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Published: Thursday, 1/27/2011

UM's Hoke in driving mode as signing day nears

Traveling along the recruiting trail, Brady Hoke has been no slowpoke.

Since he was hired as Michigan's football coach a little more than two weeks ago Hoke has secured verbal commitments from six high school seniors, a number that could soon increase depending on the impact Hoke made Wednesday night during an in-home visit with instate offensive lineman Jacob Fisher.

The expectation that Michigan would accept more than 20 athletes in this class softened when coach Rich Rodriguez was dismissed this month, leaving the program with no leader for a week. Now it appears Hoke, a Michigan defensive assistant in the mid-1990s familiar with recruiting the Midwest, has averted a potential recruiting disaster. Prospects can make their college choice official beginning Wednesday.

"Coach Hoke and his staff have done a tremendous job of taking what on paper a couple weeks ago looked like a disappointing class or a chaotic finish and really turned it around for the positive," said Jeremy Crabtree, formerly of Rivals.com, who reports on college recruiting for ESPN.

Crabtree said Michigan will host five athletes this weekend and that six or seven others "are still on the board."

Hoke's six commitments are, beginning with the most recent from Tuesday: Russell Bellomy, a dual-threat quarterback from Arlington, Texas, whom Crabtree says is one of the most underappreciated senior quarterbacks nationally; Cincinnati Winton Woods linebacker Antonio Poole; Hilliard, Ohio, defensive end Keith Heitzman; Detroit cornerback Raymon Taylor; kicker Matt Wile, who prepped in San Diego, the city where Hoke previously coached, and Pickerington, Ohio, cornerback Tamani Carter.

Rivals.com lists Taylor as a four-star prospect -- one short of the highest grade -- and Wile as a two-star. The other four were graded at three-stars.

Some might suggest Hoke's best recruit isn't a player, but a coach in defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. Mattison left the defensive coordinator's job for the Baltimore Ravens to join Hoke. He is credited with convincing Poole to commit to the Wolverines. Mattison is expected to play a key role in recruiting.

Michigan's class stands at 16 and is projected to swell to 21 or 23. The transfer out of quarterback Tate Forcier opened a scholarship and a possible career-ending series of concussions to Mike Williams would create another opening.

After signing just one offensive lineman last year, Michigan is thought to be pursuing at least three. They are: Chris Bryant, a 330-pound four-star prospect from Illinois, who supposedly will decide Thursday between Michigan and Pittsburgh; Arizona's Ryan Nowicki who committed to Penn State this month but has yet to put an end to his recruitment, and Fisher, the former Michigan prospect from Traverse City.

Michigan State has tried hard to land Fisher, and Florida and Oregon have offered him scholarships too, but ESPN's Crabtree believes Michigan remains in the mix. Hoke has already recaptured one who nearly got away after the coaching change: Detroit's Delonte Hollowell.

"Things could change and swing back toward Michigan," Crabtree said. "I think that in-home visit is going to be extremely key with him[Fisher]."

Crabtree said it is unlikely -- very unlikely -- Michigan will land Orlando running back Dee Hart, who was once the highest-rated player in the Wolverines' class before he withdrew his commitment to UM, announcing he will go to Alabama.

Regardless of what Hoke is able to accomplish over the next six days, it's unlikely this class will be too highly thought of come Wednesday. Ranked just 30th nationally by Rivals.com, Michigan's recent struggles, coupled with a coaching change, has left Hoke with a class short of the program's usual standards.

Don't blame Hoke, says Tom VanHaaren, recruiting analyst for Mgoblog.com.

"There is a realistic chance Michigan could fill up this class. Had you asked me if that was possible when Dave Brandon fired Rich Rodriguez, I probably would have said no," VanHaaren said.

Contact Ryan Autullo: rautullo@theblade.com or 419-724-6160

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