From Colby Fleener and Zach Ertz from his time at Stanford, to Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker with the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Harbaugh’s track record with tight ends at all of his coaching stops is well-documented.
Given the history, that tradition is likely to continue in his new stop at the University of Michigan, which makes Monday’s commitment from Shepherd Hill two-way star Sean McKeon all the more intriguing.
McKeon, a Dudley resident and one of the Bay State’s top overall prospects, gave a pledge to the Wolverines Monday afternoon while visiting Ann Arbor. He becomes the first Massachusetts prospect to commit to the Wolverines since former All-American defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. of Xaverian High did back in 2012.
“I’m really excited. I love it there, I love the coaches, and I’m just really happy,” McKeon told ESPNBoston.com tonight. “The facilities are state of the art, and I really love the stadium. I love the coaches. Jay Harbaugh, the tight ends coach, Tim Drevno, the offensive coordinator, and Jim Harbaugh, I have a really great relationship with them and I really like them.”
Michigan initially offered McKeon a month ago; he had 19 Division 1 offers at the time of his commitment, most notably Virginia Tech, Virginia, Pitt, Boston College, UConn, Temple, Colorado State, Air Force, Syracuse, UMass and Old Dominion.
Eight of those 19 offers came in the month of May alone, prompting McKeon to muse of his rapid ascent on the recruiting trail: “I’d say I was little surprised at how quickly it escalated, but I’m happy it did now.”
What makes McKeon such an interesting case is his roots in such an untraditional offense. Shepherd Hill is one of several programs across the Bay State running a “Double Wing” offense, a century-old style mastered by coaching legends such as Pop Warner, Dutch Meyer and Ara Parseghian, but one that has been largely out of vogue in the 21st Century.
Out of this unorthodox scheme, the Rams last season ran the ball 88 percent of the time. All-State quarterback Drew Jean-Guillaume -- a track star with sub-11 second speed in the 100-meter dash, who signed with Division 1 FCS Central Connecticut State as a running back -- overwhelmingly led the team in every rushing category (118 carries, 1,310 yards, 22 TD, 11.1 YPC).
Meanwhile, McKeon caught just 19 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns over a 12-game season for the Rams, who won the Central district title and reached the MIAA Division 4 State Semifinals. McKeon says the Wolverines see him “More as a pass catcher, but I’ll hopefully be able to block”, with potential as an in-line tight end or an H-back.
With Harbaugh expected to a run a pro-style offense similar to what he had at Stanford, it does raise an interesting question: What qualities in such a unique, run-oriented offense stick out enough for a coach to make an evaluation like that?
“Jay Harbaugh, when he watched my tape, he loved my blocking style, and how I have a wide base when I come off the ball. That helps,” McKeon said. “In a double wing offense, blocking all the time gave me some good technique. I think that helped me get noticed by them.
Alluding to the impressive 40 time (4.69) and vertical leap (36 inches) he posted at a Nike SPARQ combine in New Jersey back in April, McKeon continued, “I think it was mostly the athleticism after the catch, and I’m sure my testing numbers helped as well. My 40 and vertical, they were impressed by those.”
Of course, a highlight reel like this doesn't hurt either...
It also helps to have natural ability off the edge. McKeon made ESPNBoston’s All-State Team last fall as a defensive end, consistently turning speed to power with an explosive first step, as he recorded 57 tackles and 7.5 sacks. Together with Boston College signee Chris Lindstrom Jr., a two-time All-Stater who was named ESPNBoston’s Lineman of the Year, the Rams had one of the most formidable defensive end duos in the state.
Long-time Shepherd Hill coach Chris Lindstrom Sr. is in the Boston University Hall of Fame, and spent four seasons in the NFL. McKeon said Lindstrom was a great voice to listen to as he navigated a recruiting journey that became a whirlwind seemingly overnight.
“I was in his office almost every day, before and after school, and we always talked about what was going on,” McKeon said of Lindstrom Sr. “I also talked with [assistant coach] Ryan Dugan, who made a lot of calls and sent out my film. They were a great help in helping me.”