MI RB Dennis Norfleet, listed as 5'7, 165ish, committed to Michigan on National Signing Day after receiving a last minute offer from the coaching staff. Having been committed to Cincinnati since August of 2011, the move was something he considered to be 'a bigger step' in terms of competition and opportunity. Norfleet had been a Michigan fan, but didn't think he would have the opportunity to join the Maize and Blue until that late offer came through.
Early on in the process, it seemed like a no-brainer that Michigan would heavily pursue Norfleet. With Rich Rod still entrenched as the coach (sort of), adding a faster Vincent Smith from Detroit, no less, looked to be a sure-fire thing. However, Rich Rod and his staff were wary of offering and contacting juniors after their NCAA restrictions, so offers for 2012 kids were slow to come out (a major cause of the RJS and Terry Richardson drama, as well). So Norfleet never got his offer, and the staff moved in other directions as they attempted to establish a pro-style offense from the kids they recruited. Norfleet moved on and added offers from Michigan State, Tennessee, and Cincinnati, the last of which he jumped on. By my own admission, I would have loved to see Munchie Legaux and Norfleet in the backfield together, but I'm cool with this outcome as well. When the staff missed out on some of the late 2012 prospects like Sam Grant (Oklahoma), Josh Garnett (Stanford), Armani Reeves (Ohio State), and Jordan Diamond (Auburn), room opened up for Norfleet and fellow '12 signee Willie Henry. The rest, as they say, is history.
When you're trying to break down Dennis' game, you find yourself falling into the land of cliches. If, by now, you do not know that Norfleet is both fast AND explosive, you have probably never ever read anything about him. If you do not know that Norfleet is undersized, you are more than likely a gymnast or horse jockey. When trying to add to the discussion, I'll just spill a few thoughts about Norfleet here.
Vincent Smith plus speed? Here's Allen Trieu's breakdown of Norfleet's game (emphasis mine)-
One of the most explosive players in the class, Norfleet has great acceleration, open field elusiveness and a natural knack for making defenders miss. Has excellent skills in the pass game, and is a dangerous receiver. Is also a great return man. He is not the biggest back, although solidly built, but he is a guy who can be used in a variety of roles, including slot receiver. He's also a tough, competitive kid who plays with a chip.
So yes, Vincent Smith plus speed. I think you can probably add in something dealing with Brian's famous description of Mike Hart- you know, the ability to 'juke a man in a telephone booth'. The 'tough' thing should probably be triple bolded, but I don't know how to do that.
...And that's the second reason I think a comparison to Smith is particularly appropriate. Norfleet seems to be cut from the same mold, as far as character goes. Mild mannered, good kid off the field, but tough as nails on it. If you haven't heard Vincent Smith described as tough at some point in his career...well.. I mean sheesh just look at the transcript from Lewan's media day roundtable-
One guy that's really overlooked, and I was talking to Denard and Jordan about this yesterday, is Vincent Smith. Vincent, he's without a doubt pound-for-pound the toughest guy on our team, and he's like 5'6". He's unbelievable.
"He's a tough kid with a soft heart, and he's really a good kid," said coach Dale Harvel. "He's a competitor to the utmost. He's one of the toughest competitors since I've been at King. We had to really channel a whole lot of that energy into things we wanted him to do."
Unfortunately for Norfleet, although he shares many of the characteristics of Smith, he likely won't have as large of an opportunity to play early on offense. The coaches brought him on very open terms (mentioning kick returns, punt returns, the slot, and running back), but kick returns seem to be the only spot that he may be in serious contention for playing time. I think Jeremy Gallon has a good handle on punt returns for now, although Norfleet could potentially play his way in there. However, Norfleet seems like the textbook third down back on offense; unfortunately for him, I don't think he'll eclipse the two deep there. Smith will hold down the position for one more year. After that, Norfleet will contend with Hayes for the spot, but Hayes will likely be able to grab the spot because of his experience. All in all, I think we'll see Dennis as primarily a special teamer for a few years, perhaps grabbing some garbage time against the UMass teams of the world (hopefully), and then working his way into the 3rd down back role at some point in the future. Because of his special teams value, I doubt he redshirts this year, putting him a year behind Hayes.
So there you have it, folks. Despite being a last minute addition to the class, Norfleet could add a lot of special teams value, as well as a high-character personality off the field. In a perfect world, you'll be seeing a lot of this out of him. In a matter of years, maybe you'll see some of this, too.
BONUS SECTION- UM COACH QUOTES
Dennis Norfleet, from Martin Luther King, happened at the end. One reason was when you look at it, we had a couple scholarships left that we had either sign over with or we would make sure that we could have him in this class. The other part of it was our needs when we lost Darryl Stonum. This guy is a guy who returns kicks. He's got speed. He's a guy who can do a lot of things catching the football. He runs the football. He's an athlete. We're really impressed with him.
MGoQuestion: Dennis Norfleet isn't the prototypical back for the power running offense you talk about a lot. How do you envision using him?
"Well until he proves he can't do that, we'll give him a chance to do that. He's coming in here kind of as an all-around player. He'll return kicks, play offense, and we'll see what he does. I've had little guys that you didn't consider prototypes to be good backs. You say, ‘Well, maybe he can do it.' As we go through it, we'll test the waters and give everybody a chance to prove what they can do. He's in that category, too, but he's electric. He's a touchdown scorer. You can't get enough of those guys."
"He is a very fast kid. And when the offense switched over(when head coach Brady Hoke was hired), we sort of changed emphasis (on scat backs). There wasn't the numbers for a guy who was just going to be a so called scat back kind of guy," Jackson explained. "But at the end when you have the numbers to give a kid that is still out there, that will probably has a great interest in Michigan. That gave us an opportunity go and recruit him."