Michigan’s late start on the recruiting trail left the Wolverines in more down-to-the-wire recruiting battles than any team in the Big Ten this February.
Five of the 14 prospects in the class waited until this week to announce that they would be headed to Ann Arbor. Nine players who made their announcements Wednesday had Michigan among their final choices. Four of them selected the Wolverines, four went another direction and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith remains undecided after initially declaring he would play for UCLA. Here’s a breakdown of where Harbaugh & Co. hit or missed during a drama-filled signing day.
Keith Washington, DB -- Prattville High School, Alabama
Washington played quarterback at Prattville, but is expected to play cornerback (where he has some high school experience) when he arrives at Michigan. The 6-foot-1, 161-pound athlete committed to Cal in late January but changed his mind Wednesday. He won Harbaugh’s affection when he offered to prove his 4.3-second 40-yard dash time in the parking lot after the coach questioned its legitimacy on a recent recruiting visit.
“And he was serious, dead serious,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “I liked him even more, and I knew he'd go out; I knew he was a competitor.”
Karan Higdon, RB -- Riverview High School, Florida
Higdon flew relatively under the radar as a potential Michigan prospect until he flipped from Iowa to the Wolverines Wednesday morning. Billed as a tough inside runner, Higdon gives Michigan its only running back in a class that was heavy on the offensive side of the ball. His late change of heart may have cost the Wolverines a chance to land the top player in their home state. More on that later.
Shelton Johnson, DE -- Atlantic Community High School, Florida
One of the last players to make his decision public Wednesday, Johnson was expected to land at Florida State. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound pass-rusher has some filling out to do, but has the potential to grow into a physical and fast edge player in D.J. Durkin's defense. He’s also one of three Florida natives that give Harbaugh’s staff a strong start in the Sunshine State. With Durkin’s ties there from his time with the Gators there is a good chance that success will continue in the future.
Ty Wheatley Jr., TE -- Canisius High School, New York
When Ty Wheatley Sr., the former Big Ten rushing champion, returned to his alma mater in early January as an assistant coach it seemed inevitable that his son would eventually follow. The younger Wheatley waited until Wednesday to follow in dad’s footsteps. Before his Michigan connection grew stronger, the top player in New York was strongly considering heading to the West Coast or to Alabama for college. He has the potential to play defensive end or tight end at Michigan, but will likely start on offense.
Mike Weber, RB -- Cass Tech High School, Michigan
The first head-to-head battle between Harbaugh and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer goes to Meyer, although he had a healthy head start in recruiting Weber that made it less than a fair fight. Ranked by ESPN as the top player in Michigan, Weber was originally committed to come to Ann Arbor, but flipped to Ohio State when Brady Hoke was fired in December.
Weber remained torn between the two rivals until Wednesday morning. He told reporters at his announcement that Higdon’s decision to choose the Wolverines made his choice to stay with the Buckeyes much easier. Had Weber stayed home, Michigan would have finished with three of the top four high school seniors in the state, according to ESPN’s rankings.
Chris Clark, TE -- Avon Old Farms, Connecticut
Like Weber, Clark committed to Michigan this summer but backed away when the 2014 season spiraled out of control. He visited Michigan and UCLA on back-to-back days last month and ultimately decided to join the Bruins, who signed several highly touted prospects Wednesday. Harbaugh’s track record of making tight ends a centerpiece of his offense at Stanford was appealing to Clark, but not enough to sway him away from Los Angeles.
Iman Marshall, CB -- Long Beach Poly High School, California
The country’s top cornerback was a prime example of the power many believe Harbaugh’s brand can wield for Michigan on the recruiting trail. Marshall’s interest in coming to Ann Arbor piqued when Harbaugh arrived. Any school other than USC (where Marshall eventually signed) was considered a long shot to land him, but his initial interest should leave Michigan optimistic that Harbaugh’s reputation will allow the Wolverines to get a foot in the door with high-profile recruits who might not have otherwise considered them.
Van Jefferson, WR -- Ravenwood High School, Tennessee
Jefferson pushed back his decision multiple times Wednesday while trying to pick between Ole Miss, Michigan and Georgia. The four-star wideout would have been the fifth ESPN 300 recruit to select Michigan if he flipped. The Wolverines added receiver Grant Perry, a high school teammate of early enrollee quarterback Alex Malzone, earlier this week. Athlete Brian Cole, another early enrollee, will also start his college career at wide receiver. Jefferson would have rounded out a strong receiver class, but opted to stick to his commitment at Ole Miss.