit J’Marick Woods and four-star defensive tackle commit Aubrey Solomon. But while the camps did indirectly help Michigan with both — perhaps more so with Solomon, whose high school hosted Michigan’s staff for a camp — they weren’t the main reason why the staff has been able to secure verbal commitments from the two over SEC schools, according to Trieu.
Woods, an Alabama native, committed to Michigan shortly after visiting Ann Arbor in March, while Solomon committed to the staff during an unofficial visit earlier in June.
“I think those commitments show how satellite camps combine with recruiting efforts (from) the rest of the year and allow the staff to put (emphasis) on an area, which Michigan has done with the southeast,” Trieu said. “Those kids committed on campus in Ann Arbor, but that may not have happened had Michigan not spent time down there or shown that recruiting there is important. So I think it all plays a part, but the satellite camps didn’t directly affect these particular commitments.”
And though the staff’s recruiting efforts down south have gotten more publicity, its efforts up north have been just as strong — particularly within Canada and their home state.
The Wolverines have commitments from two Canadians in Benjamin St. Juste and Luiji Vilain, both of whom play defense.
St. Juste, a rangy, 6-foot-3 defensive back, committed to Michigan more than a year ago but has stayed steady in his pledge to the Wolverines, even after success at camps this offseason earned him a bump in the rankings and a spot at The Opening, Nike’s prestigious training camp.
“St. Juste has gone out and done really well at some camps,” Trieu said. “I think, even with that, he’s still a relative unknown because he’s only been seen at a handful of events. That said, he shows the cover skills at that size to project to corner first. He’s gotten a little stronger and you can see the confidence he has now after hanging with the best. I think we’ll find out even more about him at The Opening.”
Vilain, a native of Canada who moved to Virginia in high school, is a four-star defensive end and the third highest-ranked player in Michigan’s class thus far after McCaffrey and Solomon.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines already have five in-state players committed after signing just three last year. Michigan holds verbal commitments from the aforementioned Hall, four-star linebacker Josh Ross, four-star defensive end Corey Malone-Hatcher, three-star defensive tackle Phillip Paea and three-star tight end Carter Dunaway, and the Wolverines sit in a good position with a few more prospects from the mitten state.
“After not getting as many in-state guys last year, I think it’s been more of an emphasis this year and it’s paying off,” Trieu said. “The in-state class they have so far is very good, and it should only get better. I think they’ll get Jaylen Kelly-Powell and they’re certainly in position to be in on Donovan Peoples-Jones and Ambry Thomas down the stretch, so you add one or both of them to what you already have and it’s a great in-state class. Then you still have Jordan Reid and Deron Irving-Bey out there too, so they have a chance to close strong in-state.”
Finishing things out
Though Michigan’s class is already among the nation’s best, it is only expected to get better down the stretch. The Wolverines sit at or near the top with many of their top targets, most of whom are expected to decide later in the process.
“Kelly-Powell, James Hudson, some of the southern linemen like Toryque Bateman, Kai-Leon Herbert and T.J. Slaton too,” Trieu said. “I don’t know that they’ll get all of those southern linemen, but they’ll get a couple. Nico Collins and Peoples-Jones are two top receivers on the board and Michigan is in good shape with both of them too. Drew Singleton is a kid we’ve always felt would end up at Michigan. Those are some of the guys I’d feel best about, but Michigan is in good position for more guys than that too.
“I think you’d have to give (the staff) an ‘A’ (for what they’ve done so far). They’re hard workers, they’re innovative and the class they signed last year, especially landing Rashan Gary, was a great class and one that they had to really battle for. You look at how they closed, and how they pulled some kids like Devin Asiasi from farther away late in the game, and I thought it was an outstanding job.”