Michigan's recruiting built on dominating in-state battle, raiding Ohio
The Southeastern Conference has claimed the past seven national championships employing the same strategy. In the four recruiting classes that preceded those championship teams, 92.3 percent of signees hailed from the South.
Just eight of those 536 signees hailed from the Big Ten footprint. Only Flint tailback Mark Ingram, who won a Heisman Trophy at Alabama, came from Michigan.
Brady Hoke, though, says it's not necessary to recruit the South to win national titles. He says it can be done with Midwestern talent, and he intends to prove it.
"I think (the importance of Southern talent) is a little bit overblown -- and the media does that," Hoke said. "I remember being on teams here that could compete with anybody, so I don't know why you couldn't."
Michigan's 2013 class ranks No. 2 in the country according to Scout, No. 5 according to Rivals and No. 6 per ESPN. But just two players, five-star Virginia tailback Derrick Green and three-star North Carolina defensive back Channing Stribling, hail from the South.
Hoke has emphasized Midwest recruiting in his first two classes at Michigan, grabbing 41 of his 52 commits from that territory. That includes 22 of the 27 players who signed letters of intent Wednesday to join the program.
Michigan didn't sign a single player from recruiting hotbeds Florida, Texas or California for the first time in 25 years.
That's a sharp departure from the Rich Rodriguez era, when the Wolverines cast their net more nationally.
The shift is a return to how the Wolverines recruited when Hoke was a Michigan assistant from 1995-2002, and how they built their 1997 national championship team.
"I know what our (old teams were) made up of: Tough, hard-nosed guys from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois," said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who was a Michigan assistant from 1992-96. "Then you'd go out and get a skilled kid from somewhere else -- a Tom Brady or an Amani Toomer (from California), and on and on.
"These first two years, we really wanted to say, 'We're going after (Michigan and Ohio).' If there's a really, really good player in the South, we'll go down there. But to do the job we wanted to do in the Midwest, we had to really concentrate wholeheartedly on the Midwest."
The Wolverines have been successful. After signing five of the top seven in-state recruits last year, according to Scout, they signed six of the nine best this year -- including the state's top player, quarterback Shane Morris of Warren De La Salle.
No. 3 Jordan Lewis (cornerback, Detroit Cass Tech), No. 5 David Dawson (offensive lineman, Cass Tech), No. 7 Delano Hill (safety, Cass Tech), No. 8 Wyatt Shallman (fullback, Detroit Catholic Central) and No. 9 Khalid Hill (tight end, Detroit Crockett) also signed with Michigan.
The Wolverines appear to have dominated Michigan State in that territory. The Spartans signed just two of the state's top 11 players, No. 4 Jon Reshcke (linebacker, Bloomfield Brother Rice) and No. 6 Dennis Finley (offensive tackle, Cass Tech).
"You definitely hear all the positive things the high school coaches in the state have to say about this staff, and that wasn't always the case with the last staff," Scout recruiting analyst Allen Trieu said. "You saw that really start with last year's class, you've seen it bleed into this year's class and it's already bleeding into 2014.
"It's all about putting in your time, about maintaining relationships with the area coaches. Michigan has done that the past two years."
One weapon includes longtime running backs coach Fred Jackson, who has been at the school since 1992 and has long relationships with many of Michigan's high school coaches.
Hoke put Jackson in charge of in-state recruiting when he was hired in 2011, a move that has proved fruitful. The Wolverines have signed 16 in-state recruits in Hoke's first two full classes -- nearly as many as the previous four years combined (18).
Why has Jackson been so successful nabbing in-state talent?
"Maybe because I'm old," Jackson quipped. "I've been around a while and Brady told me, 'I'm going to put you in Michigan,' and a Detroit area I'd never been in before. But when I got there, I knew all the coaches. That comes with longevity. And I've been around a while."
Hoke's effectiveness has crossed the state's Southern border, signing nine Ohioans this year and beating Ohio State for two of the state's top three: No. 2 Dymonte Thomas (safety from Alliance) and No. 3 Deveon Smith (tailback from Warren).
The Wolverines signed four players from Ohio's top 10 -- the same as Ohio State.
Michigan receiver commit Da'Mario Jones graduated from Westland John Glenn, but spent most of his life in Pickerington, Ohio, and is friends with many of the state's top players. He says Ohio recruits have begun to take longer looks at Michigan since Hoke's hire in 2011.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "It's kind of weird how more Ohio guys are converting over to the Michigan side now because, down there, you feel like you're in a whole different world if you're a Michigan fan.
"But I just feel like now, once Coach Hoke gets to know you, it just clicks. That's just the way it is. Yeah, Ohio guys are talking about Michigan a lot more than they used to, that's for sure."
Michigan's class is one of the best in the country, and features perhaps the best collection of Midwestern talent of anyone.
But is that enough to compete with the SEC, which has become college football's greatest power by harvesting the South's greatest talent?
"There is no question," Hoke said.
Time will tell.
Michigan's 2013 class
Ohio (9): S Dymonte Thomas, Alliance; DB Ross Douglas, Avon; WR Jaron Dukes, Columbus; LB Ben Gedeon, Hudson; DE Taco Charlton, Pickerington; TE Jake Butt, Pickerington; DB Reon Dawson, Trotwood; LB Mike McCray, Trotwood; RB Deveon Smith, Warren
Michigan (8): OL David Dawson, Detroit Cass Tech; DB Delano Hill, Detroit Cass Tech; DB Jourdan Lewis, Detroit Cass Tech; TE Khalid Hill, Detroit Crockett; WR Csont'e York, Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy; RB Wyatt Shallman, Detroit Catholic Central; QB Shane Morris, Warren De La Salle; WR Da'Mario Jones, Westland John Glenn
Illinois (3): LS Scott Sypniewski, Ottawa; OL Logan Tuley-Tillman, Peoria; OL Kyle Bosch, Wheaton
Colorado (1): OL Chris Fox, Parker
Indiana (1): OL Dan Samuelson, Plymouth
Maryland (1): DT Henry Poggi, Baltimore
Massachusetts (1): DT Maurice Hurst Jr.
North Carolina (1): DB Channing Stribling
Pennsylvania (1): OL Patrick Kugler, Wexford
Virginia (1): RB Derrick Green, Richmond
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