Jim Harbaugh hasn’t spent much time in Ann Arbor since he became Michigan’s football coach, and neither have his assistants.
The new staff has been busy visiting and calling top high school recruits in the hope that several will sign a binding National Letter of Intent to the Wolverines on Wednesday, the first time athletes of the current high school senior class are allowed to do so.
For coaches and fans, National Signing Day is part of a nonstop arms race to secure future success on the gridiron. For the players, it’s the culmination of years of recruitment with a long-term commitment to a program.
“When I finally signed, it was like, ‘What a huge relief,’ ” recalled Brennen Beyer, a four-year letterman for Michigan at defensive end from 2011 to 2014. “It’d been a long process, been a really crazy process. It just felt so good to have set in stone where you’re going.”
The Wolverines’ 2015 class fell in size during the fall, when the status of former coach Brady Hoke became more uncertain. It’s a shakeup similar to what Beyer experienced when he was a recruit — he had verbally committed to Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines in 2010, but that staff was replaced by Brady Hoke and company by the time he signed in 2011.
Harbaugh reached out to verbal commits and other prospects the day he was introduced as Michigan’s coach, and Beyer hinted at what that conversation may have been like from the athletes’ end.
“The main question I had (to Hoke) was, ‘Hey, I like Michigan. I still want to go here. Do you guys still think I deserve my scholarship? Do you guys want me?’ ” Beyer said. “I wanted to make sure they did.”
Though he visited several other Midwest schools and received increased interest from them closer to National Signing Day, Beyer said it would have taken a lot to pull him away from Michigan.
“I think it’s good to see what else is out there, to have something to compare Michigan to — to see if it stands up to what I thought it was,” Beyer said. “Michigan had everything I wanted.
“Schools, more so than getting me to switch, were just saying, ‘Hey, are you 100 percent set on it? Is there any desire for you to want to come here? If anything changes, let us know.’ And then highlighting what they think makes their school better. There was some of that definitely toward signing day.”
Beyer didn’t sway from the Wolverines, but then there are stories like Roy Roundtree’s. The receiver was verbally committed to Purdue but made a last-minute switch to Michigan in 2008, prompting then-Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller to publicly call Rodriguez a “wizard-hat wearing, snake-oil salesman.”
The Wolverines could use a few more players to follow Roundtree’s path and flip — and Harbaugh has already gotten some recruits to do so, including quarterback Zach Gentry, who previously had been a verbal commitment to Texas.
“Everyone thought on signing day I was going to sign with Purdue, but that wasn’t the case,” Roundtree said in a text message to the Daily. “I wasn’t passing up on playing at Michigan.
“After signing to Michigan, it felt like a dream came true. I was heading to Ann Arbor for four to five years to accomplish something that no one thought I could. It was outstanding and joyful to see my parents watch me play and leave as a Michigan graduate.”
Roundtree, like Beyer, enjoyed a successful career with the Wolverines. The receiver made Sporting News’ Freshman All-Big Ten team in 2009, caught the game-winning touchdown under the lights against Notre Dame during a Sugar Bowl-winning 2011 campaign and ultimately finished his career with more than 2,300 receiving yards.
It all might have gone differently had Roundtree signed elsewhere, but ultimately, he said instinct led him to the right place. He offered similar advice to recruits who are still still deciding their collegiate plans.
“You’re going to have so many options, but at the end of the day, follow your heart, because once you sign to these universities, you’ll be attending them for four to five years,” Roundtree said. “I promise you, if you do that, you’ll enjoy every minute of it and gain major respect. It’s a marathon to an outstanding journey — good luck!”
Added Beyer: “It’s a fun thing, so enjoy it, and just get yourself ready as best you can. Get to know the team — come to Ann Arbor if you live close. And be confident, because you got yourself here, which means you’re good enough to be here.”
Beyer and former receiver Drew Dileo, who played at Michigan from 2010 to 2013, both warned signees to prepare for the transition to college football. As Beyer explained, “You’re not the man anymore” as a freshman.
“High school football and college football are two completely different levels with size, speed and maturity of guys,” Dileo said. “Best thing to do is come ready to listen and work with your mouth shut.”