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National Signing Day – Michigan’s 2012 Class

February 1, 2012

Coming off of a coaching change and a disappointing 7-6 season, most Michigan fans didn’t have high hopes for the 2012 recruiting class.  In what is becoming a recurring theme, Brady Hoke again showed what a mistake it is to underestimate him as he has reeled in a class that will finish somewhere in the Top 8, depending on who you ask. (As of 12:00 PM on Wednesday, ESPN has it at #8, Rivals has it at #5, and Scout has it all the way at #3).  Even better, the class is filled with plenty of defensive and offensive line prospects (12/24 if you count tight ends), that Hoke believes are essential to winning the battles in the trenches in the Big Ten.  Hoke and his staff set out to build a stellar class of strong, high character, Big Ten football players, and that’s exactly what they landed.  They reclaimed the State of Michigan, picking up commitments from 7 of the top 10 players in the state.  As an added bonus they did serious damage in Ohio as well, picking up several of the top recruits there, including the #1 ranked player.  Sure there were a handful of guys Michigan wished they could’ve added, but on paper this may be the best recruiting class for Michigan in the last 10 years. 

Below you’ll see a brief overview of each player, including their respective star ranking by the three major recruiting sites (Rivals/Scout/ESPN – in that order)

Blake Bars
Offensive Lineman, Nashville, Tennessee 4/3/3

Bars is a OT/OG prospect who appears to have ideal tackles size at 6’5″.  Rivals likes him better than Scout and ESPN do, but just barely, by giving him a 4th star.  Bars won’t contribute right away, but he absolutely has the potential to be an above average starter in a year or two.  He’s also our only “southern commit”. 

Joe Bolden
Linebacker, Cincinnati, Ohio 4/4/4

Joe Bolden is one of the studs of this class.  An early enrollee, he is a coveted linebacker out of Ohio that Hoke and Co. managed to steal away.  Rivals ranks Bolden as the #111 player in the country overall, and 5th best in the talent rich state of Ohio.  Bolden impressed last month at the Under Armour All-American game as well.  Though Michigan has some depth at linebacker, don’t be surprised to see Bolden on the field next year, especially since he is getting a head start on practice by enrolling early. 

Ben Braden
Offensive Line, Rockford, Michigan 3/3/3

Like Bars, Braden probably isn’t a contender for early playing time, but he doesn’t have to be.  At 6’6 and almost 300 lbs, he has the size, power and strength to be a starting tackle in the Big Ten.  At this point his biggest weakness is technique, which he can learn.  Braden is respected by all 3 recruiting sites despite only being listed as a 3 star.   He’s a top 10 player in the State of Michigan, and likely the type of guy who would’ve ended up in East Lansing or Madison under the past regime.   Instead, he hopefully will be a starter at offensive line in 2-3 years. 

Jehu Chesson
Wide Receiver St. Louis, Missouri 3/3/3

Jehu is a tall (6’3), lanky receiver with good hands who goes up and gets the ball.  He doesn’t have top end speed, but has enough to make him a deep threat as well.   Though not as as strong, Chesson appears to have a lot of the same qualities of Sugar Bowl MVP Junior Hemingway.  His lack of strength may keep him from seeing the field in 2012, he and fellow receiver commit Amara Darboh will have a chance due to a significant lack of depth for Michigan. 

Jeremy Clark
Defensive Back  Madisonville, Kentucky 3/3/3

On paper, the 6’4 Clark doesn’t look like a dynamite safety propsect, but the Michigan coaches must’ve seen something they liked because they offered him back in June, when the only other teams on the radar were MAC schools.  Clark still needs to fill out into his 6’4 frame, but if he does he could be a nice player down the road.  He’s a solid tackler and takes good angles to the ball – exactly what you’re looking for in a safety.  

Amara Darboh
Wide Receiver West Demoines, Iowa 4/4/3

Without a QB or marquee running back in this class, Darboh is the most explosive skill position player in this class.  The 6’2 receiver isnt a burner, but has above average size and speed.  Rivals likes him the best, putting him in their Rivals 250 as the #215 player in the country.  Scout has him just a little bit lower but in the same range.  ESPN ranks him as the 82nd best receiver in the country, and says he still has to pick up some of the nuances of being a WR.  Given the lack of depth at WR for Michigan, expect Darboh to see the field in some capacity next year.   Darboh’s 18th birthday is today, and he has an incredible story of how he got to where he is now from war-torn Sierra Leone.

Devin Funchess
Tight End Farmington Hills, Michigan 3/4/4

When all is said and done, Funchess may be the most prolific offensive player in the class.  The 6’4, 215 lb TE is built more like a WR, so much so that there has been talk he will switch there once he gets on campus.   If he sticks at TE, Funchess will be a playmaker who will stretch the field and give Michigan another downfield passing target.  His blocking skills still leave a little bit to be desired, which is why Rivals may have downgraded him to a 3 star.  ESPN and Scout think his upside as a receiver make him a Top 10 TE in the country however.  With only a few options at tight end next year, Funchess could see the field early as well.  

Allen Gant
Defensive Back, Sylvania, Ohio 3/3/3

The son of former Michigan defensive back Tony Gant (’82-’86), Allen is a safety according to Scout and Rivals, and a Wide Receiver according to ESPN.  The consensus from all 3 is that he’s a good but not great prospect whose biggest strength is experience, having played varsity since his freshman year.  As a safety or receiver, Gant lacks elite speed, but his size and strength are an asset.  I’m always a big fan of guys who have football in their bloodlines, and wouldn’t be surprised to see Gant starting in a few years.

Matthew Godin
Defensive Tackle, Novi, Michigan 3/3/3

Along with all three sites rating Godin as a 3* prospect, they all view him as a blue collar 5 technique defensive lineman.  He’s not flashy, but will do a good job in stopping the run and keeping offensive linemen off of linebackers.  Godin is already 6’6 and 270 lbs, and could add another 20 lbs of size to and move inside to defensive tackle.   He’s one of the Top 10 players in the State of Michigan this year, and though he probably won’t see the field next year, his size and skill set will likely see him starting in a couple of years. 

Willie Henry
Defensive Tackle, Cleveland, Ohio 3/3/3

A late addition to the class (just this week), Henry is a defensive tackle who wasn’t on most people’s radar until it was clear Michigan would have an extra scholarship or two due to missing out on a few other prospects.  Henry is a bit of a flier who only had offers from MAC and Big East schools until Michigan came calling.  He attends Glenville High School in Cleveland, an Ohio State pipeline school coached by Ted Ginn Sr., so some have suggested Michigan is only interested to establish better relationships there.  That’s not entirely true, because Henry has a great upside – he’s 6’2, 270 lbs, and only played defensive line for the first time this past season.  Last year Michigan took a flier on a similar type kid from Glenville (Frank Clark) and that already seems to be working out.  Henry is at a position of need, and very well could surprise like Clark. 

Sione Houma
Fullback, Salt Lake City, Utah 3/3/2

The lowest rated of Michigan’s prospects, Houma is a recruit at a position of need.  As Brady Hoke and Al Borges move forward with their offense and away from the spread, they are looking for a traditional fullback, and Houma fills that role.   He’s not an elite prospect, but he is the 5th best fullback in the country according to Scout and Rivals.  Without a clearcut fullback for next year, Houma is a candidate to contribute very early.   

Royce Jenkins-Stone
Linebacker, Detroit, Michigan 4/4/4

An early commit in April of 2011 from a pipeline school (Cass Tech), Jenkins-Stone is an elite prospect that Michigan needed to land.  All three sites list him as one of Top 10 linebackers in the country and among their top 200 prospects.  He committed to Michigan over Florida, Alabama, and Oklahoma and will start at outside linebacker for Michigan, probably sooner than later.  He’s a natural athlete who needs to be more disciplined, but with good coaching should be an All-Conference player one day.  

Drake Johnson
Running Back, Ann Arbor, Michigan 3/3/2

When Michigan offered the prospect who played his high school ball across the street from the Big House, it was a surprise to many.  But Johnson is a productive back who has played varsity since his sophomore year.  He may have flown under the radar a bit due to the offense he was in where he only rushed for about 700 yards as a junior.  As a senior, he more than tripled that output, and showed he has the ability to be a BCS caliber running back.  He also is the two time defending champ in the state 110 meter hurdles, so his speed and agility can’t be questioned.  With several running backs in the mix already, Johnson probably won’t get much of a look next year and is a redshirt/special teams candidate – but guys like this have a tendency to surprise down the road.  

Kyle Kalis
Offensive Line, Lakewood, Ohio 5/5/4

One of two 5* recruits in this class according to Rivals and Scout, Kalis is not only a stud offensive line prospect, he’s a stud offensive line prospect that the Buckeyes desparately wanted.  Chalk this one up to timing, as the firing of Jim Tressel opened the door for Hoke and Michigan, and by the time Urban Meyer was in Columbus, Kalis, the #1 prospect in the State of Ohio, was firmly committed to the Wolverines.  The fact that many Buckeye fans sent him hate mail, tweets and Facebook messages helped make his decision even easier.   Though he’s played tackle in high school, he may move inside to guard in college – there are already comparisons to former Michigan All-American and NFL All-Pro Steve Hutchinson.  Kalis plays with a mean streak, strength and technique and will likely find his way onto the two deep next year, and I’d be surprised if he isn’t starting in 2013. 

Erik Magnuson
Offensive Line, Carlsbad, California 4/4/4

If it weren’t for Kalis, Magnuson would be the prized offensive line recruit in this class.  The Army All-American stands 6’6 and weighs 275 lbs with room to grow – perfect for offensive tackle.  Rivals, Scout and ESPN all agree he is one of the elite offensive tackle recruits this year.  Magnuson has been one of Michigan’s best commit recruiters, and almost helped us land Josh Garnett, a highly coveted lineman from out west.   Instead, Magnuson will have to represent the California contingent for Michigan. Like Kalis, Magnuson will have a shot to be on the two deep next year, though he could benefit from a redshirt year.  He can be expected to contribute in some way by 2013. 

Dennis Norfleet
All Purpose Back, Detroit, Michigan 4/4/3

A surprise last minute addition to the class, Norfleet was previously committed to Cincinnati before receiving an offer last night from Michigan.   With Michigan striking out on a handful of recruits this past week a scholarship became available.  And with the departure of Darryl Stonum from the team a couple of weeks ago, there was a need for another receiver/back and return man.  Norfleet may be small in size (5’7, 170 lbs), but he’s big on speed – probably the fastest player in the class for Michigan.  Despite his lack of size, Rivals still ranked among the top 250 players in the nation.  He can fill a variety of roles, including all-purpose back, slot receiver and return man for Michigan – several analysts have compared him to former Kansas State star and New Orleans Saint Darren Sproles.  With a big need for an electric return man, don’t be surprised if the last commit of the 2012 class is the first to see the field next fall.

Mario Ojemudia
Defensive End, Farmington Hills, Michigan 3/4/4

Ojemudia, along with fellow recruit Devin Funchess,  is one of the first Michigan recruits to come out of the MSU pipeline school of Farmington Hills Harrison in quite sometime.  The 6’2 defensive end is highly regarded by ESPN and Scout, but a little less coveted by Rivals.  Everyone raves about his athleticism and playmaking ability.  He’ll have to add some bulk to be a force in college, but he has all the other measurables to be an impact player down the road. 

Ondre Pipkins
Defensive Tackle, Kansas City, Missouri 5/4/4

For me, Pipkins is the best player in this class and perhaps the most important, just narrowly edging out Kyle Kalis.  The 14th best player in the country according to Rivals dominated competition last month at the US Army All American game and drew stellar reviews all week.  Given Michigan’s lack of depth at defensive tackle, Pipkins could come in and start right away or at the very least see significant playing time if he comes to camp in shape.   Pee Wee plays with a motor, a mean streak, and is active on Twitter with several funny tweets, pictures and videos, including a killer Brady Hoke impression.  He is a game changer for Michigan, and a player I expect very big things from. 

Terry Richardson
Defensive Back Detroit, Michigan 4/4/4

The only true cornerback in the class, Richardson is a highly regarded prospect from Cass Tech in Detroit.  ESPN, Rivals and Scout all agree he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the nation, and ESPN ranks him as the best player in the State of Michigan.  A true “cover” corner, Richardson is small (5’9″, 170) but quick and fast.   He has excellent ball skills, and with gains in strength and size, certainly has the potential to be a great player in Ann Arbor.  With several cornerbacks ahead of him on the depth chart, including 2011 freshman standout Blake Countess, Terry probably won’t start next year.  He’s a perfect candidate for special teams play and a backup role next year and could move into a starting role once J.T. Floyd graduates. 

Kaleb Ringer
Linebacker, Clayton, Ohio 3/3/3

Kaleb Ringer is a middle linebacker recruit who like fellow Ohioan Joe Bolden committed to the Wolverines early (in April) and enrolled early as well.  Though he’s a little undersized at 6’0 and 220 lbs, Ringer is a playmaking backer with good sideline to sideline speed.  As an added bonus, he is the nephew of former MSU running back Javon Ringer.  Kaleb won’t start right away, but he’s a high production type guy who could one day lead the team in tackles. 

James Ross
Linebacker Orchard Lake, Michigan 4/4/4

The 7th commit in for the 2012 class, Ross is a high production linebacker who gets high marks from all the recruiting sites.   Ross had plenty of fanfare early in the recruiting process, but since he committed to Michigan very early, he seems to be a little bit forgotten. A 4* across the board with good smarts and fundamentals, the only concern here is that he’s topped out on his development already.   Along with Bolden, Ringer, and Jenkins-Stone, Ross completes a very good linebacker haul for Michigan.  Ross is a candidate for special teams and situational defensive play for 2012, but could be a regular by 2013. 

Tom Strobel
Defensive End Mentor, Ohio 4/4/3

Another early commit, Strobel is a tall defensive end (6’6″) with good bulk (250 lbs) who needs to work on his strength and technique before contributing in college.  Both Rivals and Scout see him as a 4 star prospect, and among the top 20 defensive ends in the country.  ESPN isn’t as impressed, rating him only a 3 star.  All three sites agree that he has a lot of upside based on his size and ability to add more bulk and strength however.  With a lack of depth on the defensive line, he may be pressed into action sooner than later, but could probably benefit from a year in the weight room. 

 AJ Williams
Tight End/Offensive Line Cincinnati, Ohio 3/4/3

AJ might be the most interesting prospect in this class because of his potential versatility.  Both ESPN and Rivals rank him as a 3 star prospect at tight end – and if that’s where he stays for his career, that’s probably accurate.  But Scout gives him 4 stars based on his potential at offensive tackle – the position he really belongs at.  Either way, Michigan is getting a good sized athlete with the ability to do some serious blocking.  Already at 6’6 and over 270 lbs, Williams seems destined to be a starting tackle one day, but Michigan has promised him the chance to come in and play tight end.  It will be very interesting to see if he sticks there.  My hunch is no, but Michigan does need blocking tight ends, so its possible. 

Jarrod Wilson
Safety, Akron, Ohio 4/4/4

The last of Michigan’s early enrollees, Wilson is a ball hawking safety who is consistently rated across the three sites as a 4 star prospect, with ESPN giving him the highest marks.  All three sites agree he is a great instincts player who has a knack for making plays but needs to work on adding some size and strength (he’s only 190 lbs) if he truly wants to be an elite player.  Wilson is a guy who will likely get a shot on special teams next year before competing for real playing time in 2013. 

Chris Wormley
Defensive End Toledo, Ohio Ratings: 3/4/4

Despite very solid reviews from Scout and ESPN, and an impressive senior year, Rivals is sticking by the their 3 star evaluation of Wormley.  Wormley is an oustanding athlete with great size (6’6 260) and strength who played end in high school, but has the frame to move inside to a tackle in college, or be the a prototypical 5 technique defensive end (similar to a Ryan Van Bergen).   Given Michigan’s lack of depth at defensive line, Wormley will have the chance to play next year if he seizes the opportunity.

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