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February 6, 2014

The Narrative: 2014 Michigan recruiting class

Michigan's 2014 recruiting class began with a commitment from a linebacker on August 9. Although most didn't realize it at the time, it also ended with a commitment from a linebacker August 9, as well.

Those two pledges, of course, took place a year apart. Aug. 9 2012 saw St. Clairsville (Ohio) four-star Michael Ferns pull the trigger for the Maize and Blue, just days after he returned home from the Barbecue at the Big House recruiting even in Ann Arbor. He immediately set out to encourage others to join him in the class, much like quarterback Shane Morris did in the 2013 group.

Ferns wouldn't have to wait long for a second player to join him in the group. Chicago offensive lineman Denzel Ward pulled the trigger on an offer from U-M in October, pledging to become a Wolverine following the U-M home game against Michigan State Oct. 20. Ultimately, however, Michigan would part ways with Ward when he expressed interest in visiting other schools in January. For Ferns, it was back to a solo experience on the Michigan commitment list.

The day the 2013 class officially put pen to ink with the Michigan program, however, Ferns was finally joined by the next player who would eventually sign with the Maize and Blue. Three-star quarterback Wilton Speight received an offer from the Wolverines and committed almost immediately. Like Ferns, he would wear his metaphorical recruiting cap over the course of the process.

"One huge thing for me is building 'Team 135,'" Speight said shortly after pledging. "In this class we're only taking about 16 guys. I'm one, Michael [Ferns] is one I've been working hard on just texting guys - especially wide receivers and tight ends - every day talking to them about Michigan, and trying to sell the program."

Neither player would have to do much work with the next member to join the class. Salt Lake City Highland defensive tackle Bryan Mone had a previous relationship with another Wolverine - sophomore fullback Sione Houma - and was the very first offer issued by Michigan in the 2014 class, at the beginning of his sophomore year of high school ball. The 6-4, 320-pounder jumped on the chance just a week after Signing Day, bringing the class total to three.

U-M's coaching staff hosted a big recruiting weekend two weeks after the Mone commitment. Included at the Purdue basketball game Feb. 24 were several eventual members of the class. The next to join made his decision the very day he returned home from Ann Arbor. Tarpon Springs (Fla.) East Lake four-star offensive lineman Mason Cole made it no secret during the trip that he would become a Wolverine within days.

"A lot of people had caught on that it might happen," Cole said. "I did expect it to happen. I wanted to see how it felt on the visit, and it was everything I hoped it would be and more. It's an awesome place; it just felt right."

Michigan would have to wait more than a month for the next commitment to join the ranks. At the time, they didn't even realize that Naples (Fla.) Barron collier defensive tackle Brady Pallante would end up a member of the 2014 group. The 6-2, 260-pound two-star offered his commitment as a greyshirt prospect - to join the team in January 2015, rather than in Fall 2014, along with the rest of the Class of 2014 graduates - April 5. Later in the cycle, he would receive the word that he could enroll along with the rest of his classmates.

Another player in attendance at the Wolverines' hoops win over Purdue back in February was actually committed to Michigan State at the time. Grand Rapids (Mich.) Christian wide receiver Drake Harris would have some big decisions to make, not just when it came to which school he wanted to attend, but also when it came to what sport he'd focus on in college.

Once he made the choice to focus strictly on football instead of a combined career in basketball and on the gridiron - which came just a couple weeks later in early March - he re-opened his pledge to the Spartans. Harris' next visit to Ann Arbor would come for the U-M spring game April 13 (where once again there were multiple future commits in attendance), and the very next day he decided to become a Wolverine. The 6-4, 170-pounder, a four-star just outside the Rivals100, would end up the third-best recruit in the U-M class, at No. 115 nationally.

Though he didn't realize it at the time, Harris' pledge would kick off a run of Michigan pledges over the next two weeks. Hinsdale (Ill.) Central tight end Ian Bunting would be next eight days later. The 6-7, 225-pounder was Michigan's first choice at tight end, and his decision to end the process also sped things up for two other targets at the position: fellow Land of Lincolners Daniel Helm (Tennessee) and Nic Weishar (Notre Dame) would make their college commitments within two hours of Bunting's choice.

Local product Maurice Ways would be next. The 6-4, 190-pounder was a lifelong Michigan fan, and although he had put together a strong junior year, the Wolverines were patient in offering him. Less than two weeks after he had been in attendance for the U-M spring game, he picked up the Michigan offer, and on a visit to Ann Arbor the following day, the three-star went with his heart and committed to the Wolverines.

April 29 brought another commitment that would eventually have wider implications. Paramus (N.J.) Catholic offensive lineman Juwann Bushell-Beatty dropped by Michigan for a spring practice in early April along with his high school coach, Chris Partridge, and five-star teammate Jabrill Peppers. When the three-star "JBB" pulled the trigger, he would be followed within the next month by his high-profile friend.

First, however, Michigan would snag another local product. Southfield (Mich.) defensive end Lawrence Marshall had committed to Ohio State in February, but decommitted within a week. In a public commitment on the radio, he surprised many and picked Michigan, instead of rival Michigan State, contrary to rumors leading up to the pledge. The 6-4, 230-pound three-star cited defensive coordinator Greg Mattison as a big part of his love for the Wolverines.

"The big thing is life after football," he said. "The degree from Michigan outdoes every other degree. It stands out. Also Coach Mattison, I think he's an unbelievable coach. He coached Ray Lewis at the Ravens. Had the best defense every year. When he was at Florida, he had a whole lot of people go as first-round draft picks. So I think he's the best for me to go to the next level."

The Sunday before Memorial Day would be the biggest day for the 2014 Michigan class. Peppers, the No. 3 player in the nation and a 6-1, 210-pound doppelganger for former Michigan standout Charles Woodson, would be making his public commitment on ESPNU. That spelled good news for the Wolverines.

"I can see it now, the fans screaming yelling," Peppers rapped on the broadcast. "As I'm walking out that tunnel, in the winged helmet."

Peppers immediately stated his desire to help Ferns and Speight in the recruiting process. He set his sights on Rivals No. 1 overall prospect Da'Shawn Hand, a defensive end from Woodbridge, Va. With Peppers in the fold, it appeared that the Wolverines would be able to pull an historic finish to the 2014 group.

U-M's next pledge would come within a week. Jefferson Hills (Pa.) Thomas Jefferson four-star linebacker Chase Winovich, a 6-3, 216-pounder, planned to make a decision between Ohio State, Michigan, and Pittsburgh. While each of his other suitors had its draws - the Panthers represented his hometown school and he grew up rooting for the Buckeyes - Winovich surprised, and elected to join new friend Ferns as a Wolverine linebacker June 1.

A second pair of East Coast teammates joined the Michigan class next. The coaching staff laid the groundwork during their Wolverine Technique School summer camp in mid-June. Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy brought nearly its entire team to the camp, and two standouts earned offers from the Maize and Blue. Four-star wide receiver Freddy Canteen and three-star defensive back Brandon Watson pulled the trigger on Michigan June. 29, just a couple weeks after returning home from the camp.

"I would say I have to speak for myself," explained. The 6-2, 175-pound Canteen. "Academically, they're at the top of the country. Academics is important to me. That's one thing that pretty much gave me the readiness to commit. It's just a blessing and I'm taking full advantage of the opportunity."

"Freddy and I talked about it - we want to go to school together," added the 5-11, 185-pound Watson. "Coach set everything up. We got on a conference call with me, Coach Hoke, my mom, my dad, and my coach. We were just talking and I told him that I want to go to Michigan, and I committed to Michigan."

Just three days later, one of the quietest members of the Michigan class would join the fold. Three-star linebacker Noah Furbush, a 6-4, 230-pound athletic specimen, made his pledge with little fanfare. While Purdue had been considered one of his favorites, he knew Michigan was too much to pass up.

"They were one of the first [teams] to offer me," he said. "We really have grown to learn more about each other and understand more about each other better. Getting around to see all the other schools made Michigan stand out. I had a tremendous opportunity to go around and see a lot of great places. What separated Michigan was to be close to my family, friends and everyone who supported me back at home."

Although he didn't know it at the time, Michigan's next pledge would be the last. Warren (Mich.) De La Salle linebacker Jared Wangler had plenty of Maize and Blue connections - but no offer - when he made a commitment to Penn State back in May. He is the son of former Michigan quarterback John Wangler, and older brother Jack is a walkon wide receiver in Ann Arbor. He had also been a high school teammate of Michigan quarterback Shane Morris.

The 6-1, 215-pound three-star received an offer and visited U-M in early August. While on campus for the opening of Michigan's fall camp, he silently committed to the Michigan coaches. He would go public a day later, after letting the Penn State coaches know that he was no longer bound for Happy Valley. August 9 - exactly a year after Ferns' pledge - Wangler became the final member of Michigan's 2014 class.

There were still several more twists and turns for U-M recruiting after Wangler's pledge. Michigan was a finalist for Hand, but the nation's top prep picked Alabama over the Wolverines Nov. 14. Two weeks later, Michigan informed Pallante that the defensive line would have a scholarship available, and he'd be able to join Michigan's 2014 class, instead of the delayed enrollment plan.

The coaching staff had brief dalliances with running back prospects, but would eventually choose to pass on the position for 2014. That left one prospect, Southfield defensive lineman Malik McDowell, on the board. While McDowell had favored U-M throughout the process, he chose to take all five of his official visits, eventually seeing Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Michigan State, and Ohio State - passing up the opportunity to take one to Ann Arbor.

In a Signing Day ceremony at Southfield High School (in which his teammate Marshall put pen to ink for the Maize and Blue), the 6-6, 290-pound five-star chose to attend Michigan State. At press time, he has yet to officially submit a letter of intent to the Spartans, so while the door may not be fully closed, he is not expected to change his mind.




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