Just before Noon yesterday, Madison Southern five-star running back Damien Harris changed the landscape of Michigan's 2015 class-- at least in the minds of many observing the situation from afar. In reality, this development is the latest domino to fall in a series of events that led up to Damien Harris' decommitment.
After announcing his verbal commitment to the Wolverines over the Summer (he followed George Campbell, once again, and committed a day after on July 29), Harris began to mount his dominant junior year, one that eclipsed 2,500 rushing yards and 40 rushing touchdowns. This catapulted Damien to the top of the running back rankings for the class of 2015 and firmly as the centerpiece of Michigan's class for the better part of six months.
This timeline puts Harris' commitment shortly before his junior season even began. For the majority of prospects, the recruiting cycle really kicks off after their junior year. Because of Harris' high profile as a top recruit, he received the full treatment from Michigan early on. Damien has grown up a big Michigan fan, and it is easy to see how committing to the Wolverines seemed like a good time in late-July.
While Michigan is purported to remain as Damien's top school, a long list of schools will be turning up the heat on their pursuit of the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year. Among the schools that are rumored to be the most aggressively pursuing Harris includes Ohio State, Kentucky and Florida.
It is logical that the nearest school to Harris geographically, the University of Kentucky, may take a charge at Harris to see if he reciprocates any interest. In light of Harris' depledge from the Wolverines program, Glenn Logan, the Managing Editor of SBNation's A Sea of Blue, shared his thoughts on this development.
"There are people who are trying to convince him to play at the Commonwealth's flagship university," said Logan. "I hear that he's been around the school a few times, and that he and his mom have a good relationship with the coaches, but I don't think he's ever been interested in UK as an actual destination-school."
Regardless of the pursuit of Kentucky or any other school, the Harris family will likely continue to keep in touch with members of the Michigan program. In fact, Wolverines running back coach Fred Jackson will be down to visit Harris sometime today. This will create a strong Michigan presence in Madison Southern as offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier visited Harris for his initial stop at the helm of his new position. All signs point to Damien Harris furthering his relationship with Nussmeier, as a large selling point with Borges was his connection to Madison Southern head coach, Jon Clark. This should level the field for other suitors, and it's not exactly a move that was unforseen by several Michigan commits, including Shaun Crawford (St. Edwards/OH)
"I saw him tweet something about it, so I texted him," said Crawford. "He gave me his reasons. From his standpoint it was the best decision to make. Coach Mattison told me that Damien's coach is really good friends with [Al] Borges, so that had something to do with it. He just told me that he wanted to make sure that it was 100% the right decision, which is something that I get. It's just a big decision."
This is a sentiment that has been echoed by everyone commenting on the Damien Harris situation. As high school kids, recruits are not only choosing which coach to play football for, but which school to pursue their education at as well. Speculation among Harris' status ran rampant, and Crawford can understand why he felt compelled to come out with his decision today.
"To finally make his decision is a way to get the monkey off his back," said Crawford. "I honestly think he'll be back with us. I do understand where he is coming from because the recruiting aspect was fun for me too. It's a one-time thing and if a school wants to pay for your plane ticket to California, then I can understand it."
As is with any decommitment, many Michigan fans have taken this news in a very poor fashion. Social media, especially Twitter, allows for anyone to send a tweet to anyone else, which has once again reincarnated the ugly side of the Michigan fan base. While Shaun realizes where the fans are coming from, there was a genuine element to each commitment, which gives him hope that the door is open for either prospect to return.
"I think that when he and George committed to the Michigan staff, that they were really set on Michigan," said Crawford. "They didn't do it to tease the fans or to tease the staff.
Michigan four-star safety commit Tyree Kinnel (Wayne/OH) predicted that a decommitment might be on the horizon for Damien Harris, and he was exactly correct. Just five days later, Harris brought these predictions to fruition with the announcement of his decommitment.
Five-Star Damien Harris Decommits From Michigan
•Maize n BrewNews first arose yesterday just short of Noon that Damien Harris would formally decommit from the Michigan Wolverines. Check out his former classmates' initial reactions.
"It's not a surprise," said Kinnel. "Michigan is still going to be one of his top schools. Michigan is still in it with him."
Since he and Harris were one-time classmates, he has developed a bond to the blue-chip running back from the bluegrass state. This helped to inform him and St. Joseph's Prep (PA) offensive tackle Jon Runyan Jr., the second 2015 prospect to commit to Michigan, that a decommitment was a possibility.
"It's too bad," said Runyan. "It's obviously upsetting, but I respect it because he's just trying to do what's right for him and his family. We had a really good class going, but we just have to move on. We still have over a year, so there's no need to panic."
Word of an impending decommitment spread to the 2014 class as Detroit Country Day (MI) wide receiver Moe Ways was given a heads up before the announcement broke yesterday. Ways and Harris have become very familiar with each other as mutual Michigan commitments.
"I already knew," said Ways. "He told me last week. He has to do what he has to do. He's still young and it's still early in the process. He's still my little bro. You never know, he still might end up at Michigan."
"Obviously I wasn't happy, but I had a lot of respect for the way he did it and was just straight up with other commits and myself," said Winovich. "Ultimately, every man has just got to look out for himself and that's what he's doing. I have full confidence in him coming back and playing for us, especially with our new offensive coordinator. Right now he just is going through a process in his own way that he's going to work through soon enough. He earned that."
With an opening in the running back position for 2015, the Wolverines will continue to aggressively pursue the position and may target certain prospects across the country later this week. Over the weekend, Michigan extended an offer to junior halfback Johnny Frasier (Princeton/NC) and look to be in good position at this point. Frasier is still a bit new to the recruitment process and is just now gaining traction, so it's too soon to call Michigan a favorite, but there isn't much that would prevent that either.
"I think they have a good program," said Frasier. "It seems like they're getting better and better. It's exciting. I saw what Alabama could do offensively and what they were able to do. That all starts with the offensive coordinator and I think he will be a big help."
As one of the first major programs to come through with an offer, joining the likes of Georgia, Georgia Tech and NC State, the Michigan Wolverines look to be in good position to land a visit from the junior prospect. Frasier is very interested in learning more about Michigan and has considered visiting Ann Arbor for the Spring Game in a few months.
Even if Harris were still in the fold, Michigan looks to take two running backs in 2015 and were recruiting the position regardless of Harris' commitment. Other running backs with Michigan offers for the '15 cycle include in-state sensation Michael Weber (Cass Tech), Jacques Patrick (Timber Creek/FL) and Soso Jamabo (Plano West/TX). It has been the general consensus that Weber is Michigan State lean for quite some time, but a conversation we had back in late-November did not rule the Wolverines out.
"It's a really good chance [Michigan] gets back in the mix," said Weber. "Things can change in a year. The coaches kind of stopped showing love after they got Damien [Harris] to commit."
Michael Weber is likely a package deal with his teammate, Joshua Alabi, a prospect that started on both sides of the line for Cass Tech in 2013. Alabi, too is considered to be an MSU lean, but Tennessee has a good chance at landing either prospects. Both have visited the Volunteers in the past and look to continue this relationship in the future.
As another highly-touted prospect that holds a Michigan offer, Jacques Patrick recently released a top-10 list that included the Wolverines. Other schools in the mix for Patrick include Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Notre Dame and Ohio State. He is an elite talent at the position and will be a huge piece of any school's class. Patrick has long-expressed interest in unofficially visiting Ann Arbor for a football game, but this never materialized. Still, the Wolverines are in the discussion to land a visit in the future and Jacques will look to check out some new schools.
In the search for another candidate at running back, the Michigan staff has remained in steady contact with Trai Sharp. Coming off an injury-riddled junior year at Carrboro High School, Sharp has started adding offers from several Big Ten schools already, including Illinois and Purdue. Since Sharp is out of North Carolina, the most of his recruitment is done by outside linebacker coach Roy Manning.
"I talk to coach Manning regularly," said Sharp. "We talk about playing Michigan football. I feel like I can go to him for advice in general. He's a great guy that I would like to play for."
In his surveillance of North Carolina, coach Manning has identified a lot of talented running backs. He has maintained contact with Sharp thus far, and the 5'9", 180 lb. junior is steadily receiving mail from the Wolverines. There is a good chance that Sharp is a potential target to receive a visit the next time Manning is in the area.