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February 17, 2012Only four Michigan recruiting classes in the past decade have featured two five-star prospects, including the 2006 haul (Brandon Graham and Steve Schilling). Those two and their classmates had the potential for greatness but didn't quite achieve at the highest level ...
This nine-part series started Tuesday, with a quick glance at how the classes stacked up. The players were divided into three categories: standouts, contributors and busts, each respective to the rest of the class.
In other words, someone like offensive tackle Perry Dorrestein didn't have to be a two-time All-Big Ten first-team performer to be considered a standout, he just had to be someone in his class that belonged in the upper tier. A bust, say traitor Justin Boren, in contrast, was someone that accomplished very little or nothing at all (or was dismissed from the team) compared to the rest of his classmates.
A total of 19 athletes signed letters of intent with Michigan in February 2006, including nine four-stars and the two aforementioned five-star recruits. Out of the 19, over half (10) would hold a full-time starting job for at least one season, with eight serving as multi-year starters. That's quite a success rate. However, only Graham would earn first-team All-Big Ten honors during his career.
In other words, this class had depth but few standouts. Steve Brown, for instance, was probably the class' second-best player. In five years, the Class of 2006 also only won 55.6 percent of its games, never beating Ohio State and becoming the first class in four decades to have a losing record against Michigan State (2-3).
Fulfilling Their Potential
Here is a look at the stars each player earned as a recruit and what they earned as a player at Michigan.
*Editor's Note - How Stars Were Awarded:
A five-star is a multi-year starter All-American type.
A four-star is a multi-year starter that was all-conference caliber (first, second or HM).
A three-star was a solid role player that may have started some games but never played at a consistently high level.
A two-star was someone that never or barely played but stayed through graduation.
And an Incomplete is for those who do not complete their eligibility at U-M.
Best Player - Offense: The Class of 2006 did not produce a great skill player offensively. Tailbacks Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown had their moments, Minor proving more consistently explosive (1,658 yards to 1,025 and 20 TDs to eight) than Brown to garner a fourth star, while receiver Greg Mathews was a competent multi-year starter but never a game-changer (though hamstrung by the offense his final two years). Thus, we look to the trenches and to Steve Schilling.
Schilling was, unfortunately for him, not Jake Long, and he spent each of his first two seasons being compared to the all-time great. That wasn't fair to him. But Schilling never complained. He sacrificed for the team, playing right tackle, left tackle and left guard during his career, and provided the same effort week after week, starting 50 games over four seasons - second most ever by a Wolverine.
Schilling was at his best his final two seasons at guard, and especially as a fifth-year senior captain in 2010, teaming with left tackle Taylor Lewan and center David Molk to give quarterback Denard Robinson plenty of room to run behind en route to his record-setting campaign.
Best Player - Defense: Why even debate the merits of other players ... this belongs to Brandon Graham. Twice named the Bo Schembechler Award winner as Team MVP, Graham is one of just two Wolverines in program history with eight or more sacks in three different seasons. He ranks second all time at U-M in QB takedowns (29.5) and tackles for loss (56), dominating opponents from his defensive end position for each of his last two seasons especially.
Graham didn't get much help along the line as a junior or senior (Mike Martin was a sophomore novice in 2009), but that didn't matter because one-on-one he couldn't be stopped. Using a relentless motor that ranks among the best ever at Michigan, power and strength not seen from end since Glen Steele graduated in 1997, speed and tenacity, Graham got to the quarterback like no other. And he showed up in big games, notching three sacks and seven tackles for loss in three meetings with Ohio State.
Biggest Surprise - Offense: Though he was a big boy coming out of high school, three-star lineman Perry Dorrestein was pegged by some as the kind of prospect that would have a tough time starting for a Mid-American Conference school. In fact, one former Fighting Illini coach laughed at the notion U-M was offering the Illinois native, feeling he had seen Dorrestein enough to know it was a waste of a scholarship.
And early in his career, Dorrestein didn't change many minds, but he started four games in a pinch in 2008, and would step in for eight games, with injuries and some line juggling, in 2009. Still, it never looked like he would be much more than a stopgap. But Dorrestein remade himself in that offseason, becoming a brute force at right tackle and a leader in the locker room. He would start 10 games as a fifth-year senior (missing two due to injury), and was, arguably, the Maize and Blue's most consistent blocker in 2010.
For a man that was thought so little of coming out of high school by folks who underestimated his heart and desire to succeed, to start 22 games was quite an accomplishment.
Biggest Surprise - Defense: Not all of our biggest surprises in this series are success stories. Obi Ezeh's certainly, and unfortunately, wasn't. Ezeh was a terrific embodiment of the Michigan student-athlete, smart, eloquent, enthusiastic. A natural leader that quite often served as the team's spokesperson until doing so became too difficult because of the barrage of criticism he would take.
Ezeh is the kind of kid you can be proud of as a Michigan fan, but on the field, his career went backwards. He started nine games as a redshirt freshman in 2007, and showed signs of becoming a great, recording 67 stops, including four for loss. He seemed to take a small step forward as a sophomore, notching 98 tackles, including seven behind the line of scrimmage, but something was amiss - Ezeh did not improve by leaps and bounds, and looked out of sorts against Ohio State.
It only got worse. Playing in his third defense in as many years, Ezeh regressed terribly in 2009, becoming a shell of the player he promised to one day become. He was slow to react, slow to the football, and missed tackles. He was lousy in coverage. He would eventually lose his starting spot in 2010, and would play out his final few games as a second-stringer, and a fan punching bag.
There are many explanations as to why he got worse instead of better, but that's what happened. It seems unfair to occur to such a well-rounded, intelligent and caring individual, but competing at the highest level of athletics can be cruel sometimes.
Bust - Offense: Justin Boren started as a sophomore at Michigan. He would finish his career a three-year starter, and a solid performer on Big Ten championship-winning teams, but he is a bust because he sold out his teammates, his coaches, and the Block 'M' when he chose to leave Michigan for rival Ohio State, and for trashing Rich Rodriguez on the way out the door. Boren committed treason against the Wolverines, and might forever be the most hated former U-M athlete in program history.
Bust - Defense: Michigan signed seven Rivals100 recruits in 2006, including three defensive players. One of them happened to be defensive end Adam Patterson, ranked No. 91. A South Carolina native, Patterson was a freak athlete - 6-2, 256 pounds with 4.5 speed - the kind that programs in the SEC gobble up and unleash on unsuspecting QBs. And that's what U-M intended to do.
But Patterson could not translate his athleticism to the football field, spending his first four seasons relatively unseen on game days. As a fifth-year senior, he moved from end to tackle, the brainchild decision of former defensive line coach Bruce Tall, who hoped putting Patterson in a cramped space would allow him to reach his potential.
It worked once, in a single game against Purdue, when he had a sack and four tackles. That was a highlight he won't forget, but for a player where so much was expected, a lone memorable performance just wasn't enough.