Amid the surprise-filled announcements that comprise National Signing Day, there was a celebratory buzz inside the HYPE Athletics facilities in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. Most prospects headlining the event arrived around the six o'clock start time, but several college-bound seniors met with friends and family beforehand. Justin Cessante, HYPE Director of Community Relations, was busy preparing the stage and greeting prospects as they rolled in.
The key note speaker for the signing day event was Mike Martin, defensive tackle for the Tennessee Titans and Michigan alum. Martin played a pivotal role in leading Michigan to a Sugar Bowl victory in 2011, Brady Hoke's first season with the program and was always well-liked by the Wolverines fan base.
Martin took his time addressing each player momentarily as he delivered a strong message filled with purpose. Throughout his struggles growing up in a turbulent household environment, Martin found refuge on the football field and took advantage of the opportunities afforded to him. Taking time to reflect back on his personal signing day experience in 2008, Martin feels fortunate to be where he is today.
"There were 10 other guys that got to sign Letters of Intent with me when I went to [Catholic] Central," said Martin. "Guys that went to Central [Michigan], I went to Michigan, we had a punter to Ball State. Guys all across the board and those were the guys that were putting in extra work. They did things that you weren't told to do per se, but you know you had to because it meant a lot to you deep down inside. For me, it opened a lot of doors and meant opportunity."
For Martin, the hard work that he had put in during high school had resulted in his reputation as one of the nation's top defensive tackles. Martin checked in as the 12th highest-rated defensive tackle over by Scout and received a four-star rating, but these accolades were not important in his eyes.
"When I laid my head down at night after this night you guys are going through right now, I was done talking to Scout.com and Rivals and done with the stars," said Martin. "Then I was by myself and had the chance to think about everything that has happened. While I had put a lot of work in, it had actually just begun."
This is when Martin began to speak directly at individual players on the podium inside of the HYPE Athletics center. Martin, a Communications major at the University of Michigan, delivered his speech with passion and a sense of humility, two qualities that he would love for the talented batch of college-bound seniors to contain. Another quality that he hopes will rub off is his tenacious work ethic and drive.
"You guys have gotten to this point by putting in the work," said Martin. "Not just in between the white lines, but in the weight room and in film study or in the classroom. For me, my mom was my rock. My dad wasn't really around they way he should have been. We've grown from that. You guys have parents that love and care about you. You have to continue to make them proud. Football is more than a game and more than putting a jersey on the weekend and paying and having a good time. It's about the principles and the accountability."
For any athlete, the principles and accountability that Martin refers to are familiar. Sports are a team-building process that often tests the character of those involved. Many lessons learned through the experience of playing football can be applied to life, and Martin spoke on how else football can be applied to this group of senior's day-to-day futures in college.
"Like Justin said, you have to learn how to react when you play football and in life you need to learn to react," said Martin. "I don't care if you're a business man, a doctor or a teacher- you always have to make yourself better. When you wake up every day, you have the choice to either get better or worse. You won't stay the same. You know how you can cut corners and not study or skip class. But it will always get back to you. It's what you do when no one is looking that matters."
Martin set the tone for Cessante who was the event emcee and shared a brief biography on each player present. Last Wednesday's signing day event featured over 20 college-bound football prospects from across Michigan and several will be playing football on Saturdays in the Big Ten. Michigan State was well-represented at HYPE with two commitments in strong-side defensive end Malik McDowell (Southfield/MI) and cornerback Jalen Watts-Jackson (St. Mary's Prep/MI). Iowa and Michigan each featured a commit at HYPE as athlete Jalen Embry (King/MI) is set to join the Hawkeyes in the fall and Lawrence Marshall (Southfield/MI) to Ann Arbor later this year.
The only story involving Michigan on National Signing Day with any traction was the eventual destination of Malik McDowell's Letter of Intent- which somehow did not include East Lansing. Even though McDowell announced his commitment to Michigan State at Southfield High School just after 9:30 AM, his Letter of Intent has set to be officially signed and faxed to Spartan officials.
Since McDowell needs the signature of at least one legal guardian to complete a legitimate Letter of intent, Malik's mother, Joya Crowe, would need to sign on to her son's future college plans. Crowe has been vocal in her distaste for Michigan State and has emphasized the importance of thinking in terms of McDowell's future. This has resulted in a tentative plan for McDowell to take subsequent unofficial visits to Michigan, Ohio State and Florida State. The McDowell's will decide where to proceed from there.
Here is what Malik had to say on his Michigan State commitment on National Signing Day at Hype Athletics:
Another prospect who has made a name for himself thanks part to his successful relationship with HYPE is tight end / linebacker Kyle Rachwal (Lapeer East/MI). After his junior season, Rachwal began training with HYPE before the camp circuit began. Rachwal made the HYPE A-Team on the 7-on-7 circuit and impressed coaches with his versatility and athleticism. Kyle will be lining up at linebacker in college, however, as his bulky 6'3", 220 lb. frame should translate well to defense at the next level.
Although Rachwal had considerable interest from Michigan State, it is Eastern Michigan that received his signature. The Spartans were not able to offer Rachwal a full scholarship, only budging for preferred walk-on status, and ultimately let the talented in-state prospect go to a rebuilding Eastern Michigan program.
Rachwal spoke about the coaching transition at EMU and his relationship with both staffs, including what made the difference in his decision:
HYPE will be fielding another competitive 7-on-7 team this Spring and is preparing for a February 15 scrimmage, Midnight Maddness, taking place in Brighton vs. Maximum Exposure.