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Published: Friday, 12/18/2009

UM class thin on top recruits

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Baseball junkies believe the best way for a hitter to end a slump is to string together a series of singles and doubles. Perhaps the same philosophy applies to renovating a college football program.

With the stench of back-to-back poor seasons festering, University of Michigan is piecing together the final additions of a recruiting class thin on "home run" prospects, according to a top authority in the field. But dismissing Rich Rodriguez's second full recruiting effort as a failure would be a mistake, says Rivals.com national recruiting editor Jeremy Crabtree.

"Sure it would be nice to maybe have a few more home run-type prospects in the class, but the three-star kids are what you build your program off of," Crabtree said yesterday in a phone interview with The Blade. "I see a lot of good, quality players in this Michigan class."

Of the 23 high school seniors who have orally committed to the Wolverines, Rivals pegged 17 with a three-star assessment, and another at two stars. No projected future first round NFL draft picks - the criteria necessary for a five-star value - have pledged to play for UM, although five four-star prospects are expected to officially become Wolverines on Feb. 3, the first day recruits can sign a National Letter of Intent.

As of yesterday, Rivals rated UM's class No. 15 in the nation, which took into account the Wednesday commitment of four-star defensive tackle Richard Ash of Florida. By comparison, other credible recruiting services are slightly less enthused about the group, with Scout.com issuing a rank of 16, and ESPN a rank of 20. Penn State touts the Big Ten's top class, ranked top five across the board. Ohio State is ranked No. 24 by Rivals and third in the Big Ten.

That's a lot of numbers to digest. Now for some names.

Aside from Ash, who hails from the same high school as current Wolverines Vincent Smith, Brandin Hawthorne and Martavious Odoms, UM is expected to sign four other four-star prospects. They are: Detroit quarterback Devin Gardner, Florida linebacker Marvin Robinson, and two defensive players from Pennsylvania, end Ken Wilkins and cornerback Cullen Christian. Crabtree says Gardner (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) is the "face" of the class and that many are shortchanging his overall abilities.

"I don't think a lot of people understand how strong of an arm he has and how good of pocket presence he has," Crabtree said. "He has really improved his game."

Of those in the three-star crop, Crabtree praised running back Austin White (Livonia, Mich.), kicker/punter Will Hagerup (Wisconsin) and center Christian Pace (Avon Lake, Ohio).

"People need to understand that three stars doesn't mean we project the kid to be a bad player," Crabtree said. "Three stars means multi-year starter with all-conference potential."

Rodriguez places little emphasis on rankings and stars, once saying that a coaching staff must not rely on outside participation in their evaluation of a player. That philosophy grades well historically. Two of the best players Rodriguez coached at West Virginia - Pat White and Steve Slaton - were three-star recruits. Chris Henry and Adam Jones were assessed two stars by Rivals.

"I like the young guys we have and I like the way recruiting is going," Rodriguez told WDFN radio in Detroit this week. Per NCAA rules, coaches are forbidden to speak publicly about specific recruits until the athlete signs a National Letter of Intent.

It is believed UM's class will exceed the NCAA mandated limit of 25 players. No worries, Rodriguez is not breaking any rules. A handful of recruits are expected to enroll at UM in January and thus will be considered part of last year's class.

With Pace as the lone offensive line prospect in the fold, Crabtree believes UM will pursue four-star Miami guard Torrian Wilson who may be wavering on his commitment to Stanford. Other prospects that could sign with UM, according to Crabtree, are four-star receivers Kenny Stills (California) and Kenny Shaw (Florida), and Maryland three-star athlete Josh Furman who is expected to choose between UM and Virginia Tech tomorrow.

Contact Ryan Autullo at:

rautullo@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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