Some of the steps have been slow, some of them have been rapid. Either way, though, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has taken all of the necessary strides toward reclaiming the Great Lakes State for the Wolverines.
Despite having strongholds in fertile New Jersey and Georgia, Harbaugh knows that he must dominate his backyard in order to solidify the perception of his program.
With that said, eight of 27 committed players in the 2017 class are from Michigan. Seven of the top-10 in-state variety, of course. Top-300 national kids, too.
Phillip Paea, a 3-star linebacker out of Berrien Springs, finished as the No. 13-ranked prospect in the state. In terms of 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, the 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive tackle is Harbaugh’s lowest-rated in-state prospect.
He held offers from Michigan State, Notre Dame, Miami (Fla.), Nebraska and Oregon, among others.
In 2015 and 2016 (his first full cycle), Harbaugh had three in-state players in each class. Talent matters, so he won’t take in-state kids for the sake of taking in-state kids. But Harbaugh’s desire to have the best locals on his team — while sending a message to East Lansing (and Columbus, Ohio) — has been crystal clear from Day 1.
But so has philosophy of quality over quantity.
“There is no doubt you want to win the state in recruiting battles but I do feel it’s more important to put the proverbial ‘fence’ around the state in regards to allowing out of state schools to come in and poach the top kids,” said Lake Fenton coach Eric Doyle, a key figure in the Mid-Michigan high school scene who was once recruited by Michigan State and Nick Saban.
“There is no doubt Coach Harbaugh did that this year and that is definitely important, however, I think the talent in this year’s class — especially the top two or three — were worth the fight. You may not see him put as much emphasis on it next year because I don’t think the top end of the class will be as strong, but every in-state coach will say it’s their No. 1 priority.”
So far, Harbaugh has had the pick of the litter in his home area. At one time, Donovan Peoples-Jones was highly interested in Michigan State. Many thought he’d go with the recent flow and join Mark Dantonio’s Spartans.
With that said, MSU’s plummet to 3-9 and UM’s two-year ascent likely carried a bit of influence. To nobody’s surprise, the 5-star Detroit Cass Tech All-American committed to the Wolverines, who have won 20 of 26 games under Harbaugh.
Expect more of the same.
Not only in regard to in-state competition, but national competition. Everyone wanted DPJ, the No. 1-ranked WR of his class. Alabama, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State… Tennessee, Penn State, Miami (Fla.) and LSU…
Also of Cass Tech, 4-star safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell could have played for a school of his choosing.
Ambry Thomas, a 4-star cornerback out of Detroit MLK, had the headliners on his tail, too.
Past coaches such as Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez didn’t always get those types.
But those type of kids probably won’t slip past Harbaugh, and for one simple reason: He won’t allow that to happen. Well, two reasons: He quickly realized the importance of Detroit, something that seemed to elude Hoke and RichRod.
With D-line coach Greg Mattison, running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley and linebackers coach Chris Partridge, Harbaugh has a trio of elite recruiters who helped build the No. 6-ranked 2016 class.
They’ll have a top-five class come February 2017.
Remember when people said Harbaugh didn’t enjoy recruiting? He’s proven otherwise, and he’s clearly taken ownership of his home state.