With Steve Breaston proving just how dangerous a multi-threat could be, Michigan locked its sights on another versatile athlete in the 2005 class, knowing that four-star Antonio Bass' potential to impact the program was limitless.
No. 8 - Antonio Bass - 2005
In the two classes since Breaston signed in 2002, Michigan added Adrian Arrington and Doug Dutch, and drew an early commitment from Mario Manningham in 2005. The Wolverines would pick up a summer pledge from LaTerryal Savoy that year too.
However, outside of Manningham, none of these receivers possessed the pure speed, acceleration, quickness and elusiveness of Breaston. And judging by the kick returner/punt returner/receiver/running back's success in 2003 and 2004, Michigan had every desire to recruit another athlete in the same mold.
The Jackson, Mich., native was just that. In high school, Bass starred at quarterback and safety, rushing for 2,177 yards and 30 touchdowns on 276 carries (7.9 per rush) while throwing for 999 yards and 14 touchdowns over his final two seasons.
"Antonio is one of the great athletes in recent memory to come out of this state," former coach Lloyd Carr said when Bass signed. "I think his greatest upside is as a receiver. We'll also give him the opportunity to do some things at quarterback. I think there are ways we could use him that will help our football team."
First things first, the Wolverines had to land him, and that would not be easy.
For some, Bass was always Michigan's to lose, but the 6-1, 194-pounder (with 4.4 speed) also visited Virginia Tech, LSU and Michigan State officially. It was the trip to East Lansing on Dec. 10, 2004, that caused Bass to reconsider what seemed a likely U-M commitment when he was set to announce Dec. 14.
"A great visit to MSU has muddled the picture a bit, as have pitches by coaches from Virginia Tech and LSU," TheWolverine.com wrote after Bass' MSU experience. "Instead of announcing tomorrow night, Bass will host Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr, who will make one final pitch to persuade the four-star athlete to join him in Ann Arbor."
The opportunity to play quarterback had a lot to do with Bass' indecision. With John L. Smith at the helm at Michigan State, and Drew Stanton proving a productive run/pass QB, Bass became enamored with the idea of being a full-time quarterback for MSU instead of a sometimes quarterback with U-M.
Bass went radio silent while mulling over his choice, talking to TheWolverine.com Nov. 19 and not speaking again until he picked the Maize and Blue Dec. 22.
"It was a hard decision, but I had to make it. I didn't get a lot of sleep - it was stressing me out," the 6-1, 194-pound Bass admitted. "But when it came down to it, it was the right decision for me.
"Honestly, when I think about it, I've been a Michigan fan throughout my years. When I was younger I used to watch Michigan with my dad. It was a good thing. I felt real comfortable up there."
In choosing U-M, Bass acknowledged he had to set aside one dream for another.
"My dream is to play quarterback, but sometimes you have to give things up to do exactly what you want to do in life," he said. "I get the best of both worlds at Michigan - the players felt like they were my good friends. I liked that. Academically it was really nice up there."
One of six true freshmen to see game action in 2005, Bass played in 10 games, making his statistical debut when he had three rushes for 20 yards in a win over Eastern Michigan. He wound up with 81 yards on the year, on 19 carries (playing QB in three contests with most of his runs coming on receiver reverses).
He also had eight receptions for 64 yards. For good measure, he completed a single pass, for 13 yards, in setting up a field goal in a 23-20 win over Iowa.
"He had never played receiver before, and every day during the season you could see him improving," former receivers coach Erik Campbell said.
Unfortunately, Bass' career ended with those 28 offensive touches after he suffered a significant leg injury on the first day of spring practice.
"Before Bass had woken from anesthesia, his doctor had said that, in his 30-plus years in the medical field, he had never seen a worse, more freak-accident injury: 'The doctor said it was like I had fallen off a three-story building and landed straight on my leg,' Bass recalled in an article written by Andy Reid for the The Michigan Daily in 2010
"I think it would take an extraordinary rehabilitation for him to come back, but I've seen guys do things I never thought they could," Carr noted.
The plan was to have Bass work at quarterback as much as receiver in the spring and fall in preparation for the 2006 season, Carr said, but just like that one of the most promising careers in Michigan football history was over.
There was a happy (if not bittersweet) ending to all of this - Bass graduated from Michigan.
"Don't quit school. There's something more out there for you.," his mother, Tami, told The Daily "He didn't let it get him down. Sports aren't everything. You're not guaranteed to get in the NFL, and if you do, you're not guaranteed that you won't get injured when you get there. But you always have your degree."
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