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A college sports blog from The Oakland Press, dedicated to covering Michigan and Michigan State athletics as well as former Oakland County athletes at other schools.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Michigan gets 2011 commit from Seaholm's Conway

It's never too early to start recruiting for next season — and a little over three weeks after National Signing Day for 2010 had concluded, Michigan already has three commitments for 2011, the latest coming from Birmingham Seaholm's Shawn Conway.

The 6-foot-4 junior wideout was offered a scholarship at Michigan's Junior Day Saturday, and he accepted, joining a recruiting class that already includes Cass Tech's Delonte Hollowell and Greg Brown of Ross, Ohio — both defensive backs.

For more on Conway's decision to commit to the Wolverines, read Scott Burnstein's prep notebook in Monday's edition of The Oakland Press, and check back on his Burney's Bytes blog on for updates.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

CMU Chippewas win national championship

(Grabbed your attention, didn't it?)

While the football team at Central Michigan University grabbed the lion's share of the attention in the fall — and rightfully so, with its third Mid-American Conference title in four years, and the conference's first bowl win in years — the Dan LeFevour-led gridders weren't the only ones doing the unthinkable.

In addition to its own on-the-field history (earning the program's first-ever MAC title, by winning both the regular-season and tournament crowns), the women's soccer team grabbed the national academic championship for the fifth year in a row by posting the highest team GPA of any Division I team.

"Obviously, this fall soccer season we did really well, but we always thought as coaches that we could do both, while maintaining the high level and standard in the classroom," said second-year CMU coach Tom Anagnost, a one-time USISL all-star with the Michigan Bucks.

And it's not like the girls have been slacking, as the pressure to repeat has mounted: Since capturing the first academic national title in 2005 with a GPA of 3.62, the Chippewas have barely done worse than that, posting GPAs of 3.73, 3.61, 3.70 the next three years, before posting a 3.73 this fall. No player on the team had less than a 3.0 this fall.

It's a high standard to maintain.

"There was a lot of stress put on academics when we committed, and when you hear that, you have pressure to get good grades. Everyone that’s been recruited has always been a top GPA person — but when you hear that, it’s just a ton of extra stress and pressure," Lake Orion junior defender Jenna Hill said in a video posted to CMUSportsZone that you can watch here.
"Obviously, it’s important to us to keep the streak going. ... It’s always in the back of your mind for all the girls, like ‘Were you the one that broke the streak?’ It’s been five years now, and we want to graduate being all four years the best GPA in the nation. You don’t want to look back and see that one year — your last year or your third year — that you broke that streak. It’s tough, but it gives you even a little bit more incentive to do even better."

Over that five-year span, the Chippewas have led the conference with 18 academic All-MAC selections, including a league-high seven in the fall. Goalkeeper Shay Mannino became the program's first National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) All-American, earning third-team honors. Royal Oak grad Claire Horton, a sophomore, is the only other player with Oakland County ties on CMU's roster.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eagles lose another recruiting battle

Shortly after an uphill battle in recruiting, the Eastern Michigan University football team lost its recruiting coordinator, Tyrone Wheatley, who left EMU after just one season to become the running backs coach at Syracuse on Tuesday.

While the move may finally be a breakthrough in the coaching career of the former University of Michigan All-American, who has bounced around from coaching internships and lower-level coaching gigs — including one season at his high school alma mater, Dearborn Heights Robichaud — after his retirement from the NFL in 2004, it doesn't bode as well for EMU. Easily the most recognizable name on a staff filled with other former Michigan players and coaches — head coach Ron English and assistants Kurt Anderson, Tom Burpee and Steve Szabo — Wheatley guided EMU to an underwhelming recruiting haul of 23 players, which included six signees from junior colleges or prep schools and one senior transfer from Louisville. It looked a lot like a staff struggling to sell a program coming off a winless season.

Wheatley joins Doug Marrone's staff at Syracuse, filling a spot that SU already thought it had filled this offseason. After last year's RB coach, Stan Drayton, left for the same position at Florida Marrone originally filled the opening an equally-inexperienced candidate in Roger Harriott, a high school coach and AD, who promptly changed his mind less than a month later, and returned to his high school-gig in Florida.

While Wheatley has marginally more experience than Harriott, he's at least got better name recognition.

"He’s played the position, been on the field at the highest level and seen in through the eyes of a player. Plus, he played in a system I’m familiar with and believe in. His learning curve should be a lot easier," Marrone told the Syracuse Post-Standard, noting that Wheatley's resume as a player wasn't the sole factor. "The first question I ask any candidate is, ‘What are you going to do for these players outside of football? I’m interested in how a coach is going to help a kid become a better man, a better member of society. Tyrone has the same core values I have. That was the most important thing."

Now the important thing for EMU will be to replace Wheatley — the 1992 Big Ten Player of the Year, who ran EMU's high school football camps, and had been acknowledged as a potential rising star in the coaching circles — with another ace recruiter who can tap the Eagles back into the state of Michigan. Only two of EMU's 2010 signees were from this state.

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Thursday, February 4, 2010

RichRod's desperation shows in U-M's recruiting haul

NOTE: This column first appeared in The Oakland Press' print edition on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2010.

ANN ARBOR — However you want to look at it, the 2010 recruiting class for Michigan could go down as either the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end.

Amidst all the happiness of signing an enormous class of 27 players — one that coach Rich Rodriguez called the biggest he’d ever had — there was as much a note of caution coming out of Wednesday’s National Signing Day news conference.

Yes, the Wolverines’ haul earned them another consensus top 20 class nationally.

Yes, this group of athletic speedsters more fits the style that the Rodriguez’s Wolverines want to play on offense and NEED to play on defense.

Yes, the fact that nearly two-thirds of those recruits are on defense, allowing the U-M staff to replenish a badly-depleted corps that had allowed the second-most points in school history last year — then lost its two best players.

Yes, the early enrollment of seven of the players — including the nation’s best all-purpose quarterback in Inkster’s Devin Gardner — will give U-M another jump-start on building depth across the board before spring practice is even over.

And, yes, Rodriguez — whose voice was hoarse from weeks of non-stop phone calls — lived up to his reputation as a closer by keeping one key recruit who was wavering right up until Wednesday morning, then trumping that by adding a much-sought-after safety prospect shortly thereafter.

But no, not everything is hunky-dory ... not yet.

Coming off the worst two consecutive seasons since the 1960s — 3-9 and 5-7 — the Wolverines needed a strong recruiting effort, but it wasn’t easy, considering the lack of success they’ve had so far under Rodriguez. It’s been a rougher start than most people expected.

“It’s tougher than if you won a national championship, no question. I’ve been on both ends. If you’re on this end, you know, we’ve gotten a little bit better, so you can see progress, but I think you can also sell opportunity,” the embattled head coach admitted. “As I tell coaches, you’re not really selling. Sometimes it looks like salesmanship. I heard one time, you’re not really selling anything, you’re just giving people what they want. Maybe I sound like a salesman, to tell you that.”

What people want — at least people not named Bill Martin (the outgoing AD) and Mary Sue Coleman (U-M’s president) — is wins. If Rodriguez can use this recruiting class — truly just his second full class of his own — to get things righted on the field, there may be a chance that he outlives lame-duck status when incoming AD David Brandon takes over in the fall.

If not, Brandon likely won’t hesitate to change the recipe, like he did when he was still the CEO of Domino’s Pizza.

You’d think that a coach dangling in the wind as much as Rodriguez is wouldn’t take chances on kids with red-flag character issues, especially since he’s still got a pending NCAA investigation — you remember the whole practice fiasco from late last summer — hanging over his head. Nothing is an easier excuse to fire an underperforming coach than off-the-field issues.

Yet, here was Rodriguez on Wednesday, getting red in the face defending that late addition to his recruiting class, four-star Lauderdale Lakes (Fla.) safety Demar Dorsey, who had reported run-ins with the law as a prep star. And it’s not the first time Rodriguez has taken a leap of faith on a kid with a checkered past — either here or at West Virginia, where he had a penchant for recruiting kids like the much-vilified Pat Lazear and eventual NFL miscreant Pacman Jones.

“All I want to say is that, every guy we sign, we do our research on, as well. I think sometimes people are too quick to judge something they read on the Internet, and I think that’s dangerous to do that. I don’t think it’s fair to the young man and his family to pass judgment before you know the whole story,” Rodriguez said.

“I get a little upset when people have labeled ... ‘Aw, coach, you’ll bring this guy or that guy in.’ ... Unfortunately, you’ll have guys that disappoint you, make a mistake. We’ve had a couple that have come and make a mistake. God forbid they make a mistake, but unfortunately they did, and you have to have discipline, you have to enforce it. ... I think generally, for the most part, our guys have behaved pretty well. ...
“There’s nobody on this football team that we would sign that has a felony conviction, or there’s nobody on this football team that we would sign that has a misdemeanor conviction. So you have to look at the whole story, before you pass judgment. That’s all I’m asking you to do.”

The whole story isn’t written yet on Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan. He’ll have the fall to prove — once and for all — that his system will work, if equipped with the right parts.

And members of this recruiting class will have to be a big part of that. Of the five defensive backs, it’s likely that at least two will have to start. The new defensive linemen will have to try to collectively fill the huge shoes of the graduated Brandon Graham, a likely first-round pick in April’s NFL draft.

Is this class good enough to do that?

Even Rodriguez was hesitant to say that.

“I’m a little a little bit reluctant, like most coaches are — everybody wants to rank a recruiting class, or put a stigma or something on guys coming in. Really — and this sounds like coachspeak — you really need to wait a couple years and then determine how good the class is,” he said. “I’ve had recruiting classes before that weren’t ranked anywhere in the top 25 or 30, and they end up leading the team to a top-five ranking in the country, and winning a BCS bowl, so I think you have to be careful about all that.”

Problem is, Rich, you may not HAVE a couple of years.

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Spartans strike early, hold on

In his heart of hearts, Mark Dantonio’s preferred style is to get a lead, then take the air out of the ball, and play keep-away.
It’s his modus operandi, on the field and off.

You can see that from the way the Michigan State coaching staff attacked recruiting this year— they gathered in a bunch of early commitments from big-time players, then slowed everything down to a crawl, and held on to those recruits for dear life.

It’s how the Spartans have scored classes in the upper echelon of the Big Ten each of the past two recruiting cycles.

And it’s why — despite all the speculation that losing ace recruiter Dan Enos to the head coaching job at Central Michigan — there was barely a hiccup in the Spartans’ recruiting efforts: Two-thirds of MSU’s 21-member class were already committed weeks before last season’s fall camp even started, and months before Enos’ January hiring at CMU.

In a two-week span in June alone, the Spartans picked up commitments from four players — led by five-star stud DE/LB William Gholston — who’d make or break a recruiting class for any Big Ten team.

From there on out, it was just addition without subtraction.

“None of them decommitted, and none of them went on visits to other schools. In a day and age where you see people flip-flopping a lot, that’s a statement in itself,” Dantonio said at Wednesday’s National Signing Day news conference at MSU’s Skandalaris Center. “William and Max (Bullough) committed last summer, and I think it showed a certain amount of maturity to stay a Spartan.”

Of specific importance was holding onto Gholston, the consensus best player in the state, and one of the most coveted prizes in the nation. For his part, the 6-foot-7, 235-pound Julian Peterson clone committed to the Spartans on June 16 — a day after four-star corner Mylan Hicks — and never wavered.

“He had opportunities, for sure. But I think he looked at the impact he could have on this state in general, as a young man, not just as a football player, and I think he always returned to where he started. What I do with all recruits — why we don’t have a lot of decommits — I let them look into their hearts, and if you have something in your heart, it grows,” Dantonio said.

“When he did make the decision, it was without pressure and without coercion. When you sell yourself on something, he began to sell other people. Every time he’d be here, he’d be talking to other recruits about coming to Michigan State, and he’d be answering his own questions there.”

Grabbing Gholston and Hicks, along with the state’s best drop-back quarterback for the second year in a row — this time Saline’s Joe Boisture, on the heels of Midland’s Andrew Maxwell a year ago — combined with Bullough, the legacy linebacker, and Chelsea scoring machine Nick Hill, allowed the Spartans to win the offseason in-state battle for Michigan again in 2010.
Couple that with back-to-back wins over Michigan on the field for the first time more than 40 years, and everything should be coming up roses for the Spartans, right?

Well, there was that messy little fight the day after the season-ending banquet, one that’s seen charges or inquiries into 14 different MSU players, and forced several of them to leave the program.

Couple that with a 6-7 season that included an embarrassing loss to a Mid-American Conference team, and a continual inability to carry out Dantonio’s game-plan of running the ball and playing stout defense — it’s no surprise that the Spartans’ recruits were inordinately slanted toward certain areas. No one could have been unhappier with last year’s pass-happy offense and porous defense than Dantonio.

By recruiting four defensive backs (to replace five graduated DBs), three linebackers, two defensive ends and a defensive tackle, the Spartans brought in almost an entire starting defensive unit to fix the latter of those flaws.

Don’t be surprised if a lot of those defenders see the field early and often.

“There’s a learning curve, but looking at the film, watching them play, I can tell you they have an opportunity to play at this level,” Dantonio admitted. “Every class, we’ve had six or seven players play as true freshmen.”

The Spartans also addressed the running game, adding three powerful offensive linemen from Dantonio’s native land of Ohio, a 230-pound power running back (Le’Veon Bell), a true fullback (Novi Detroit Catholic Central’s Niko Palazeti) and a slew of other athletes who can — and will — run the ball.

“There are opportunities. We have young freshmen (Larry Caper and Oak Park’s Edwin Baker) there right now. I really don’t care who we hand the ball to, as long as they hold onto it, and move forward,” Dantonio admitted.

Recruiting season over, it remains to be seen if the Spartans will take the momentum from back to back solid recruiting classes, and back-to-back wins over rival Michigan, and continue to move forward.

Or if they fail to hold onto the ball.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Down to the wire

When asked at his introductory news conference if he'd bring along any Michigan State recruits — likely by an overzealous (or hopeful) Central Michigan fan — new Chippewa head coach Dan Enos ripped off a quick response: "I don't recruit other people's commits."

He did, however, qualify that he "had a good idea where all the uncommitted players were."

After only three full weeks on the job Enos has proven that to be more than true.

While coaches at programs like MSU, where Enos helped assemble a star-studded list of commitments, and U-M, where Rich Rodriguez is recruiting for his life, the last 48 hours before Signing Day are just for polishing a largely settled assemblage of talent, and maybe adding a cherry on top, it's different for a guy like Enos. Battling attrition the whole way — CMU's top-ranked recruit, Montague QB Cody Kater, decommitted, along with Southfield WR Montrel Robinson and Ohio ATH Dwight Macon — Enos has more than held the ship together for this year's recruiting. He's scrapped to find adequate replacements for those players who were headed there more for the coach than the school (and now are gone), plus added a few cherry pick-ups of his own.

Since taking the reins of the CMU program on Jan. 12, Enos has picked up five new commitments, three of them in the last five days. Novi Detroit Catholic Central ILB Michael Kinville — a tackling machine who anchored the Shamrocks' state-championship defense — signed on last Thursday, followed by speedy Grand Rapids JC cornerback Anthony Hollis on Sunday, and Lancaster (Pa.) Catholic QB Kyle Smith on Monday. While Kater led Montague to two state titles, the pro-style Smith hails from the cradle of QBs — Western Pennsylvania — and finished as the state's career record-holder for pass yards and TDs, ahead of the state's luminary alumni like Joe Montana. (Not a bad addition, when you're trying to replace a record-setting QB like Dan LeFevour, who's on his way to the NFL after finishing as the Offensive MVP in the Senior Bowl over the weekend).

Those three added to a pair of earlier commits brought in by Enos: Inkster WR Deon Butler (who joins teammate Johnathan Taylor in heading to Mount Pleasant) and safety Avery Cunningham of Winton Woods HS in Cincinnati.

The quintet of new additions gives CMU 20 potential signees, heading into Wednesday's Signing Day festivities.

Enos' old employer, Michigan State, had been stuck on 20 since adding two-star DB Darqueze Dennard from Georgia midweek last week, but tacked on one more Monday, getting a commitment from Kinville's Shamrock teammate Niko Palazeti, Catholic Central's battering-ram running back.

Michigan has been quiet for a week, as well, holding out hope of adding one or more of three four-star defensive backs to a class that already has 26 bodies in it. U-M is waiting for last-minute decisions from S Sean Parker, CB Rashad Knight and S Demar Dorsey to round out a class that started with skill-position players on offense, and has finished strong with defensive quality and quantity.

UPDATE: Knight chose Rutgers over Michigan early Tuesday morning.

Eastern Michigan added a third OL to its still-small class of reported commits, nabbing Lincoln Hansen from Cornhusker country in Omaha, Neb., on Monday.

For those interested in all things recruiting — and that's probably you, if you've gotten this far in this post — the Big Ten Network will be airing a 90-minute show, starting at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

Check The Oakland Press print edition on Thursday for a full list of all the local signees, as well as who officially signed on with each of Michigan's five Division I-A programs, and check back on this blog for full analysis in the days to follow.

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