Coaches can try and try and try on the recruiting trail. They can send out dozens of handwritten letters, make all the promises in the world and even introduce recruits to some of the "friendliest" football fans their campus has—all in the name of getting a verbal commitment.
But one of the most convincing ways to recruit a prospect is the simple word of a peer.
Enter: Michael Ferns.
Ferns, a highly touted 2014 linebacker prospect from St. Clairsville in Ohio, committed early to Michigan, weeks before the 2013 class was set to put pen to paper. If that was the end of his recruitment story that'd be swell enough for Michigan on its own. Ferns, however, is set to do some recruiting of his own.
Last week, Ferns announced that he would be sending out blue "Team 135" shirts to recruits who commit to Michigan. "Team 135" is a reference to the 135th year of football Michigan will have played at that point, which seems frankly surreal, but so it is.
Here's more from Scout.com on Ferns' new campaign:
The T-shirt, which reads “Building a Class One Member at a Time,” serves both as a culmination and perpetuation of Ferns’ recruiting efforts. When a prospect commits to Michigan, Ferns will mail him a shirt. Then when that Michigan commit wears his shirt around to various events the “Team 135” seed will potentially be planted in other prospective targets. It’s a concept that could just as easily be applicable as a marketing strategy for a major company. Ferns’ goal, though, is much more modest. He isn’t looking to acquire wealth. He’s looking to acquire teammates.
“I got into the mindset that if I get into recruiting others, I have a chance to help get the kind of people that I want around me for four years,” Ferns explained. “It was a little weird at first. I never had someone my age there to talk to me about the whole (recruiting process), so I never knew how to really approach it. But over time you start to see that everyone is kind of in the same situation… especially Michigan recruits. They all strive for the same things academically and athletically."
“I really don’t know exactly how many I’ve contacted, but there are about six or seven on a constant basis. One is Mason Cole who will be visiting. (Another is) Kyle Berger, who I talked into showing up next weekend. Mason is visiting next weekend also for the Illinois game. I also talked Berger into it.”
Brady Hoke and his assistants are, without a doubt, thrilled at this extra effort. And as AnnArbor.com reports, Ferns is setting his sights on even bigger targets:
One of Ferns' early targets has been Virginia defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, the country's No. 1 prospect for 2014. Hand has listed Michigan among his early five leaders.
Ferns said he's texted with Hand a few times about Michigan.
"From what I hear, he has an interest in engineering," Ferns said. "So I use that, like I did with [DL commitment Bryan Mone], the idea you're going to get a good degree out of your four years, as well as playing with a great football team."
If you're not aware of Da'Shawn Hand, now's the time to get familiar, because he is the No. 1 prospect (according to Rivals.com) in the nation for a reason. Here are some recent highlights of his.
As noted, Michigan's in the mix for him, and with Ferns leading the push we should see the Wolverines in Hand's top five for as long as he's being recruited. We're not calling Hand as a Michigan signee come February of 2014 or anything—there's zero indication that he's got a clear favorite at all, much less any sign Michigan is that team, but it seems apparent that the Maize and Blue have Hand's attention. And wouldn't you know it, Ferns has a blue shirt just waiting to get shipped out to Virginia.
If only it were that easy, of course.