Back in the day, before there were a gazillion team sites and blogs covering recruiting, there were only two giants, and a reporter could develop a bond with a coach, earning his trust. So when TheWolverine.com ventured to Massillon, Ohio for Shawn Crable's Signing Day announcement, it wasn't going to be a wasted trip.
No. 3 Shawn Crable - 2003
In a class that already included commitments from nine four-stars (including CB Leon Hall, OT Jake Long and S Ryan Mundy) and five-star Prescott Burgess, Crable was a big deal. The 6-6, 230-pound weakside end/outside linebacker was the nation's No. 39 player and the No. 4 player in Ohio. He held offers from the who's-who of college football and would visit Miami, Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Southern Cal, in addition to Michigan.
In the winter of his junior year, Rivals.com first profiled Crable, noting: "He will be one of the country's top prospects next season. He has the entire package. This standout athlete is big, fast, and strong, benching 335 pounds. Crable has run a 10.95 100-meter dash and also averages 17 points per game in basketball."
The article also mentioned that Crable declared Michigan his early leader, drawing ire from Buckeye fans. Massillon Washington HS had a strong tradition of sending its best to Ohio State, but former U-M quarterback Dennis Franklin hailed from the program, and more recently, offensive lineman Ben Mast was a 1997 Washington grad.
In the fall of his senior year, Crable announced his first official visit would be to USC Dec. 6, but that his top two were rivals OSU and Michigan. Even with the Trojans being what they were back then - arguably a recruiting powerhouse not even Alabama today could match - it was understood Crable would decide between his home-state team and That Team Up North.
On Jan. 30, six days before Signing Day, Crable had made it official, he would announce for either the Maize and Blue or Scarlet and Gray.
"Right now, I'm pretty open," he said. "I need to sit down with my parents and figure it out. Then I just need to make the best choice for me and live with it."
The day before his decision, Rivals.com reported that Crable had reached a conclusion but was keeping it quiet to draw a greater media presence. Of course, Massillon does not neighbor Ann Arbor - it's 209 miles southeast - and to journey that far with a decent chance he'd pick OSU was not a risk we could take.
A phone call was placed, a promise was made, and thanks to a professional relationship that was months in the making, Washington coach Rick Shepas uttered these words, 'Come on down, it'll be worth your while.'
So there it was.
The following day, in his school library, in front of a hundred friends, family and fans - all decked out in OSU scarlet - Crable said: ""I talked to my family, I talked to my little brother -- I talked to everybody who was close to me. We had to talk about everything and in the end, I decided on one school, and I decided I was going to go to Michigan."
There were some cheers, but mostly there was moaning and groaning, and a hush of disappointment that consumed the audience. Crable didn't care, and he shouldn't have - this wasn't their future, but his.
TheWolverine.com was glad we were there, glad to capture the moment, and thankful to Shepas for trusting us with the knowledge we needed to know to make the trek south. Meanwhile, to our north in Saginaw, another story was unfolding that we'll talk about a few days from now.
Crable was too small his freshman year at 223 pounds so he redshirted. He didn't impact much a year later (one TFL among six stops) and was again a non-factor in 2005 (three tackles for loss in six games). Many were beginning to wonder if he would ever work out or if he was destined to become a bust.
But in the spring of 2006, Crable turned it on, locking down the SAM post according to linebackers coach Steve Szabo.
"He has ascended and, has, hands down, won a starting position," said Szabo, who envisioned a role for Crable that utilized his rare combination of size, speed and strength.
"Shawn has outstanding footspeed, and he can run all over the field and make plays. When we made the call to blitz him off the edge, he was very, very effective. He will not be an easy person to block one-on-one. We have to take advantage of that."
That the Wolverines would.
With LaMarr Woodley occupying attention at defensive end, and Rondell Biggs holding his own at the other end, Crable often found himself matched up against a tight end or a running back as he attacked the quarterback. He wound up with six sacks and 11 tackles for loss, doing his part for a front seven in 2006 that would rank as Michigan's best since 1997.
A year later, most of that front seven - Woodley, Biggs, defensive tackle Alan Branch, and linebackers David Harris and Prescott Burgess - had moved on, leaving Crable to largely fend for himself. How would he handle the spotlight? Like a champ, Szabo predicted.
"He should have a great year of football, the best he's ever had," the linebackers coach said. "He should be a dominant player."
An old-school coach, Szabo didn't dish out compliments very often, so when he praised Crable, you knew something special was looming.
Of course, 2007 was a down year for the Wolverines, who suffered a humiliating season-opening loss to Appalachian State and then were outclassed by Oregon a week later. An eight-game winning streak helped, but season-ending losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State dampened Michigan's middle-of-the-year performance.
Crable certainly was not without blame, but he was dominant as Sazbo predicted, recording a tackle for loss in every game en route to a U-M single-season record 28.5 TFL (that still stands), breaking Mark Messner's 19-year record of 26 in 1988.
Crable also notched 7.5 sacks - the most by a Michigan linebacker since Robert Thompson had nine in 1982 (and as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense). Astonishingly, he was not named All-Big Ten his senior year.
For his career, Crable would accumulate 43 tackles for loss (eighth all time) and 16 sacks (12th all time).
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