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Posts Tagged ‘Signing of the Stars’

SEC, ACC hypocrisy on display in race to stop Harbaugh

Friday, February 12th, 2016


Harbaugh(USATSI)

Alabama may have put the Southeastern Conference back atop the college football world last month, but Jim Harbaugh isn’t backing down. The Michigan head coach has captured headlines since returning to his alma mater less than 14 months ago and his most recent ploy has shone a light on the hypocrisy of southern schools.

Harbaugh announced following Michigan’s Signing of the Stars event on Feb. 3 that he would be taking the team south for Spring Break to practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. But just like his Summer Swarm football camp tour of the south and west coast last summer, the move is drawing the ire of SEC and ACC brass.

“Our primary reaction [is] that, in the face of the time-demand conversations, we’ve got one program taking what has been ‘free time’ away,” said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey on Tuesday. “Let’s draw a line and say, ‘That’s not appropriate.'”

In other words, Jim Harbaugh is doing something within the rules but we don’t like it so let’s change the rules so he can’t do it anymore.

He continued:

“This seems completely counter to the dialogue,” Sankey said. “We have work to do on [giving athletes a] day off. We have work to do on, how do you provide a postseason break? It seems where this is one where reasonable people could say we just shouldn’t be in this space.”

One of Harbaugh’s stated reasons for the Spring Break trip is to give the student athletes two weeks off — discretionary weeks as he called them — to focus on finals, which start April 20. By starting spring practice in late February and utilizing Spring Break for outdoor practice, team bonding, and yes, visibility to recruits, Michigan can close spring practice with two weeks off to focus on academics.

“We’re going to have swim meets, we’re going to have putt-putt golf, we’re going to have football meetings, we’re going to have practice,” Harbaugh said. “I think it gives us a chance to win on a lot of different levels. We’ll be outside, we’ll be in Florida, we’ll go to the beach. It will be a good time for our team to connect and be together. That’s a lot of levels right there to win on, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”

Sankey, of course, didn’t address that fact because it didn’t fit his narrative. Think of the kids, he said. Meanwhile, Ole Miss has been charged with 28 NCAA violations, 13 of which have come from the football team, and Tennessee is facing a lawsuit from six women who claim that the university — and its football program in particular — create a culture that enables sexual assault by student athletes. Guess who has been silent about thinking of the kids in these situations thus far? You guessed it, Sankey.

Greg Sankey

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey petitioned the NCAA to ban spring break trips (Mark Humphrey, Times Free Press)

The conference that Sankey inherited from Mike Slive a year ago, and has been a part of for over 13 years, has faced numerous major infractions in the past six years, but hasn’t received more than a slap on the wrist since Mississippi State was stripped of scholarships and banned from postseason play in 2004. Sankey, coincidentally, serves on the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which he has chaired since 2014.

But the disagreements with Harbaugh’s Spring Break trip aren’t limited to the SEC. Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford joined the fray on a Thursday interview on Sirius XM College Sports.

“It is creative,” Swofford said. “It’s kind of like we’re going to take you on vacation but you’ve got to practice while we’re on vacation … it’s a huge intrusion on a college student’s life and taking his ability to have a break out of his hands. I guess it depends on how you look at it.”

All of a sudden the commissioners of the two conferences that make up the southeastern United States — where a large portion of the nation’s top recruits year in and year out reside — are worried about student athletes. Yet Swoffod’s conference has been littered with NCAA sanctions in recent years from Miami to North Carolina to Georgia Tech to Florida State to Syracuse basketball, and most recently, Louisville basketball.

“I’m not concerned about the league’s image,” he said.

Well as long as the league’s image is intact, who cares that Jameis Winston’s actions were swept under the rug while he lead the Seminoles to a national championship? Who cares that over 1,000 student athletes from the North Carolina football and basketball programs received extra benefits and were involved in academic fraud? It’s all about the kids, remember?

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford speaks at the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college basketball media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford speaks at the Atlantic Coast Conference NCAA college basketball media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

College basketball teams regularly travel to holiday tournaments in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Bahamas during winter break. College baseball, softball, golf, swimming, and gymnastics teams regularly travel south in the spring to open their seasons in the sun. And college football itself eschews winter break in favor of traveling south or west for a week of practice culminating with a bowl game. The student athletes’ winter breaks were further consumed by football when college football expanded to the College Football Playoff in 2014. Where were Sankey’s and Swofford’s protests when Florida State and Alabama student athletes missed out on a week of a break before spring semester began?

Just last month, Clemson, a school from Swofford’s conference, was granted an NCAA waiver to practice more than the 20-hour a week limit. Why? Because their opponent, Alabama, hadn’t yet begun spring semester and thus, wasn’t bound by the practice limits. Where were Sankey’s and Swofford’s concern for the students’ time then?

The argument for the welfare of the kids is the easy one, the political one, to make. Because it gives the appearance — even if dishonest — that his main concern is based on academics. But it’s not the real one. While Sankey denies that he’s trying to protect his conference’s built-in competitive advantage of most of the nation’s top recruits residing in their schools’ back yards, that’s exactly what his argument is about. The reality is that Harbaugh is out-thinking and out-working his coaches and he doesn’t want to be caught flat footed.

Harbaugh often turns to Twitter to issue quotes and thoughts of the day that give a glimpse into his line of thought. An old Irish proverb comes to mind for this situation.

You will never plough a field if you only turn it over in your mind.

It’s possible that Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have had ideas similar to the Summer Swarm tour or Signing of the Stars or destination spring practices. Whether they have or not, they haven’t put them into practice. In just over a year on the job, Harbaugh has, and it’s allowing him to quickly make up ground on his counterparts.

He took a sinking, 5-7 team and doubled its win total, culminating with a 41-7 thrashing of SEC East champion, Florida. He followed that up by signing a top-five recruiting class that includes the top overall player in the nation, Rashan Gary, who included Clemson and Alabama among his final choices. The roster Harbaugh inherited in 2015 was the least talented he will have during his tenure in Ann Arbor, and his continued success on the field will breed success on the recruiting trail. Snakey, Swofford, and the coaches of the schools they preside over want to do everything they can to preserve their own success.

Harbaugh hasn’t broken the rules. He’s just a step ahead of the rest and forcing them to try to change the rules in order to keep up. And soon enough it will pay off, which is why, not only is he the target of commissioners pleading the NCAA to slow him down, but also other coaches spreading rumors about him to recruits and their families. Gary’s mother, Jennifer Coney, said as much after her son picked Michigan.

“That was a turn off,” Coney said of the negative recruiting. “Bring your program up. Tell me about all the good things that your program, your school, and the people on your staff do. Don’t kick this person in the back.  Nobody likes Michigan. Nooobody likes Michigan.  When Rashan picked Michigan, my phone stopped ringing. It was a blessing.”

Fellow defensive tackle commit Michael Dwumfor, who flipped from Penn State to Michigan in late January, agreed.

“When I was at Penn State, I heard jokes about Harbaugh and stuff like that,” Dwumfour said. “In the back of my head, I’m thinking ‘What he’s doing is working, obviously. Instead of criticizing him, you might want to take some of his techniques to try and help yourself out and get some recruits.’”

The SEC, ACC, and coaches within his own conference — who, not-so-coincidentally, came from the SEC — can say all they want, but Harbaugh will continue pushing the limits within the rule book to succeed in the cutthroat world of college football. And if they don’t match his enthusiasm, work ethic, and imagination, it won’t be long before they are dethroned.

That brings another Irish proverb to mind.

It is not the same to go to the king’s house as to come from it.

The top ten moments from Signing of the Stars

Friday, February 5th, 2016


It’s been more than 24 hours since Jim Harbaugh and Michigan took over National Signing Day. The Wolverines got started at 8:13 a.m., when Nate Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to the Maize and Blue, and went nonstop until Devin Asiasi pulled out the block M cap at 3:32 p.m.

That’s seven hours and 19 minutes of Michigan football on full blast, and it’s nowhere near the start of the season.

Now that we’ve had a chance to catch our breath, let’s take a look back at the event that highlighted it all: The Signing of the Stars. Whether you love it or hate it, you know Harbaugh hit the ball out of the park on Wednesday. All eyes were on Ann Arbor as the Wolverines pulled in virtually every single signing day target on their board.

I’ll count down what I thought were the top 10 moments of the first (of many) Signing of the Stars.

10. Celebrities call in to hype up Michigan football

Big Sean

When it seems like the stage can’t get any bigger, Jim Harbaugh finds a way to blow it out of the water. Sure, there were more than 20 well-known celebrities in Hill Auditorium, but why stop there?

The Signing of the Stars featured video call-ins from the likes of Owen Wilson, Big Sean, and even Verne Troyer. Seriously, Verne Troyer? Somehow, Harbaugh convinced the 2-foot-8 comedian to congratulate the incoming class while his entire head was drowned in a Winged Helmet.

Then Owen Wilson, who’s connection to the university was that he “played a character that had a Michigan degree once,” popped onto the screen and played the fight song on his cellphone. Future generations won’t remember Wilson as the actor from Wedding Crashers or The Internship. They’ll hear his name and say “Hey, isn’t that the guy from Signing of the Stars?”

But even Troyer and Wilson couldn’t top Big Sean. The world-famous rapper jumped onto the screen completely draped in Maize and Blue gear. While the rest of us were staring at the block M on his hat and jacket, Big Sean introduced a recruit from his own hometown: Michael Onwenu. How cool is it that a kid who chose Michigan over MSU got to be introduced by one of the city’s most famous living hometown heroes? Coincidence? Obviously not. It’s just another recruiting tool that Harbaugh can use during future in-state recruiting wars.

9. Quinn Nordin calls in with his family

Quinn Nordin

For months Michigan fans have heard the name Quinn Nordin thrown around on message boards and social media. Even when the four-star kicker (that’s right, a four-star kicker!) was committed to Penn State, it was almost a given that he would end up donning the Maize and Blue.

On Wednesday, just hours after making his decision official, Nordin joined the Signing of the Stars on screen with his entire family to introduce himself to the Michigan faithful. This marked the end of the recruiting journey that gave us round one of Harbaugh vs. James Franklin and the unforgettable post-dead-period sleepover.

Jim Harbaugh wanted this kicker, so Jim Harbaugh got this kicker. Boot ’em straight, Quinn.

8. Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock team up on stage

Denard Robinson and Jake Rudock

Harbaugh brought a whole host of former Michigan players to participate on Wednesday, but no duo better captured the moment that former quarterbacks Robinson and Rudock.

Denard Robinson, who played in one of the most all-around disappointing eras in Michigan football history, made the Wolverines watchable during his four years on the field. The hyper-athletic, just-go-out-and-play makeup of Robinson made him an easy player to root for and endeared him to a fanbase that hasn’t seen many dual threat quarterbacks.

On Wednesday, Robinson took the podium with a player who, not unlike himself, helped carry an offense that would’ve otherwise been mediocre (or completely lost, in Robinson’s case) without him. Rudock only spent one season with Michigan, but his improvement from Week 1 to the end of the season was so great it can’t be described in a paragraph of socially-acceptable length as the No. 8 ranking in a list.

Robinson kept a reeling football program afloat and Rudock helped steer it back on track. Watching them introduce a whole new group of Michigan men brought the last decade full circle.

7. “Who’s got it better than us?”

Harbaugh %22Go Blue%22

In his short 13 months in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh has offered no end of quirky quotes. He told us that artificial sweeteners are not, in fact, safe. And that he would run for president of the United States with Wale as his partner. He even revealed that worms with machine guns (assuming they are loaded) would no longer be afraid of birds.

All of those comments are just Harbaugh-isms. You can’t hope to understand them, you can only bask in their pure glory and absurdity. But when Harbaugh asks, “Who’s got it better than us?” he’s in a really, really good mood.

That was the case on Wednesday as he stood in front of some 3,000 Michigan die-hards and asked his favorite question. The responding “Nooooooobody!” echoed around Hill Auditorium as one of the country’s top recruiting class fell into place.

It’s only been 13 months, but Harbaugh’s already got his trademark punchline. Luckily, Michigan Nation loves it.

6. Ric Flair reveals his deep Michigan loyalty

Ric Flair

The whole bizarre, out-of-nowhere professional wrestling fascination evolving from Harbaugh’s declaration that he would love to have Wrestle Mania in the Big House hit a peak Wednesday when Ric Flair professed his love for the University of Michigan.

Flair got the crowd fired up as only he could, yelling about Michigan football and releasing one of his trademark “WOOO”s after saying he’d never wanted to leave Ann Arbor. But his best quote of the speech, and one of the funniest moments of the event, came near the end of his time on stage.

“I’m BLUE baby,” Flair shouted into the microphone. “I can’t STAND Ohio State. Ain’t got no TIME for Michigan State.”

We wanted Ric Flair, and we got Ric Flair. It wouldn’t be a speech from a professional wrestler without an unprompted shot at the common enemy in the room. It only makes it funnier that his jibe came while Columbus and East Lansing were grinding their teeth at how much attention Michigan was garnering.

Oh the disrespekt.

5. Derek Jeter and Tom Brady share the same couch

Jeter and Brady

Am I the only one who noticed how much athletic greatness was shoved onto that one couch? I mean, Derek Jeter is one of the greatest infielders of all time and he was only the second-best athlete sitting on that piece of black leather.

With more than half a cushion available, there were still 3,465 hits, 1,923 runs scored, 1,311 RBI, 260 home runs, 58,028 passing yards and 445 total touchdowns on that couch. Between the two, Jeter and Brady own 10 major sports championships (five World Series titles, four Super Bowl rings and a college football national title).

Watching the early enrollees as Jeter and Brady talked about sports right in front of them was a cool sight, and Harbaugh will place that into his already-loaded recruiting arsenal.

4. Devin Gardner leads The Victors

Gardner(MGoBlue.com)

Devin Gardner was probably one of the most unfairly treated players in recent Michigan history during his time on the field. When he had some semblance of a team around him in the second half of 2012, he looked like a pretty strong quarterback. But when the 2012 class graduated and left Gardner with a sieve of an offensive line and a head coach on his way out, the odds were stacked heavily against him.

Despite all of the boos and criticism he received as a player, Gardner is always around the Michigan program. He attends all the events and voices his support of a school that waited until after he left to become the most exciting sports landing spot on the planet.

So it makes sense that when Gardner took the stage on Wednesday, he did so with a huge smile on his face and forced the full audience, including notorious Notre Dame slappy Lou Holtz, to sing The Victors. Some of the guests were clearly uncomfortable on stage, but Gardner was a proud representative of the school and his simple gesture turned into one of the best moments of the night.

3. Jim Harbaugh discreetly learns Rashan Gary’s decision

The Signing of the Stars was great, securing commitments from Nordin, Washington, Devin Asiasi and Lavert Hill was great, but the biggest story of the day was always No. 1 recruit Rashan Gary’s decision.

Harbaugh couldn’t say anything about Gary during the party because of NCAA rules, but that almost made the whole process even more entertaining. Video of Harbaugh watching the decision go down on Mike Tirico’s smart phone and then calmly fist pumping and waltzing back onto the stage is priceless. The guy had just secured perhaps the highest-ranked recruit in Michigan history and he had to just go sit quietly on a couch.

Sure, everybody knew what happened, and Harbaugh even disclosed that he “got some good news backstage,” but watching one of the most enthusiastic men on the planet sit quietly after hearing the most exciting news of his college coaching career was pretty awesome.

A moment that didn’t get captured on camera while Todd McShay was breaking down film of running back commit Kareem Walker, Harbaugh walked back onto the stage and whispered to his assembled early-enrollees and gave them all fist bumps. The crowd of course picked up on this and their cheer that seemed random on the live stream now makes sense.

2. Dabbing

Jim Leyland dab

As it tends to do at all headline sporting events nowadays, dabbing played a major role in the Signing of the Stars.

First, wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell hit a perfect dab on stage after being called up to discuss his first few weeks in Ann Arbor. Mitchell is one of the most outspoken recruits in the class, so making a move in the spotlight was right up his alley.

Then, in an internet-shattering meeting between crusty MLB manager and trendy hip hop group, Jim Leyland turned the world on its head by hitting a well-rehearsed dab with his new buddies Quavo and Takeoff cheering him on. Was it the most beautiful dab in the world? No. Did it almost look like a well-timed sneeze? Yes. But Jim Leyland dabbed with two rap artists and nobody can take that away from him.

Lou Holtz’s dab was just as beautiful, even if it wasn’t as earth-shattering. After stumbling out to the middle of the stage to ensure everyone he’d sang the Michigan fight song, Holtz dabbed with Harbaugh to the glee of six nearby 18-year-old future Michigan football players.

What a time to be alive.

1. Chad Tough tribute

Harbaugh-Chad Carr

One of the underlying benefits of Signing of the Stars is that it raised money for the ChadTough Foundation. The event was not held to be a fundraiser, but to honor Michigan’s nearly 30 new football players. That being said, the tribute to Chad and the persevering cause dedicated in his name turned into perhaps the best moment of the night.

There are many who’ve criticized Michigan for involving the charity in Wednesday’s proceedings. They say Michigan used the charity to deflect criticism of the event. To be blunt, those people are being very stupid.

The ChadTough tribute at the end of the Signing of the Stars capped off a festive day in which Michigan celebrated its stars old and new. I thought it came off as genuine and gave a platform to an issue that’s trying desperately to raise awareness.

Michigan never advertised the Signing of the Stars as a charity event. No, Harbaugh was clear that Wednesday was a day to celebrate Michigan’s new recruiting class. The fact that over $100,000 was also raised toward the cause was just icing on the cake.

Chad’s story puts things in perspective, especially on a day when thousands of people came together to celebrate teenagers committing to a football team. Sure it sounds strange, but it was a slam dunk for Harbaugh, who not only brought great exposure to the program but also gave recruits another reason to consider the Maize and Blue.

Dozens of young men were honored during the Signing of the Stars, none more important than young Chad Carr.

Signing of the Stars shines spotlight on Michigan football

Thursday, February 4th, 2016


Signing of the Stars(MGoBlue.com)

Dense fog blanketing Interstate-94 from Chicago to Ann Arbor in the wee hours of Wednesday morning provided an apt metaphor for the current state of Michigan football. I knew the destination was ahead, but could only see a few feet at a time. As long as I stayed the course I would get to where I was going, despite the vast unseen in between.

By Wednesday afternoon, a good portion of the fog separating the Michigan program from where it stands now to where it wants to be had been lifted as Jim Harbaugh polished off a top-five recruiting class in style with a star-studded event in Hill Auditorium. The one-of-a-kind Signing of the Stars event was streamed live via The Players’ Tribune, drawing a large audience and making Michigan the talk of the college football world on National Signing Day.

During the two hour event seven early-enrollees were introduced by duos of celebrities, resembling an awards show like the ESPYs or the Oscars. Each player walked up onto the stage to applause from the audience, similar to NFL Draft day. Their highlight reels were then broken down by a panel of experts made up of ESPN analyst Todd McShay, former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, and former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.

“That was originally Harbaugh’s idea,” said Matthew Mills, the founder and executive producer of Spacestation, the New York-based production agency that produced the event. “We were told that they wanted something that felt like a combination of NFL Draft day, College GameDay, and an awards show. And I think we delivered that.”

The members of the 2016 recruiting class that were on hand to be celebrated for the night agreed.

Carlo Kemp(MGoBlue.com)

“It felt like NFL Draft day, sitting in your seat and waiting to hear your name called to go say your two lines and stand up there with Coach Harbaugh,” said defensive end Carlo Kemp, who enrolled a month ago. “It was like waiting to get drafted.”

Former Michigan quarterback and current Jacksonville Jaguars running back Denard Robinson, who along with fellow former Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock, was among the day’s presenters, echoed that sentiment.

“It was crazy because during the pre-runs for the whole thing it was kind of funny looking and you’re like ‘how’s this going to set up, how’s it going to be?’ and now you see it and it’s like ‘wow!’ It’s a great idea,” Robinson said. “It’s almost like draft day. You’ve got guys announcing you, you’ve got guys breaking down your highlights, it’s like getting drafted. You come to Michigan for things like this and to get drafted because a lot of people get drafted from this school.”

Per Mills, as Michigan worked to confirm celebrity attendees, who ranged from Tom Brady and Derek Jeter to Josh Gracin and Migos, other celebrities were “coming out of the woodwork” to ask to participate. So much so that Mills and Michigan couldn’t fit them all into the program. Instead, they filmed video montages of Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Robert Patrick, Dick Enberg, Verne Troyer and many more congratulating the recruiting class.

“Usually (coaches) sit by the fax machine and the coach stands up and talks and usually says the same kind of things, so I wanted to do something different, wanted to do something awesome,” Harbaugh said after the event.

SotS(MGoBlue.com)

Although he was traveling across the country, climbing trees, sleeping at recruits’ homes, and attending classes with them, Harbaugh was involved with the planning throughout the process, said Mills.

“He contributed a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We took our cue from him in that regard. He said ‘make this bold and give people something unique’, and I think we gave them that. He was very involved in the process and the creative process. We were giving him briefs about ‘we’d like to do this, we’d like to do that’ and he would say yea or nay or he would amplify something. He was very collaborative and we just had a blast working with him.”

It was a grand spectacle that provided water cooler talk in offices nationwide, some good and some who thought it was over the top. But those who will take notice the most are still in high school and Harbaugh will be battling for their commitments in the years to come.

“Sixteen and 17 year old kids are going to love this,” Kemp said. “I mean, if I knew this was going to happen I probably would have committed even earlier. It’s awesome, it was great. I’m glad to be a part of it and I’ll remember February 3, 2016 for the rest of my life.”

Robinson, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, concurred.

“I think it’s a big deal. It’s going to put us back on the map a little bit. This was a great idea to have guys come out like this. We’ve had so many celebrities come out, actually announcing these guys, so it’s big. I mean as an 18-year old you’ve got Derek Jeter announcing you, Tom Brady announcing you, Ric Flair, Desmond Howard. They get to announce you when you’re 18 years old. It means everything and coming to Michigan is going to be a great opportunity.”

But in addition to celebrating a top five recruiting class, the purpose of the event was to raise awareness and money for pediatric cancer, an issue that has gripped the Michigan family since last year. Chad Carr, the grandson of former Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr passed away on Nov. 23 after a battle with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Giloma (DIPG).

Harbaugh-Chad Carr

While Harbaugh’s recruiting tactics have drawn criticism from rival coaches, players, and fans, there was no more telling moment than shortly after 1pm. As the nation’s consensus top recruit, Rashan Gary, whom Harbaugh and his staff had been courting for over a year, was announcing his commitment to Michigan over Clemson live on ESPNU, Harbaugh wasn’t glued to a television set or a smartphone. He wasn’t backstage working the phones. He wasn’t eagerly awaiting a text message or a call or a tweet.

No, he was standing on stage, flanked by his wife Sarah to his right and Tammi Carr to his left. He was telling the 3,500 fans in attendance and the rest of the country watching the live stream the importance of a five year old kid, urging them to visit ChadToug.org and donate to help fund research that may someday save other kids like Chad who suffer from DIPG.

Word of Gary’s commitment spread through the Hill Auditorium crowd as they wiped their damp eyes — a poignant reminder of what matters most.

New in Blue: 2016 TE Devin Asiasi

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016


Devin Asiasi(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Devin Asiasi – TE | 6-3, 270 | Concord, Calif. – De La Salle
ESPN: 4-star, #3 TE Rivals: 4-star, #2 TE 247: 4-star, #8 TE Scout: 4-star, #4 TE
Other top offers: USC, UCLA, Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, Tennessee, Miami, Nebraska, ND

Michigan’s big National Signing Day haul concluded with a commitment from Concord, Calif. tight end Devin Asiasi. The De La Salle product chose the Wolverines over his home-state schools, USC and UCLA.

Asiasi is a consensus four-star recruit according to the four major recruiting services. Rivals ranks him the highest as the second-best tight end in the class, and 46th-best overall player in the class. ESPN ranks him as the third-best tight end and 44th overall, while Scout has him fourth and 67th, and 247 has him eighth and 218th. Per the 247 Composite, Asiasi is the nation’s third-best tight end and 74th-best overall player in the class.

Scout is very complimentary of the big tight end, listing his strengths as ability to beat jams, frame, and hands and concentration. They note his area to improve as elusiveness with catch. At 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, he has good size to be a complete tight end, both catching and blocking. Scout expands on their analysis.

“Asiasi is a huge tight end target who could honestly have even more upside as a defensive end down the road. He’s pushing 270 pounds and will have no problem stepping in to a college offense and being physically able to handle those battles in the trenches. Where he surprises people is with his ability to run and catch. He’s a very coordinated athlete for his size and can get down the field. He also has very soft hands and will be that reliable 3rd down pass catcher every quarterback loves to have. He’s a tremendous blocker and comes from a system at De La Salle where you learn to block early on or you won’t play. As long as he can keep his weight down, Asiasi should be a tremendous tight end at the next level with Sunday potential.”

After Michigan missed out on Isaac Nauta, who chose to remain home and attend Georgia last month, Harbaugh turned his attention to Asiasi, drawing him to campus two weekends ago and ultimately, landing his commitment. Asiasi joins Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks as tight ends in the class. Harbaugh’s affinity for using tight ends has been a major draw, and with Jake Butt graduating following next season, the spot is wide open beginning in 2017.

New in Blue: 2016 DT Rashan Gary

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016


Rashan Gary(David Lake, 247 Sports)

Rashan Gary – DT | 6-5, 293 | Paramus, N.J. – Paramus Catholic
ESPN: 5-star, #1 DT Rivals: 5-star, #1 DT 247: 5-star, #1 DT Scout: 5-star, #1 DT
Other top offers: Everybody

Michigan fans had to sweat it out until the very end, but the wait was worth it when the nation’s top recruit, defensive tackle Rashan Gary announced his commitment to the Wolverines on National Signing Day. He announced his decision live on ESPNU, choosing Michigan over Clemson, and there was an audible exhaling among those in attendance at Michigan’s Signing of the Stars event when word got out to those following along on their phones.

He followed it up with a tweet.

Gary is the consensus No. 1 player in the class by all four major recruiting services and among the best players in the recruiting services era. Despite a late push by the two schools that competed for the national championship last month, it was the consistency of Michigan that made the difference.

“I’ve been there three times and the rest of the schools I’ve only been there two times,” Gary said. “I’m happy, my mom is happy and my family is happy.”

Scout compliments his athleticism, explosion, and speed while listing his areas to improve as disengaging skills and techniques and moves. The good news is the strengths are unique attributes for a man his size, while the areas to improve are coachable skills that he will learn at the next level. Scout’s Brian Dohn raves about Gary.

“Gary is a mix of power, speed, athleticism and explosion. He has great speed and his ability to chase a play down are exceptional. He ran a 4.74 in the 40-yard dash at The Opening in July, and he plays fast. He can use his strength to overpower an offensive lineman, he has a tremendous change of direction and his explosion is off the charts.”

At 6-foot-5, 293 pounds he has not only the frame but the athleticism to come in and play right away. Michigan already has a deep and talented defensive line, but Gary will be too good to keep off the field right away. He should crack the rotation from the start and add athleticism to the group.

The highest-ranked commitment Michigan has ever landed helped the program make a huge splash on National Signing Day, coupled with the Signing of the Stars event that was streamed live on The Players’ Tribune.

New in Blue: 2016 K Quinn Nordin

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016


Quinn Nordin(Taylor Ballek, MLive.com)

Quinn Nordin – K | 6-1, 200 | Rockford, Mich – Rockford
ESPN: 3-star, #9 K Rivals: 3-star, #1 K 247: 3-star, #1 K Scout: 4-star, #1 K
Other top offers: Penn State, USC, Baylor, Arizona State, Michigan State, Georgia, Iowa, Pittsburgh

He’s not the flashiest commitment in Michigan’s class, but Rockford, Mich. kicker Quinn Nordin pledged his commitment to the Wolverines on Wednesday morning, continuing Jim Harbaugh’s nice start to National Signing Day. And while he won’t draw the most headlines on this day, he’s an important piece of the puzzle.

Nordin is a three-star according to ESPN, Rivals, and 247, and a four-star per Scout. While Scout, Rivals, and 247 rank him as the top kicker in the class, ESPN has him much lower at ninth.

Nordin originally committed to Penn State last July, just before the Nittany Lions’ summer camp, but visited Michigan for back to back weeks during the season. When the recruiting dead period ended on January 15, Harbaugh made national headlines by showing up at Nordin’s house just after midnight and holding a sleepover with the kicker. Nordin decommitted from Penn State last Wednesday and visited USC over the weekend. But the Trojans accepted a commitment from Temecula, Calif. kicker Michael Brown, signaling Nordin’s commitment to Michigan.

This fall, Michigan returns fifth-year senior kicker Kenny Allen, who was a model of consistency, connecting on 18 of 22 field goal attempts with a long of 47. Sophomore-to-be Andrew David is the only other true kicker on the roster, so Nordin will battle with David and walk-ons for the kicking spot in 2017.

New in Blue: 2016 CB LaVert Hill

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2016


LaVert Hill(247 Sports)

LaVert Hill – CB | 5-10, 176 | Detroit, Mich – Martin Luther King
ESPN: 4-star, #21 CB Rivals: 4-star, #14 CB 247: 4-star, #6 CB Scout: 4-star, #7 CB
Other top offers: Michigan State, Clemson, Tennessee, USC, UCLA, Ohio State, Georgia, Miami

One of the more dramatic recruiting stories for Michigan’s class has ended in Michigan’s favor with a commitment from Detroit King cornerback LaVert Hill. The younger brother of current Michigan safety Delano Hill chose the Wolverines over Penn State and rival Michigan State.

Hill is a consensus four-star recruit according to the four major recruiting services. 247 Sports ranks him the highest as the sixth-best cornerback in the class and 88th-best overall player in the class. Scout ranks him seventh at his position and 97th overall. Rivals has him 14th and 176th, while ESPN ranks him the lowest as the 21st-best corner in the class and 278th-best overall.

Scout likes his coverage awareness, hands, and instincts, but thinks he needs to improve his size. At 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds he’s the exact same size Jourdan Lewis was listed at on this season’s roster. Lewis, of course, was a first team All-American and semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe and Chuck Bednarik awards. Scout expands on their analysis of Hill.

“Has a natural knack for reading and jumping routes. Good, quick feet and ability to change directions. Technically sound and smooth in his backpedal and transition. Has the closing speed to makeup ground and break on passes. Must add size and strength. Solid wrap-up tackler, but must get stronger to improve in this area.”

Hill joins David Long to give Michigan a pair of highly-rated cornerbacks in addition to Devin Gil and Josh Metellus, who will likely wind up at safety or linebacker. At least one of the committed receivers may wind up in the secondary as well.

Hill is an excellent pickup for Harbaugh, not only for the talent he brings to Ann Arbor but because he’s a head-to-head recruiting win for a Detroit kid against bitter in-state rival Michigan State. During Michigan’s downturn the past few years, the Spartans took hold of most of the state’s best players, but Harbaugh is working to put an end to that with Hill, who is ranked fifth in the state, and offensive tackle Michael Onwenu, the top player in the state.

Hill is the second commitment of the day for Michigan, following receiver Nate Johnson’s commitment earlier this morning. Stay tuned for more commitment news and coverage from Signing of the Stars.

Jim Harbaugh’s party guests, ranked

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016


Harbaugh(Getty Images)

Jim Harbaugh sure knows how to throw a party.

Whether it’s a sleepover on the floor of a high school senior’s bedroom, an appearance on Judge Judy, or a National Signing Day celebration, Harbaugh only knows how to do it one way.

He does it BIG.

On Wednesday, Harbaugh will return from a fortnight of country-wide tree climbing and birthday cake baking to officially welcome his first full recruiting class to the halls of the Maize and Blue. But he won’t be sitting beside the fax machine, chewing his fingernails in anticipation of LOIs from high school players.

Instead, Jim Harbaugh will be hosting a few special guests.

What kind of guests? I’m glad you asked.

From current NFL stars to pop culture idols to chain-smoking former MLB managers, this party is sure to have it all. Naturally, I’m going to put these guests into a special edition of the M&GB power rankings (we’ll be sure to update this list as soon as Donald Trump and Bruce Jenner RSVP).

20. Todd McShay
Todd McShay

It’s only fitting that our list kicks off with a savvy little under-the-radar invite from Harbaugh. Although McShay isn’t exactly an American household name, he fits two of the major criteria that 21st Century recruits crave: national television and the NFL.

What better way for Harbaugh to compliment his NFL pedigree than bringing in half of ESPN’s draft debating duo? McShay is an immediate reminder that playing for Harbaugh means a chance to move on to the next level — just ask Jake Rudock.

19. Lou Holtz
Lou Holtz

Thpeaking of sporth broadcathterth, Lou Holth ith altho heading to Ann Arbor. Holtz adds something even Harbaugh doesn’t have to the party: A college football national championship.

If you can look past his “Notre Dame is still 1940s dominant” mentality and the fact that he once compared Rich Rodriguez to Adolph Hitler on national television, Holtz is actually a pretty nice addition.

Just don’t ask him to blow out the candles on the cake.

18. Derek Holland

Derek Holland(AP)

For the non-baseball fanatics, Holland is one of the hidden gems on this guest list. Sure, a simple ESPN search will tell you he’s a soft-throwing, oft-injured southpaw with mediocre career stats. But off the field, Holland has the social arsenal to be the life of the party.

As the five-star recruits pour in from all over the country, Holland can christen their unity with Ann Arbor in the soothing drawl of Harry Caray or the dulcet tones of Tim Kurkjian. Holland’s impression game is so strong, he even does impressions of celebrities doing impressions of other celebrities.

How did this unlikely union between Holland and Harbaugh come to be? It all started on a fateful August evening in downtown Detroit. Harbaugh was set to throw out the first pitch at a Tigers game, and Holland was in right field wearing a Winged Helmet. The rest is a story for another time.

17. Jack Kennedy
Jack Kennedy

No, not THAT Jack Kennedy.

Among the Michigan football alums returning for this remarkable gathering is one of the most efficient passers in the school’s history. Kennedy finished his Michigan career with a perfect completion percentage and an average of six yards per rush.

Even more impressively, the quarterback-turned-rapper opened for Lil’ Wayne back in June when Weezy came to Joe Louis Arena. If he can rock the “Big Show at the Joe,” he can probably handle Hill Auditorium.

16. Randy Sklar
Randy Sklar

Randy Sklar enters the party as a rare five-tool social talent. He went to Michigan, joined a frat, worked for ESPN, became a professional comedian, and appeared on several huge T.V. shows. Harbaugh just couldn’t pass on such a well-rounded talent.

Sklar appeared on shows like CSI, Law & Order, Entourage, Grey’s Anatomy, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He’ll be asked to play the charismatic Michigan-salesman on this episode of Signing of the Stars.

15. Jim Leyland

Jim Leyland(Ronald Martinez)

Ah yes, the Skipper. Can you imagine a conversation between these two Jims? Harbaugh would put so much effort into understanding Leyland’s mumbling and bumbling that he’d probably blow a gasket. Harbaugh’s post-talk slap on the back would send the former Tigers manager to his knees.

Luckily, Hill Auditorium has exits to the left, right, and center of the main entrance, so Leyland can avoid most of the young’uns and take plenty of smoke breaks.

14. Jon Jansen
Jon Jansen(Taylor Baucom, The Players’ Tribune)

Jansen is valuable in that he brings an almost Harbaugh-level enthusiasm for Michigan football. As emcee of the Michigan Football Bust last year, he brought an enthusiasm unknown to mankind in his sendoff for Coach Brady Hoke.

Jansen adds to the NFL experience in the room. He was drafted in the second round in 1999 and played 137 games on the offensive line.

13. Jessica Szohr
Jessica Szohr

If you were starting to think, ‘Wow, there are a lot of dudes going to this party,’ fear not, because Jessica Szohr will also make an appearance.

I won’t even pretend that I know how Harbaugh managed to bring Szohr to Ann Arbor for this event. Maybe she’s an undercover hardcore football fan? Or simply couldn’t say no to Harbaugh’s boyish charm?

Either way, Szohr has some impressive credentials. Her biggest role was Vanessa Abrams — which I think will especially appeal to Gossip Girl diehards like Rashan Gary — and even guest starred in an episode of Drake and Josh, which takes the cake for me.

12. Mayer Hawthorne
mayer-hawthorne

Now that I’ve done a little research and confirmed that Mayer Hawthorne isn’t actually a mayor, I think he’s a strong addition to Harbaugh’s party list.

Lame jokes aside, this guy is all over the music industry. He’s a singer, songwriter, producer, rapper, and DJ and he plays a ton of instruments. I’m not sure how Harbaugh got in touch with the Mayer, but it’s another notch on his popularity belt.

11. Josh Gracin
Josh Gracin

Let’s face it, country music has made a huge comeback over the last several years and it’s not going away.

Not only is Josh Gracin a product of Westland, Michigan, but he also went to school at Western before joining the Marine Corps. He’s a big-name musician in his prime and that’s a major plus on National Signing Day.

Oh yeah, and he picked up bonus points for being on American Idol way back when it was cool. There’s no shame in losing to the likes of Clay Aiken.

10. Phil Hellmuth
Phil Hellmuth

It’s almost like Harbaugh is trying to collect the best of the best in every sport (or activity). Hellmuth has a record 14 World Series of Poker bracelets and won the Main Event in 1989 and the World Series of Poker Europe in 2012.

The Poker Brat might just sit at a table in the corner with his sunglasses on, staring menacingly at the rest of the room with his fingers interlocked, but anyone who musters up the courage to start a conversation with him will surely learn a lot about overreaction and intimidation.

9. David Portnoy
Milton, MA 022511 Dave Portnoy (cq) is the publisher of Barstool Sports empire which he puts out his Milton office. He and his blogger / vlogger Jenna Mourey (cq) were photographed at his office on February 25, 2011. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)/ MET

This is one of the unbelievably amazing names that might be unappreciated on the list. El Presidente did the entire world a huge favor when he started Barstool Sports and he’s one of the best follows on Twitter.

Portney will be an easier guy to approach at the party, but I think a conversation with him will be the most entertaining on campus. This’ll also be a bit of a reunion for Portney, who went to high school with McShay in Massachusetts.

8. Denard Robinson

(Daniel Brenner, AnnArbor.com)

He may not be the biggest name on this list, but there’s no way Shoelace wasn’t making my top 10.

Denard Robinson was the single player who made watching Michigan football bearable from 2009-2012. In an offensive era defined by terrible coaching and broken plays, Denard turned bad snaps and missed blocks into 60-yard touchdown runs. He was the best athlete every time he took the field, and didn’t make a peep when he lost his starting job due to injury.

And in a world of domestic violence, drunk driving, and banned substance abuse, it’s refreshing to remember a character like Denard Robinson.

7. Migos
Migos

All you need to know about this hip hop trio is they call themselves Migos and their names are Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff. They work under the former manager for Gucci Mane, which I think makes them pretty cool, and I’m sure Harbaugh heard their name on the recruiting trail a few times.

Hey, they’re no 2 Chainz, but they’ll have to do.

6. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski(Geoff Burke, Getty Images)

I’m certainly not much of a NASCAR expert, but a quick Google search told me Keselowski finished seventh in the Sprint Cup standings last season.

If top 10 is good enough for Harbaugh, it’ll be good enough for the recruits. Keselowski has won at some of the biggest racetracks in the country and even has a Sprint Cup championship under his belt. As NASCAR’s biggest Michigan football fan, he’ll fit right in.

5. Mike Shanahan
Mike Shanahan(Getty Images)

We’re getting down into elite territory now, and my top 5 will start with the most accomplished coach attending the event.

Shanahan has been out of the NFL for a few years now, but his nearly two decades of head coaching experience is highlighted by three Super Bowl championships and 178 career wins.

In a building full of football fanatics, Shanahan’s three rings will shine even brighter than Quavo’s chains.

4. Desmond Howard
Desmond Howard

This was probably the easiest sell of the year for Harbaugh, but that doesn’t take away from how valuable Howard’s presence will be.

Howard is one of the greatest players in Michigan history as a Heisman Trophy winner and author of one of the program’s most memorable moments. He’s an unabashed homer for the Wolverines on the most popular football pregame show in the world and won’t hesitate to do whatever he can to help Harbaugh in his pursuit of the best players in the country.

Des will give new Michigan players an early taste of what Ann Arbor love really looks like.

3. Ric Flair
Ric Flair

Ever since Harbaugh said he would love to host WrestleMania at the Big House, he’s been a popular guy in professional wrestling circles. He specifically said he wanted to referee a bout between Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan, which likely kicked off the relationship that brought the former wrestler onto this list.

Wrestling isn’t as popular as it used to be, but Harbaugh’s sudden in with pro wrestlers is one of the things that is so Harbaugh you can’t help but admire it. Flair, like Keselowski and Holland, demonstrates another corner of the sporting world Harbaugh has taken over.

2. Derek Jeter
Derek Jeter

Every fanbase has its crowned jewels, and Derek Jeter is one Michigan fans hold close to their hearts. When Jeter shows his support for the Wolverines, Michigan football gains even more credibility.

It couldn’t have been difficult to get Jeter to Ann Arbor for this party after he spent a full night partying at Rick’s in the fall. The Captain also came to the Big House for a game this season and stood on the Michigan sideline. It’s obvious that Harbaugh is working to keep Michigan’s most famous fans in the loop.

1. Tom Brady
Tom Brady(AP)

Nobody on this list even comes close to matching Tom Brady. Even though he only started for two seasons at Michigan and fell to the 6th round of the NFL draft, Brady is one of the greatest players to ever step on the field.

When Brady walks into the hall with his four Super Bowl rings, two MVP awards, 11 Pro Bowls, and nearly 60,000 career passing yards, he’ll be the absolute center of attention. Brady alone has turned half the state of Michigan into devoted Patriots fans and when his face pops up on the Big House scoreboard, the responding cheer is unmatched.

Brady is probably the most loved Michigan player of all time, and might retire as the greatest football player in history, so he grabs the top spot on this star-studded list.

While the event is drawing big names from all corners of the sports and entertainment world, I would be remiss not to mention the ChadTough Foundation, which will be the biggest beneficiary of the event. Proceeds from tickets sold to the event will go to the foundation, and Michigan donor Ira Harris announced that he will match any donation at the event up to $50,000. Whether you’re going to the event, following The Players’ Tribune’s live stream, or stuck at work, head on over to the foundation’s website and make a donation to help fight DIPG.

Wednesday is sure to be a big day for Michigan football, wrapping up one of the top recruiting classes in the country with a party full of stars on hand and all benefiting a great cause.

Who’s got it better than us?

No-body!