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Monthly Archives: July 2010

There’s been a small flurry of recruiting news over the last 24 hours, as linebacker Kellen Jones committed to Michigan while visiting Ann Arbor yesterday and running back Justice Hayes chose Notre Dame over Michigan (among other schools) in a press conference this morning.

Jones, a four-star middle linebacker to Scout.com and a three-star according to Rivals.com, had offers from BCS programs all over the country, including Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Purdue, Stanford, Texas A&M, and Virginia — an impressive list for a player with his recruiting profile. Despite coming from St. Pius X High School in Houston, Texas, Jones grew up a Michigan fan thanks to his dad, uncle, and godfather, and his father was by his side when he made his pledge to Rich Rodriguez on Thursday.

Listed at 6-1, 209 lbs., Jones will most likely come to Ann Arbor as a middle linebacker, which outside of the offensive line was probably the greatest need for the 2011 class. With Obi Ezeh graduating after the 2010 season and no clear replacement on the roster, Jones will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact, especially if he can add some bulk to his frame. Here is a very well-produced highlight tape from his junior year:

Watching the tape, the thing that jumps out at me about Jones is his playmaking ability and athleticism. He uses his speed and quickness to get into the backfield, and has a great nose for the football once he’s in position to make a play — his junior year stats of 75 tackles, 22 TFLs, six sacks, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, six (six!) blocked kicks, an interception, and two touchdowns (in just nine games, no less) reflect that playmaking ability. If he can get comfortable as a pass defender and learn how to take on and shed blocks, he could be a real impact player in the middle of the defense.

The commitment of Grand Blanc four-star RB Justice Hayes to Notre Dame comes as little surprise to those that have followed his recruitment — it became clear as the process wound down that Michigan’s recent track record and making Dee Hart their top priority at running back would likely lead to Hayes committing elsewhere. It’s always tough to lose a four-star in-state prospect, but if Michigan, as expected, lands Hart, then this shouldn’t affect the quality of the 2011 class.

Over the last couple days, MGoBrian has compiled a (painful) two-part list of the worst Michigan plays of the last decade, and while it is certainly painful to revisit those moments, it’s actually somewhat cathartic to see many of my worst memories all in one place. I don’t have much of a gripe with anything that did or did not make the cut, but I wanted to expand on two plays — both from the 2007 Oregon game — that only earned “dishonorable mention.”

It’s tough to overstate just how devastating the opening-game loss to Appalachian State was — after the tremendous 2006 season, hopes were sky-high entering 2007 and the mindset on campus was that this was a team destined for, at the very least, a BCS bowl game. Those hopes were dashed in such horrific fashion in the season opener that it almost didn’t feel right when, the very next Saturday, my friends and I once again donned our maize, hosted a tailgate, and made the trek to the Big House for a potential bounce-back game against Oregon.

There was a strange mindset entering that game. We had seen rock-bottom, a loss so inconceivable that we called it simply “The Horror,” but a lifetime of watching Michigan football had taught me that there was never a game the Wolverines could not win — remember, this was before the collective optimism of our fans had been beaten out of them by the 2008 and 2009 seasons. So we stood, still expecting to see a team worthy of their preseason #5 ranking and fully knowing that nothing could be worse than the week before — in retrospect, our semi-optimism was simply denial, but we foolishly set ourselves up for more bitter disappointment.

Despite a Chad Henne interception on Michigan’s first drive, the Wolverines were able to take an early 7-3 lead after the defense stopped Oregon inside the ten-yard line and Henne capped off the ensuing drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Arrington. This was exactly what the team needed: maybe our defense was figuring things out, and we all knew the offense could score points with all the NFL talent at our disposal. More optimism ensued, but it would quickly be crushed by Dennis Dixon and the high-flying Ducks offense.

Oregon’s next drive lasted all of two plays. The first was a four-yard pass that brought them, after a poor kick return, to the 15-yard line. The next, well, it was this:

As we watched Brian Paysinger torch Brandon Harrison and sprint to the end zone right in front of our seats in the student section, it hit us like a bag of bricks: the opener wasn’t a fluke, and we were in for a long, long day. The two-point conversion that Oregon converted afterward was just some extra salt in the wound (and honestly, I didn’t remember until I watched the video how they scored those two points at all — I’m pretty sure I was too busy cursing our secondary and tearing my hair out to notice).

The final blow to my sanity came in the second quarter, with Oregon holding an 18-7 advantage and driving once again. They had already added a second touchdown, set up by a Jonathan Stewart run on a Statue of Liberty play that gave the Ducks a first down deep in Michigan territory. That stung. With the ball on the Wolverine nine-yard line, Oregon coach Mike Bellotti decided to twist the knife that had already pierced our Maize and Blue hearts:

When Dennis Dixon waltzed untouched into the end zone after faking the Statue of Liberty play, it was like watching someone toy with a child while playing them in a video game. I had seen Michigan take some bad losses, but nothing had ever compared to the helplessness of watching a then-unranked team (this was before people realized that Dixon and Stewart, along with the rest of the Ducks, were a force to be reckoned with) amass 624 yards of offense — in the Big House, no less.

I take pride in sticking out home games to the bloody end, but I must admit that I left Michigan Stadium just a few minutes after Dixon’s run. On the first Oregon play after a Michigan three-and-out, Dixon hit Derrick Jones with another touchdown bomb, giving them 14 points in a span of just 38 seconds. That play would rank right up there with the above two had it not come after hope had been lost, but instead it was just the final confirmation that it was time to leave, to go lick my wounds at home and steel myself up for a season of turmoil.

The missed field goal at the end of “The Horror” has its rightful place at #2 on Brian’s list, but for me, I can’t separate the pain of that game from the utter despair of the following week, when we learned that we were, indeed, in a lot of trouble. On my personal “worst plays” list, Oregon toying with our defense has a special place reserved in the top ten.

The Oakland Press has committed an act of journalism, and I fear that act will be used for evil.

That may be overstating it a bit, but hear me out: MGoBrian just posted some further information quelled from an article appearing in today’s Oakland Press on 2011 commit Shawn Conway, a wide receiver from Birmingham Seaholm. The scary stuff goes here:

This won’t be a surprise to people who keep their ear to the ground, as rumors about Conway’s trouble have been flying around since late May, when the high school paper (of which there can only be one: it’s called the Highlander) published an article about an anonymous student who’d been caught breaking into lockers on tape.

Internet buzz suggested that was Conway and a couple of independent sources confirmed it; now that Conway’s been quoted saying he “did something really, really stupid” it’s better to put two and two together instead of let that vague problem float out there to get Freeped.

As Brian insinuates, there are a couple problems here. The first, of course, is that a Michigan-bound recruit committed a crime — there’s no way to positively spin that, nor should there be, and after last year’s Demar Dorsey saga this will likely command way more attention than it should. The second problem is the media, and their tendency to grab the money quote while ignoring other information that could add some context to the story. In this case, we luckily have Scott Burnstein of the Oakland Press, who provided a lot of context in today’s article:

From an early age, Conway has been fighting an uphill battle to keep his dream of playing sports at the college level alive.

When he was 4 years old, his parents got a divorce. When he was 10, his mother was sentenced to a lengthy federal prison term, subsequently ripping his family apart before his very eyes.

“My mom took me and my sisters aside and said she had to go away for a while,” he said. “I didn’t know what that meant, so all I could think to do was to ask, can I come with (you)? It was very hard for all of us. The next thing I knew, we were all in different places.”

Shawn was sent to live with his grandmother and his two sisters were placed in two separate foster homes. At that point, he didn’t have much hope.

“Everybody split on me and I didn’t think that anybody cared about my future, so I started screwing around and kind of gave up,” he said.

Conway went to two different Detroit high schools (Cass Tech and Cody) before landing at Seaholm, where he turned his life around and earned a scholarship to Michigan for his athletic exploits. Then Conway got caught on security tape taking money from lockers, which Burnstein calls a “setback” — quite possibly for good reason, as he says around the same time Conway was removed by a family court judge from his friend’s house and put under the custody of Chris Fahr, the head football coach at Seaholm. Although there isn’t a clear timeline regarding the incident at school and the change in custody, it sounds like moving in with Fahr has been a real positive for Conway:

“I think this is the best situation for his welfare and his future right now,” Fahr said of the change in guardians.

Forging a strong bond with his coach over the last two years, Conway is happy about the switch.

“I’m not just living with Coach, but I’m a part of his family,” Conway said. “They push me hard and surround me with nothing but positive energy. This has been a very good few months for me. I smile every day.”

So, at initial glance, this might look like another point for the Rich Rodriguez detractors who can holler about him bringing in criminals, lowering Michigan’s standards, and slowly turning the program into Miami North, except without all the winning. But — but! — no criminal charges were ever filed, it’s tough not to sympathize with Conway after reading about all he has went through, and it truly appears that this was a slip-up by a kid who is really trying to overcome a lot of obstacles. If it happens again, this is an entirely different story, but for now I think the only reasonable thing to do is to give Conway the benefit of the doubt.

Now, whenever the Free Press picks up on this, what do you expect the headline to be? I’m strongly leaning towards, “U-M recruit caught stealing from lockers,” and not anything close to what the Oakland Press did, which was to paint the incident into a larger picture of a kid who has, by virtue of earning his way to a Michigan scholarship, “[completed] his career U-turn.” In an age where most skim the headlines for a juicy morsel of gossip, it almost doesn’t matter what follows the headline — what leads is what matters, and we’ll see how the local media decides to portray this one. I just hope, first and foremost, that it’s fair to Shawn Conway, as well as the Michigan program and Rodriguez. Given the recent track record, I have serious doubts that my hopes will be realized.

It’s summer, the time when bloggers rack their brains for something — anything — to write about and college football fans count down the seconds until foot meets pigskin. So, welcome to my latest gimmick: The Michigan Football YouTube Bracket. I’m looking high and low for the best Michigan football moments ever captured on YouTube — divided into two categories: Game Performances/Game Winners and Spectacular Plays — and for you, the readers, to vote on the moment that stands out above the rest.

Finally, after almost three weeks worth of highlights, we’ve reached the final, and Michigan fans have once again made it known that they value performance against Ohio State over all else. How else (besides age) can one explain Tshimanga Biakabutuka’s 313-yard performance against Ohio State — certainly an iconic game, but not one that is inextricably linked with the Michigan tradition — easily taking out Anthony Carter’s winner against Indiana (only WolverineHistorian’s favorite Michigan play of all time) in the first semifinal? The choice was made much more difficult on the other side of the bracket, where Desmond Howard’s “Hello Heisman” punt return against the Buckeyes knocked off Charles Woodson’s redux of that play six years later. Now, the battle comes down to a pair of players who donned the #21 in blue — what is your choice as the best Michigan football moment captured on YouTube?

(2) Desmond Howard’s “Hello Heisman” vs. Ohio State, 1991

Path to the final: Def. Charles Woodson vs. OSU 62%-38% (Semifinal); Def. Desmond Howard vs. Notre Dame 62%-38% (Quarterfinal); Def. Jason Avant vs. Northwestern 92%-8% (First Round).

Why it should win: I don’t even know where to begin. In the sheer context of the game, the play gave Michigan a 24-3 lead right at the end of the half, ending all hopes of a Buckeye comeback in what would end as a 31-3 Wolverine victory. The 93-yard punt return was — and still is — the longest in school history by a five-yard margin. Keith Jackson’s call of the play is perfect, to the point where it is nearly as iconic as the play itself. Of course, all that pales in comparison to what the play meant for Desmond Howard — as Jackson so eloquently put it, the touchdown sealed the 1991 Heisman Trophy for Howard, and he will go down in history as the man who struck the pose, something every kid who watches college football has done countless times in their backyard since.

All that is without talking about the return itself. Despite getting driven back to his own seven, Howard fields the punt calmly as the Buckeye coverage team descends on him. With a quick stutter to the right and a hard cut back upfield, Desmond dusts the first wave of defenders without so much as getting touched. Even though several Ohio State players still have the angle on him, it’s over — all it takes is one more deft juke and Howard is streaking down the sideline, still virtually untouched, as he Usain Bolt’s the Buckeye coverage. It’s an amazing play from an amazing player on the biggest of college football stages.

(3) Touchdown Tim runs over undefeated Ohio State, 1995

Path to the final: Def. Anthony Carter vs. Indiana 66%-34% (Semifinal); Def. Braylon Edwards vs. MSU 61%-39% (Quarterfinal); Def. Mario Manningham vs. Notre Dame 82%-18% (First Round).

Why it should win: All Tshimanga Biakabutuka did was carry the ball 37 times for 313 yards and a touchdown against an undefeated Ohio State squad bursting at the seams with future NFL talent (just on defense, Mike Vrabel, Shawn Springs, and Antoine Winfield all became at least solid pros) to lead Michigan to a 31-23 upset victory. Tackling him with one man was simply futile, and he matched his power with patience and lightning-fast moves to confound the Buckeye defense. Just check out the post-game quotes for some wonderful Buckeye schadenfreude [emphasis mine]:

It was what happened after Biakabutuka got through those holes that most bothered Ohio State coach John Cooper, who lost for the sixth time in eight tries against Michigan.

“We didn’t wrap up,” Cooper said., “Time and time again we had guys there to make the tackle, but we didn’t wrap up.”

Buckeye strong safety Rob Kelley bitterly agreed with his coach.

“We didn’t tackle. I didn’t tackle,” Kelley said. “I’m sorry for the seniors, I’m sorry for the fans. I apologize. It was a disgrace out there today.”

“I’m tremendously disappointed,” Cooper said after the game. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as disappointed as I am right now.”

When you’re John Cooper, that’s really saying something.

Biakabutuka’s 313 yards were good for second-most on Michigan’s single-game all-time list, behind Ron Johnson’s ridiculous 347 yards against Wisconsin in 1968. No other Wolverine back has eclipsed the 300-yard mark in a game, and Biakabutuka’s performance helped vault him past Jamie Morris for the most rushing yards in a season in school history with 1,818 — a mark which still stands despite stellar seasons from great backs like Anthony Thomas, Chris Perry, and Mike Hart in the years since. Biakabutuka was a great college running back, but I doubt Michigan fans would mention him in the same breath as guys like Thomas, Hart, Tyrone Wheatley, and the many past greats if not for his unbelievable performance in the penultimate game of his Wolverine career.

[poll id=”38″]

Click here for all Michigan Football YouTube Bracket posts. Voting will stay open through the end of the week, with the victor crowned on Monday. Thanks to everyone who has voted, and make sure to spread the word.

Hart says he is "75 percent" likely to commit to Michigan over Alabama.

The recruitment of Orlando (FL) Dr. Phillips running back Demetrius Hart has been a tough one to get a hold on for Wolverine fans. Early indications were that is was a matter of time before Hart committed to Michigan, but as time passed, rumored visits fell through, and interest in SEC stalwarts Auburn and Alabama picked up, Hart has not been considered the lock he once was, with Auburn appearing to be an especially dangerous threat to land the four-star back.

Those worries have been mitigated, however, after a very positive visit a week ago, and an Orlando Sentinel article published on Saturday has more good news for the Michigan faithful:

And then there were two. Apologies for the cliche, but Dr. Phillips star Dee Hart has cut his list of prospective colleges to two, saying Saturday at the ESPN RISE Champion Gridiron Kings event in Orlando that he has dropped Auburn and now it’s between Michigan and Alabama.

Of the two remaining schools, Michigan has pulled ahead by “I would say Michigan is 75 percent,” Hart said. Leaving the possibility that he might commit to Alabama at 25 percent.

“I like the area at Michigan,” Hart said. “You know I’m from Florida, so I’ve never really had all four seasons and I like that. I like the fans. They have a great fan base up there. They also have great programs up there, like their business program and that’s what I want to go into is business management.”

As for Alabama, Hart said that’s pretty simple, “That’s a great possibility. It’s a great program,” Hart said. “National Championship. Nick Saban. That all speaks for itself.”

Hart, the nation’s #2 all-purpose back and the #34 player overall on Rivals.com, cited Auburn’s recruitment of two other running backs as his reasoning for dropping them from consideration. He is set to visit Ann Arbor again for the Sept. 4 opener against UConn ($), and he says a commitment could come at any time now — not that fans should be holding their breath after the twists and turns this recruitment has already taken.

It is worth noting that Michigan is also involved in another top-100 running back, one who will make his announcement very soon: Grand Blanc (MI) RB Justice Hayes is set to decide between Michigan, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Tennessee, and Iowa on Friday (more details here, but it’s behind a paywall), and most expect his choice to come down to the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish. Internet scuttlebutt says he’ll likely pick Notre Dame, but Michigan still has an outside shot here — he says he has not ruled out taking official visits after making his choice, and a strong performance by the Wolverines on the field could cause a change of heart for Hayes, who has admitted he would already have committed to Michigan if not for their performance in the last two seasons.

Even if Hayes, as expected, commits to Notre Dame, Michigan is still in a very good position to land an elite back in the 2011 class. We’ll see how long Dee Hart’s recruiting process plays out, but if Michigan can get off to a strong start — especially in the opener, with Hart visiting — I really like our chances to land the Florida product.

Not the probem.

Yesterday, FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock — a man who isn’t afraid to stir up controversy — penned an article on the college athlete/agent epidemic that has been the focus of the SEC media days as the NCAA targets several of their programs. Whitlock focuses on Reggie Bush, whose acceptance of lavish gifts from agents led to major rules violations for USC and left him as the face of what is wrong with college football. His rhetoric is, to say the least, inflammatory, but I think his central point is a good one:

If anything, the rule book supporting the bogus concept of “amateur athletics” is akin to the laws that supported Jim Crow, denied women suffrage and upheld slavery.

The architect of the modern NCAA, the organization’s former president, Walter Byers, spelled out all of this in his 1997 mea culpa, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting the Student-Athlete.”

Byers wrote: “Today the NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches). The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers.”

Reggie Bush is Kunta Kinte, a runaway slave.

The media are slave-catchers, mindless mercenaries crucifying child athletes for following the financial lead of their overseer coaches such as Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban.

I’ll stay away from the slave analogy, as Whitlock has a propensity for going over the edge to prove a point, and instead look at the central argument here — while the players and the agents who pay them are vilified (sometimes rightly so), the system that necessitates and enables these interactions escapes the wrath of the media.

In short, the players are getting screwed, while at the same time taking the brunt of the blame.

Why, you might ask, should I feel sympathy for athletes who receive a free education and the best shot at a professional career as a player in return for their ability to play a game while attending college? Several things come to mind:

  • For one, while a college scholarship is an extremely valuable commodity, the fact remains that a great deal of college football players come from lower-class or impoverished backgrounds. Having school paid for is great, but with an enormous time commitment like collegiate football and archaic NCAA rules leaving little-to-no time for earning some pocket money through a part-time job, this often isn’t enough on its own. Coming from a completely different socioeconomic background from many of these players, I can’t reconcile the thought of blaming these players for taking an agent’s handout when I do not know — and have no business knowing — the full story of the player’s background. Even through I come from a middle class background, as a student who doesn’t have to spend 20-40 hours a week as essentially an unpaid sports intern, I still could really use a few extra bucks — when I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t do the same thing as these players, it would only be hypocritical for me to malign them.
  • As we are becoming more and more aware of every day, the game of football is an extremely dangerous one — players are risking severe injury, long-term health issues, and even death when they step onto that field. While receiving a free education certainly provides a helpful safety net in the case of a player — for whatever reason — not being able to continue their career on the field after college, the fact remains that no amount of education can recoup the physical costs of playing the game. Playing football, of course, is a choice, but as I said above, many of these players come from situations where football (or another sport) is the only way to get an education — few person in their right mind are in the position to turn down the opportunity to get a free education and a shot at playing professional football because of the inherent risk involved, especially when we’re still learning about just how great that risk is.
  • The problem of maintaining pure amateurism in college football would not be as great if there was a viable alternative to playing college football, but the system in place is one where virtually the only path to the NFL (or even the Arena League) is the NCAA. While most students use their college classes as training for their future job, many college football players are simply going through the motions in order to have the chance to play at the next level. Should we be forcing these players to feign interest in a college degree when that degree has nothing to do with their future profession? It seems farcical, but we don’t blink twice when a talented player falls off the football map because of academic issues that have no bearing on their actual value on a football field. Of course, I’m not discouraging players from getting an education — having a fallback for a sport as brutal as football is very important — but the notion that attending college should be a requirement for playing pro ball makes little sense to me.
  • My main issue — especially when the NCAA, the schools, the athletic departments, and the coaches rake in absurd sums of money — is that there is literally no other profession where a person of any age cannot cash in on their talents if there is a market for those talents. An art student at Michigan would not be banned from painting because he/she sold some pieces at a local gallery — I would hope that would be encouraged, in fact. I’m not (necessarily) advocating for every NCAA player to get paid, but when I see hundreds of students arrive at Michigan Stadium wearing the same jersey and number as Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson, for example, just without the name (that is so clearly implied — it’s not a coincidence that the jerseys featured at the M Den are #5 and #16), well, I don’t see how that’s not making money from a player’s image without giving the player his due. If you’re good enough to have a demand for your likeness, you should see the rewards of that demand — last time I checked, this is still America, the land where (in everything but college sports) we’re encouraged to freely cash in on our talents to the best of our ability.

What is there to be done about this system? I’d be lying if I said I had the answers, but I think the first thing we have to let go of is the concept that the most important thing in college sports is a totally level playing field in which everyone is purely an amateur. It has never been that way, and never will be, and the fact that the NCAA continues to operate as if we’re anywhere close to that is a huge reason why the system is so broken.

So, do I think Reggie Bush is a modern-day Kunta Kinte? No. But he is the posterboy for what is wrong with collegiate sports, and he isn’t the problem. That alone shows how far we’re missing the mark when we look for someone to blame as these scandals arise.

We are forever indebted to Black Heart Gold Pants for digging up this gem: the website “Replay Photos” allows you to customize the text on a variety of photos featuring college sports teams, including — wait for it — Michigan State and Ohio State. Let your imagination run wild, as you can type in anything, though I’ll be keeping the stuff I post PG. Here’s the best (site-appropriate) stuff I came up with — I will happily take any reader submissions, all you have to do is preview the image, take a screencap (instructions for Mac and Windows) and send it on over.

The Obligatory “Spartans = Criminals” Joke:


The Mike Hart Special:

The Charles Rogers Special:

And, of course, Terrelle Pryor’s Life Mantra, in scripted form:


There are infinite other possibilities out there — if you think yours deserves a post on the site, use the contact form (located on the top toolbar) or shoot an email to ace[at]thewolverineblog.com.