When Brady Hoke returned to Ann Arbor, he vowed his teams would "...respect the tradition of the University of Michigan and its football program." To rebuild the program and honor tradition, Hoke has targeted players who grew up hearing about Michigan from their fathers who played for the Wolverines.
One former Wolverine who has regaled his sons with stories of past Michigan glory is John Wangler, who played quarterback for iconic Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler. Wangler delivered one of the most famous passes in Michigan history—a 45-yard strike to wide receiver Anthony Carter to beat Indiana as time expired in 1979. He also led Michigan to victory in the 1981 Rose Bowl, Schembechler’s first bowl win.
Current wide receiver Jack Wangler walked on at Michigan to follow in his father’s footsteps. He spoke with Steve Lorenz at 247Sports.com about his decision.
I can't wait to carry on the Wangler name at Michigan. Before I made it public, I was sure to call my dad and let him know what I had decided to do. He was definitely excited. Being around Michigan my entire life and experiencing it so much the past couple seasons really made it an easy choice. My dad said my years at Michigan will end up being the best four or five years of my life. I know they were for him.
Joining Jack next season will be his brother, Jared, a linebacker prospect who originally committed to Penn State. The chance to play at Penn State, a program known for developing great linebackers, was tempting, but in the Detroit Free Press, he admitted, "The opportunity to play for my dad’s alma mater, and to play with my brother, just made the difference."
Hoke has received another commitment from a legacy who may help fortify the Michigan offensive line. Offensive tackle Jon Runyan Jr. has accepted an offer to be a part of the 2015 Michigan recruiting class. Runyan’s father played at Michigan and had a successful 14-year NFL career.
Runyan was known as a devastating blocker during his time in the NFL and ranked as one of the dirtiest players in the league in a 2006 Sports Illustrated NFL players poll.
Jon Runyan Jr. is expected to add some much-needed grit to the Michigan offensive line when he joins the team in 2015.
Michigan hopes to add another famous namesake to its 2015 recruiting class. Tyrone Wheatley Jr., whose father played running back at Michigan, is being recruited as a tight end to play for Hoke.
Legacy players can help boost a program, but sometimes, they can be an unneeded distraction. The Boren family helped fuel controversy during the tumultuous tenure of Rich Rodriguez.
Mike Boren played linebacker for Schembechler, and his son, Justin, joined Michigan as an offensive lineman for the 2006 season. Originally recruited by former head coach Lloyd Carr, Justin stayed at Michigan when Rich Rodriguez was hired following Carr’s retirement. But the following year, Rodriguez declined to offer Justin's brother, Zach, a scholarship, and things got ugly.
Justin transferred to archrival Ohio State and blasted Michigan in The Columbus Dispatch:
I have great trouble accepting that those family values have eroded in just a few months. That same helmet, that I was raised on and proudly claimed for the last two years, now brings a completely different emotion to me, one that interferes with practicing and playing my best and mentally preparing for what is required.
Normally, an offseason player transfer merits little attention. But Justin's status as a legacy and his decision to transfer to Ohio State, a team that also offered a scholarship to Zach, further added to the firestorm that was engulfing Rodriguez in Ann Arbor.
The resulting bad publicity was another unneeded distraction for Rodriguez and his coaching staff. In hindsight, a scholarship offer to Zach may have been a smart move to keep peace in the Michigan football family.
Brady Hoke is not only building his roster by pursuing talented legacy players, he’s creating a link between the present and the past.
Former players are a powerful constituency in a high-profile program like Michigan, and after last season's 7-6 finish, Hoke needs all the support he can get.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.