Let’s go back two years to 2016, to right around this time actually. Michigan recruiting was in the midst of one of their greatest recruiting stretches in recent history.
Dubbed “Commitmas”, the program landed verbals from seven blue chippers in a just over a two-week span from Dec. 7 to Dec. 23. The group included Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cesar Ruiz, Drew Singleton, Ambry Thomas, Jordan Anthony, Tarik Black, and Deron Irving-Bey.
This run provided much of the top end of a class that would finish fifth in the country, with 21 of its 29 members rated as 5- or 4-star prospects.
Fast forward to the present, and eight members of that touted class are now gone. This is in the wake of the news today that former 5-star Aubrey Solomon would be transferring, the most impactful departure yet.
While the class has produced several starters and contributors, with plenty of time for more to emerge, it’s safe to say something weird is going on with this class.
The attrition started almost as soon as the group arrived to campus, when 4-star defensive end Corey Malone-Hatcher was forced to medically retire. He suffered a torn Achilles tendon in high school that never healed properly and ended his football career.
Then came a slew of transfers. 4-star offensive lineman JaRaymond Hall was the first, transferring at the end of last year, following his freshman season.
Deron Irving-Bey was next, transferring during summer camp last August, after he presumably fell down the depth chart.
These two transfers weren’t that alarming. Both were lower rated 4-stars who transferred to Central Michigan, probably meaning they weren’t quite up to par with the rest of Michigan’s roster.
But then in October, linebacker Drew Singleton announced he was leaving the program. This came as a shock to most. Singleton was a former top-100 prospect who was pushing 5-star status. He had some medical issues that limited him in his first season, but was battling for a starting spot all throughout the summer and was in position to fight again for a spot once Devin Bush presumably left for the NFL.
A few days later, another shocking transfer occurred. 4-star defensive tackle turned offensive tackle James Hudson left the team. This was even more surprising than the Singleton news, considering Hudson was next in line at the tackle spot when Juwann Bushell-Beatty graduated.
Losing two touted players who had a wide-open opportunity to contribute next season was strange and unsettling. Were they just not being patient, or was there something going on off the field that the public didn’t know about? It still hasn’t been made clear.
At the beginning of November, running back Kurt Taylor joined the flock leaving Ann Arbor. This development was not surprising and maybe even expected, considering he was a questionable take by the staff to begin with.
Then, just last week, another running back was dismissed from the team. O’Maury Samuels was charged with domestic violence and malicious destruction of property, and was swiftly given the boot. This was disappointing, both because of his actions and the fact that there will be plenty of carries to go around next season when Karan Higdon leaves.
Finally, the culmination of the head-scratching transfers happened when Solomon decided to jump ship as well. He had been a rotation piece on the defensive line in his first two seasons. He’d shown flashes of his elite potential, but had been limited by injuries throughout his career.
Solomon was slated to be a key component of the defense in 2019, especially at the defensive tackle spot, where depth is thin. If he healed up properly and continued his development, he could have been contending for All-Big Ten honors.
Instead, he’s forgoing that chance for some undisclosed issue. If you’ll remember, Solomon went through one of the strangest recruitments in the country. He committed on a visit to Ann Arbor without telling his family, which resulted in a de-commitment later that summer. He kept the Wolverines in the race though, but after he was seen yelling an expletive about Michigan in a video, everybody understandably considered they were out of the running.
But, in a recruiting miracle, Solomon re-committed to the staff in February, and was bumped up to a 5-star to boot.
That uncertainty in his recruitment may have caused him to never really feel connected to the program. He also may have been frustrated with his injuries and how the staff treated them. Nevertheless, this is just a symptom of a larger issue from which the program is suffering.
Highly touted players are transferring when they have clear paths to playing time in the near future. Whatever is causing this disconnect with the athletes needs to be remedied, and quickly, before more attrition takes place.
The 2017 recruiting class was supposed to be part of the foundation that brought Michigan back to championship contention. Instead, it’s becoming a blemish on the public reputation of the team.