Five-star running back Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 prospect in 247Sports' composite rankings, was an unexpected no-show at Michigan's recruiting barbecue this past weekend.
The bruising New Orleans star never showed Sunday for the Wolverines' Barbecue at the Big House recruiting event, according to a player in attendance. Fournette originally told several outlets he intended to fly to Ann Arbor on Thursday, then stay through the barbecue.
A reason for the cancellation was not available.
Fournette is a 6'1'', 225-pound tailback from Louisiana, possessed of the all-around talent to be an impact player from Day 1 in college. Though widely expected to stay in the South—LSU and Alabama are the prohibitive favorites to land his services—Fournette's chances of playing at Michigan seemed to be revived after the Wolverines landed No. 1 cornerback prospect Jabrill Peppers in May.
In a USA Today blog published after Peppers' commitment, the young corner assured fans that he would woo both Fournette and No. 1 defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand to Michigan. Per the blog, in Peppers' own words:
Do I think I can bring them with me? Well, I'm a really confident person so I feel pretty good about it. Definitely about DaShawn because of our relationship and the type of defense that we run. Leonard will be a little tougher, but they call me the commissioner so I'm gonna put it out there right here on my blog: I'm bringing both of them.
Those hopes were mortally wounded this weekend. That Fournette played truant from the Wolverines' recruiting event, especially without even proffering an excuse, speaks volumes about his devotion to the program. There may have been extenuating circumstances, but until further notice, the assumption is that he simply didn't care enough to go.
There was still good news from the Wolverines this weekend, though. Class of 2015 receiver George Campbell, the No. 1 WR and No. 8 prospect in 247Sports' composite, gave a verbal commitment to Michigan at the barbecue. He's the first and only top-10 player for 2015 to pledge his commitment at this point.
Still, the high of that commitment is offset by the low of Fournette's affront.
Even if Michigan is far below LSU and Alabama on his list, the running back's blithe lack of decorum is offensive. If he didn't want to attend the event, he should have just said he couldn't go. Skipping out, completely unexcused, on a program like Michigan is bad, brazen and imprudent form in almost any context, especially given the importance of Michigan's annual event.
In addition to landing Campbell there this past weekend, the recruiting barbecue also helped land RB Derrick Green—the No. 26 prospect and prize of Michigan's incoming class—by boosting his interest in the program last year.
Now Brady Hoke finds himself in an odd position. How does he handle Fournette's courtship in the coming weeks and months? Is he (and the program) too proud to beg? Or will he deign to invite him back, figuring you can't give up on a prospect this rare?
Michigan, in the same vein as any prestigious college program, doesn't expect to "chase" after prospects. Like Harvard or Yale playing suitor to high-school geniuses, it figures the name of its brand will lure recruits to Ann Arbor. They should want to play for Michigan more than Michigan wants them to play for Michigan.
But in case like Fournette's, a case where pundits don a straight face during Adrian Peterson comparisons, exceptions have to be made. Even if Hoke restores contact, the chances of Fournette going to Michigan at this point seem slim. But if Hoke doesn't restore contact, those chances go down to none.
With slim, Michigan can still throw some sort of bold recruiting Hail Mary and hope it gets caught.
In his USA Today blog post, Peppers wrote that even if he can't lure Fournette to Ann Arbor, the blue-chip back would still be "his boy," and that he wishes him "nothing but the best."
After this weekend, though, Wolverines fans might be less eager to forgive.