- Erin Kirkland/Daily
By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 2, 2012
A kid named Pee-Wee is the next big thing on the Michigan defensive line.
Ondre “Pee-Wee” Pipkins, a defensive tackle from Kansas City, joined Willie Henry to form Michigan’s two-man interior lineman haul on National Signing Day. The additions were crucial for a defensive line that graduated three senior starters this month.
But the nickname is quite the misnomer. Pee-Wee Pipkins is a monster — a Scout.com five-star who stands at 6-foot-3, 325 pounds.
The nickname came from “Bébé’s Kids,” a 1992 animated comedy film.
“That baby reminds me of Ondre,” Pipkins’ father joked, referencing the wide-eyed, diaper-wearing Pee-Wee on the screen.
It fit. Back then, rooted in Saginaw, Mich., Pipkins was the little brother with a big heart. And just like the kid on the screen, he had a bigger strut and swagger.
“I thought that was really neat, I thought they made a movie about me,” Pipkins admitted on Thursday. “They really didn’t. I misunderstood a couple things.”
After moving to Atlanta from Saginaw, Pipkins returned to Rochester Hills, Mich. to play his freshman season of football. The next year, he moved to Kansas City for his final three years of high school.
Pipkins always wanted to get back to Michigan.
A year ago, Michigan recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski took a trip to Park Hill High School to meet Pipkins. It didn’t take much work to get Pipkins on board.
“From that point on, I felt like Michigan was where I was going to end up,” Pipkins said.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison called Pipkins a gentle giant with a “bubbly personality.” But only off the field.
“He’s a very happy person,” Mattison said.
He paused and grinned.
“And then you see the film and, well, he’s not a happy person on the film.”
Pipkins and Michigan defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery met for the first time at the BBQ at the Big House recruiting event in late July. Montgomery sat with the recruit and his father all afternoon at Michigan Stadium.
Both sides came away impressed, perhaps more than impressed — it was like a look in the mirror.
“Great personality, I love (Pipkins),” Montgomery said laughing. “He reminds me of myself — always smiling, always got jokes, always keeps the room up. He seems like he’s going to be a leader-type kid.”
“We’re kind of like the same person in different scenarios,” Pipkins added. “(Montgomery) moved around a lot as a kid, I moved around a lot. He came from a similar home to what I did.”
Later in the fall, Montgomery travelled to Kansas City to pay Pipkins an in-home visit. The reason for the visit: Pipkins’ grades were slipping. Senioritis had caught up to him.
“He came in when my grades weren’t straight, and it was like a verbal whooping,” Pipkins said with a laugh. “(He told me,) ‘If you want to be successful, you have to learn how to be consistent.’ ”
While the Pipkins-Michigan relationship has been nurtured and grown for over a year, the commitment of consensus three-star Henry was nothing short of a surprise. An off-the-radar recruit from Glenville High School in Cleveland — an Ohio State pipeline school — Henry took a visit to Ann Arbor last weekend and added a Michigan offer to his list, which primarily consisted of MAC programs.
The lack of interest from other big-time programs didn’t faze the Wolverines, who received his commitment on Jan. 31 and accepted his Letter of Intent the following morning.
“(Henry’s) film jumped off the screen to us,” Mattison said. “We said, ‘Hey, this is a guy we want.’ ”
“You put the film on, the film does not lie — the kid can play the game,” Montgomery added.
Mattison didn’t notice the three-star ranking. All he heard was Henry’s reputation — what Henry’s coach said, what his math teacher said, what his parents said.
“I don’t care about stars,” Mattison said. “I really don’t. There are some five stars out there that I hope we play against.”
The coaches made it clear that the Pipkins-Henry duo could make an immediate impact on defense. With the departure of seniors Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and Will Heininger, the defensive trenches are relatively bare.
Pipkins was quick to insert Henry and himself right into the center of the solution. They can be the successors to junior Will Campbell and redshirt sophomore Quinton Washington, who will plug the defensive front next season.
“We can be unstoppable,” Pipkins said. “We can be like Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. We can be like Quinton Washington and Big Will Campbell.”
Montgomery and Mattison both emphasized their desire to rotate up to eight or nine players across the defensive line — two players per position — in 2012.