An old adage says 'nothing succeeds like success'. In football terms, one thing it means is that when you start rolling up wins, it's amazing how much easier it is to talk the cream of the crop into playing for your program.
Brady Hoke took a Wolverines program that suddenly became vulnerable under Rich Rodriguez, shored up a lot of the team's weaknesses by returning to fundamentals while still playing to the strengths of their uniquely talented QB Denard Robinson, and guided his team to a 10-2 season.
As a result, this year's recruiting class is loaded with verbal commitments from players ranked as four-or-five-star prospects.
This article will feature 11 of the top commits to the Wolverines program, and what they could bring to Michigan in the years to come.
As Michigan's only five-star prospect this year, great things are expected of Kyle Kalis. As the highest-profile player who was lured away from Ohio State once the NCAA allegations started piling up, he'll also have an immediate fan base in the Michigan faithful.
He was recently selected to play in the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, an annual East vs. West matchup featuring the top 90 recruits in the country. The game will be nationally televised on January 7, 2012.
As a senior at St. Edward, the massive Kalis consistently dominated his opposition, yet even with all that size, his all-around mechanics are considered extremely sound, and he is excellent at both run blocking and pass protecting. Under Coach Hoke's tutelage, the sky could be the limit for Kalis.
Then again, he already has one key intangible in place: you simply can't teach 6'5”.
The Wolverines' defensive play improved greatly under Coach Hoke's watch this season, but when you take a look at the recruiting class the Wolverines have assembled, it's clear that he's a fan of depth, particularly when presented the opportunity to land a talent like James Ross.
Like Kalis, Ross was selected to play in the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and is considered one of the top linebacker recruits in the country. His physical attributes are not overwhelming on paper (at 6'1" and 215 pounds, his height and weight read somewhere between the ideals for a cornerback and a linebacker), but his football IQ and toughness are off the charts.
His positional play is quite polished. Hopefully, spending some time in Michigan's weight program will give him the added mass to be just as successful at the collegiate level as he was during his high school career, which finished with a state championship this year for Orchard Lake St. Mary's.
If James Ross is considered Michigan's top prospect at linebacker this year, Royce Jenkins-Stone could very well be considered choice 1A. That's a very nice problem to have if you're a Michigan fan.
Another selection for this year's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Jenkins-Stone's ranking comes more from his upside than his refinement of technique. His motor is huge, he loves to shoot gaps and he frequently beats blocks by speed and aggressiveness rather than technique (although this also means that he occasionally overran some plays as a result).
Like Ross, he reads a little light for a linebacker, particularly with the aggressiveness he uses when he plays the position. With some bulking up and Hoke refining his technique, he could be a standout for the Wolverines.
Linebacker, linebacker, linebacker—are you sensing a theme here? If Joe Bolden and the rest of these prospects pan out for Hoke, his linebacking corps could be devastating for the next few years.
Bolden was chosen to play in the fifth annual UnderArmour All-America High School Football Game, which will be played on January 5, 2012. Like the U.S. Army's offering, this game will feature top prospects from around the country, giving them a chance to show their talents on a national stage, as well as a chance to officially commit to programs.
Bolden's combination of size, speed and aggression should serve him well at Michigan. He shows an instinctive ability to read plays and get to the ball. Facets of his game still seem a bit raw, but in the last weeks of the 2011 prep football season, his prodigious talent became increasingly evident. Bolden shot up the rankings late, eventually landing as a four-star prospect.
Michigan didn't aggressively pursue as many blue chip players on the offensive side of the ball this year, but Funchess was a bit of a no-brainer.
Funchess' receiving skills are very impressive, with great hands and an impressive vertical which, combined with his stature, should allow for him to overmatch many of the cornerbacks he'll be facing. He also runs clean routes, which will be an asset to whoever the next quarterback will be after Robinson graduates.
The only potential knock on him right now comes down to strength. With only 205 lbs on his 6'4” frame, he's really a wide receiver playing the tight end position.
There are certainly worse problems somebody could have, but it will be interesting to see if he can flesh out his frame enough to become a game-changing tight end at the collegiate level.
Tom Strobel is one of those talents that could quickly make an impact for the Wolverines.
Defensive end is one of those positions that concerned many Wolverines pundits this year. While Strobel might not get a chance to start next year, that doesn't mean he won't quickly become ready to do so.
Physically speaking, he's a freak of nature (6'6", and up to 265 lbs. his senior year), coming out of high school nearly identical in size to what All-Pro defensive end Michael Strahan played at for the duration of his NFL career. Being so big and physical, Strobel quickly racked up sacks and forced fumbles in high school, seeing as his competition tended to be so outmatched in both size and weight.
His skills look a little raw on tape (such as being frequently accused of standing up straight out of his stance), but these are the kinds of fundamentals that Hoke seems to excel at teaching.
Yet another U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection, Ondre Pipkins has all the upside the Wolverines could ask for in a defensive tackle.
Explosive and with solid mechanics, Pipkins is exactly the kind of player that Michigan loves on their defensive line. In high school, he routinely handled double and triple teams, which could allow for the linebacking corps to wreak havoc. He stays low when engaging an opponent and exhibits good footwork.
Chances are that Pipkins would have been ranked higher, even potentially being rated as a five-star recruit, but he did have a few injuries during his high school career. If he can avoid that at the next level, expect to hear a lot about Pipkins while he dons the maize and blue.
Cass Tech has become a bit of a pipeline to Michigan in the last few years, giving them players like William Campbell, Delonte Hollowell and Thomas Gordon. Terry Richardson should be a solid addition to that list.
Richardson became a four-star recruit with his instincts and quickness. He's one of those smallish corners who knows how to time his jumps perfectly in order to effectively neutralize a height advantage. He's also got great hands, so if he gets them on the ball, the interception should be his.
What's his Achilles Heel? He absolutely has to get bigger and stronger. At 165 pounds, he would be giving up way too much of a height and size advantage to opponents.
Michigan's secondary gets another four-star prospect with the commitment of Jarrod Wilson.
In the free safety position, Wilson was a terror for Akron Buchtel (whose head coach, as a side note, is former Michigan running back Ricky Powers). He's got appreciable size and speed, but his most valuable trait may just be his play reading, a skill that ensures he's very rarely out of position.
Wilson's tackling is occasionally a bit suspect, but with double digit interceptions as a senior (five of them being returned for touchdowns), he should become a significant playmaker at the position.
Michigan's offensive line was a mixed bag this year, opening good holes for the run, but giving up too many sacks (seven against MSU alone). Erik Magnuson's skill set could help fix that problem.
Another U.S. Army All-American Bowl invitee, Magnuson is a left tackle with natural pass blocking ability. His run blocking is still a work in progress, although that should also improve as he continues to add mass to his frame. A standout in basketball as well, he's got surprisingly nimble footwork and his long arms are put to good use with his physical, aggressive play style.
Already a fan of the weight room, Magnuson could grow even more physically impressive; if that happens, he may just be the ticket for Michigan at a key position.
Another prospect from Farmington Hills Harrison, Mario Ojemudia was a statistical beast (127 tackles, 12 sacks and three forced fumbles in his junior year alone).
You may ask yourself, “how did somebody so undersized for his position (as in 6' 2", 220 lbs) wind up as a four-star recruit?” The video above answers that pretty emphatically.
The answer is that he's so ridiculously gifted as a player, many teams would be willing to give him a chance to develop more mass in the weight room; it's also been opined that even if he doesn't size up at defensive end, he could still be a quality outside linebacker.
Ojemudia's a high motor guy who was very effective at shedding blocks at the high school level, even when they played him at the tackle position (yes, you read that right). In light of that fact, perhaps success at defensive end, regardless of what weight he reaches, shouldn't be surprising after all.