Jim Harbaugh came to Michigan ahead of the 2015 season with as much hype as any head coach has ever received in a new job, but also inherited a bit of a mess coming out of the Brady Hoke era. The program’s perception was at a modern low and a small recruiting class was left in shambles due to the coaching change.
Harbaugh had a few weeks or so to scrape together a respectable class and wound up doing so with eight commitments leading into National Signing Day 2015. From there, it was for his staff and the players to figure out how to make it work.
There were a few holdovers from Hoke’s 2015 class, but Harbaugh had a lot to do in not only recruiting them, but trying to squeeze every drop of potential he could out of a small class. Here is a look at how things played out with one player remaining on Michigan’s roster heading into 2019.
Four-star ATH Brian Cole
A Hoke commit, Cole was released from his scholarship after the 2015 season by Harbaugh after his playing time dwindled and he was switched from offense to defense. He would transfer to East Mississippi Community College before ultimately landing at Mississippi State, where he is expected to start at the STAR linebacker/nickel position as a fifth-year senior on their defense.
Four-star QB Zach Gentry
There are two things that Harbaugh has succeeded at the most in his college coaching career, and that is getting quarterbacks and tight ends to the league. Oddly enough for him, his first quarterback signee at Michigan wound up switching to tight end after his freshman season and developed into a fifth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2019 NFL Draft. He had 49 catches for 817 yards and four touchdowns in his Michigan career.
Four-star S Tyree Kinnel
Kinnel, who committed under Hoke, developed into a nice player for the Wolverines and contributed all four seasons he was in Ann Arbor, starting every game he played in his last two years. He was an All-Big Ten honoree twice as an honorable mention and was a team captain for the 2018 season. He had 162 total tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss to go with two picks in his Michigan career.
Four-star OT Grant Newsome
Newsome, who stuck around after Hoke was let go, may be the biggest “what if?” player from this recruiting class, and it was not even his fault. He played right away as a freshman and broke out as a starter in 2016, but a devastating knee injury followed by two years of grueling rehab ultimately cost him his football playing career. He spent last season on Harbaugh’s staff as a student assistant.
Four-star QB Alex Malzone
Malzone, who was handpicked by former Hoke offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, spent three seasons at Michigan before transferring to Miami of Ohio as a grad student prior to 2018. He never made an impact at Michigan and had only four pass attempts at Miami last season.
Four-star TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
A legacy commit and signing day get for Harbaugh, Wheatley Jr. never lived up to the hype at either tight end and had only six catches in his Michigan career. He left on the eve of fall camp last season and transferred to Stony Brook before transferring to Morgan State to play for his father, former Michigan star running back and running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley Sr.
Three-star DE Shelton Johnson
Johnson was a Harbaugh commit in the few weeks leading up to signing day, but never made an impact at Michigan and was left off of the team’s roster ahead of the 2017 season. It came out that he was suspended for “internal reasons” for a portion of the 2016 season, per Harbaugh.
Three-star RB Karan Higdon
What a pleasant surprise Higdon wound up being. Michigan had been courting a four-star in-state star in Mike Weber for weeks after he originally backed out of his commitment to the program under Hoke. Higdon would flip from Iowa to Michigan on signing day, which led Weber to choose the Ohio State Buckeyes. It worked out fine for both schools, but Higdon was a two-time All-Big Ten selection and named a team captain in 2018 and by the end of his career became a workhorse back for the Wolverines.
Three-star DE Reuben Jones
Jones was another one of the Harbaugh commits in the mad dash leading up to signing day and redshirted in 2015, However, he would only play 15 games in his Michigan career and was never much more than a scout team player for the program. He announced his transfer from the program in January and will now play at West Virginia in 2019 as a grad transfer.
Three-star WR Grant Perry
Perry, who was a high school teammate of Malzone, flipped from Northwestern to Michigan in the days leading up to signing day after being extended an offer from Harbaugh. He wound up being one of the other hidden gems of the class, playing significant snaps in all four seasons in his career and appearing in 47 games with the Wolverines. He caught 72 passes for 765 yards and three touchdowns in his career. He was suspended for two games during the 2016 season after being accused of groping a woman outside of an East Lansing bar and then running from police.
Three-star ATH Keith Washington
Washington, who joined the program as a high school quarterback on signing day, wound up in the cornerback room in Ann Arbor, but transferred from Michigan right before the start of the 2017 season to attend Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi. He enrolled at West Virginia in 2018 and was an All-Big 12 honorable mention last season. He is a redshirt senior for the Mountaineers in 2019.
Three-star OT Jon Runyan Jr.
Runyan Jr., another legacy commit, pledged to Hoke and the Wolverines back in June of 2013 and is the lone player on this list still on the Michigan roster. The good news for the Wolverines is that he has developed into one of the better left tackles in college football and was a first team All-Big Ten selection in 2018. He will hold down the left side of the Michigan offensive line again this year and won the Hugh H. Rader Memorial Award last year, which is given to the team’s best lineman.
Three-star OT Nolan Ulizio
Ulizio spent four seasons with the Wolverines and played in 17 games, making six starts at right tackle in 2017. He left the program after the 2018 season and will spend 2019 as a grad transfer at the University of Pittsburgh.
Three-star K Andrew David
David was expected to come in and kick almost immediately for the Wolverines, but lost the kicking job to Kenny Allen in 2015 and punting duties went to Blake O’Neill, which forced a redshirt. He would transfer to TCU and spend three years there as the team’s punter before joining Northwestern this offseason as a graduate transfer.
There were a few gems here in Gentry, Kinnel, Higdon, Perry and Runyan, but most of this class either did nothing or wound up playing elsewhere. You see these types of classes all the time when they are a combination of two staffs and a coaching transition, but overall Harbaugh did a decent job salvaging something out of this class and is sort of a metaphor in general for what he was able to do with players that Hoke brought in. Michigan was able to win 20 games in those first two seasons on the job with guys who had not shown much or won much prior to him getting there.
The foundational class for Harbaugh’s Michigan came next season in 2016 during that recruiting cycle. We will take a look at them tomorrow.