The Michigan football team was looking to do something no other team has done since rankings were introduced to the recruiting process: sign back-to-back No. 1 overall prospects. The Wolverines signed Rashan Gary — ranked No. 1 in 247Sports’ composite rankings of the 2016 class — and were looking to do the same this cycle with Najee Harris, a running back from California.
While Michigan was able to hold off a late surge from Clemson to sign Gary, it was unable to flip Harris, a longtime verbal commitment to Alabama, despite an aggressive year-long pursuit that included a satellite camp held in Antioch (Harris’s hometown), an appearance from Jim Harbaugh at Harris’s homecoming game and a late official visit to Ann Arbor in December.
It was a razor-close finish — the type to be expected for a player of Harris’s caliber — that will leave a sour taste in the Wolverines’ mouths, especially considering Harris or someone in his camp led them to believe that he would be a Wolverine at some point in the process, according to Steve Lorenz of Wolverine 247.
“Finding out as close as it sounds like it was, I believe (Harris) was just a conflicted kid who was going back and forth in his mind on what he was going to do,” Lorenz said. “He was not someone who was going to be influenced by Tua Tagovailoa, that type of stuff. It was all him, it was his call.”
Missing out on Harris leaves Michigan with two running backs in the class — verbal commits Kurt Taylor and O’Maury Samuels. A third running back, AJ Dillon, recently switched his commitment from the Wolverines to Boston College.
Lorenz believes that Michigan may choose to stand pat at the position, similar to how it has approached the tight end position. The Wolverines may add a running back if they find someone they believe to be good enough or flip a commitment from another school, but “they’re not going to reach just to fill that slot”, according to Lorenz.
“… You could see them maybe make a run at Chase Hayden, Arkansas commitment,” Lorenz said. “(Hayden’s) a player that (running backs coach) Tyrone Wheatley really, really liked. … There were rumors that they’re recruiting AJ Davis… I don’t think anything is going to happen there, though. Opinion wise, I would be interested to see if Michigan tried to recruit Khalan Laborn out of Virginia Beach. He’s committed to Florida State. I could see Michigan maybe saying, ‘Do you want to split carries with (Cam Akers) or be the guy in our class? ’… It’s recruiting. It’s wide-open as always. My hunch tells me they may try to stick with what they have right now, unless something falls into their lap.”
It wasn’t all bad news for Michigan over the weekend, though. Chuck Filiaga, a consensus four-star prospect and the No. 98 overall player in the nation, announced Saturday at the Army All-American Game that he would be joining the Wolverines. Filiaga is the sixth offensive lineman in Michigan’s class and the second highest-ranked after center Cesar Ruiz.
It was a big win on the trail for the Wolverines, who recently missed out on Isaiah Wilson, a five-star tackle who chose Georgia over Michigan. According to Lorenz, Michigan views Filiaga — along with Ruiz and Andrew Stueber — as potential contributors next season.
“(Filiaga) was silently committed to Michigan for a while,” Lorenz said. “… He’s a perfect fit for the program as a player and a person. … I’m interested to see where Michigan wants to put (Filiaga), because he played right tackle this week, which is not where he’s used to playing. He had some difficulty picking up the steps from a footwork standpoint because he’s only ever played left tackle. I think that’s why he didn’t start in the (Army All-American) game on Saturday.
“I think it’s a big win for Jim Harbaugh. Michigan hasn’t done well in Texas. I know he’s not a Texas native (Filiaga moved to Texas from California for his senior year) … (but) they had to beat out Big 12-type area programs to get him. It’s a big win for them in that regard, and it’s a huge win because, as big as a loss Harris is, offensive line was still their biggest need.”
Meanwhile, Michigan also received some news regarding the recruitment of Aubrey Solomon, a highly-touted defensive tackle from Leesburg, Ga.
Solomon committed to Michigan while in Ann Arbor on an unofficial visit over the summer, but decommitted just months later, citing a recruiting letter sent by Michigan that mispelled his name as the primary factor in his decision.
Considering prospects who decommit from a school rarely end up playing for that same team, most had written off the Wolverines. But Solomon’s recruitment took yet another interesting turn this week while he was in San Antonio participating in the Army All-American game.
“Aubrey’s recruitment is going to be the biggest mess — that’s my early prediction from here until Feb. 1,” Lorenz said. “ … 48 hours (ago) he says, ‘Fuck Michigan’ on Periscope and 48 hours later, if signing day was today, he would be signing with Michigan. That’s where this recruitment is at right now.
“Some people around him have questions about Alabama as a fit … Michigan has a lot of plusses in their favor.”
Lorenz says the Wolverines have done a great job with Solomon’s mom while also recruiting him harder than any other team. Michigan can also offer an opportunity that other schools may not: immediate playing time. Several interior defensive linemen will graduate this spring, leaving an opening for a freshman to make an immediate impact.
Solomon happens to be the type of recruit who could do so — Lorenz, who attended practices for the Army All-American game this past week, thought Solomon might have been the best defensive tackle there.
“One of the (Army All-American) coaches was saying that (Solomon’s) already a really great player, but he has the potential to take an even further step up and be a game-changing guy in the middle,” Lorenz said.
Solomon is expected to make a final decision sometime close to National Signing Day on Feb. 1, and with the turns seen so far, it wouldn’t be a surprise if there are a few more left in store. While Michigan may be in the lead now, it will have to compete with Alabama and Georgia for his signature.
Willie Gay, a linebacker from Starkville, Miss., is another top target for the Wolverines who spent the week in San Antonio, and the news surrounding his recruitment was slightly less positive for Michigan. Louisiana State lost a linebacker commitment, stepped up its pursuit of Gay and is now in strong contention for the four-star prospect.
“… To me, it’s a typical, classic, ‘Does he want to stay South or is he willing to go North?’ type battle,” Lorenz said. “(Gay) has members of his camp that are really high on (Michigan’s) program. The funny thing about him is he’s the biggest Jabrill Peppers fan, and I think that’s been a big thing for him.”
Michigan is hoping to add Gay to its class as the sole SAM linebacker — according to Lorenz, Jordan Anthony and Drew Singleton are slated to be WILL linebackers, while Josh Ross and Ben Mason will be MIKEs.
“Basically the way Michigan is angling it is, ‘We have an open SAM spot in this cycle. We need a guy to come in and play this spot. You could be that guy if you sign here, and you get to take the spot of the player you idolize,’ ” Lorenz said. “That’s a big deal to (Gay) — he thought it was awesome. He’s like, ‘Even when Michigan started recruiting me, I didn’t realize that this is how it would end up. That I would get the chance to replace the player I’ve always looked to as my favorite college football player.’ ”
Gay is expected to pick his final destination on National Signing Day, and Lorenz says that Michigan hopes to host Gay for an unofficial visit (he took his official visit for the Illinois game Oct. 22) sometime before his decision — most likely after his scheduled visit to LSU on Jan. 20.
The one factor that may help Michigan win this recruitment is head coach Jim Harbaugh, who is expected to focus his recruiting efforts on Gay after previously acting as the point man in Filiaga’s recruitment.
The finish to the Wolverines’ last recruiting cycle was hectic, to say the least, as their 2016 class underwent significant changes over the final stretch. While Michigan’s 2017 class should undergo less upheaval this time around, its pursuit of Solomon and Gay should go down to the wire and will provide two more opportunities for the team and its fans to experience the twists-and-turns of recruiting.
A previous version of this article stated, "Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh helped the Wolverines reel in an impressive trio of recruits for the 2017 class" in the caption of the photo which is incorrect. It is actually, "Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh helped the Wolverines reel in four-star offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga for the 2017 class."