When Darian Cooper made his way to the Great Lake State for the Barbecue at the Big House last spring he was blown away by the fast rapport he was able to forge with the coaches and players in Ann Arbor. Because of those relationships the Wolverines were virtually eliminated from contention when the former staff members were let go earlier this month. But that was not a defeat that the new coaching staff was going to take lying down. New defensive coordinator Greg Mattison trekked to his recent stomping grounds in Maryland last week and made it clear to Cooper that he was still a wanted man at Michigan.
"(Coach Mattison) and Coach Hoke came in and they came in back to back," Cooper said referring to the recent visits he's received from the Wolverines' coaching staff. "They came in fast too. They targeted the people that they wanted and they came after me hard. They told me that I was one of the only interior D-lineman that they are looking at for this year and that they definitely have plans for me. That is very nice. I'd be going in there with a plan. Going in there I wouldn't just be an acquired piece. There is a role that (they) really want me to fill. It was almost hard to say no (to a visit)."
As it turns out, Cooper is now extremely happy he said yes.
"This time (the visit) was way better because I actually got to interact with the people," he explained. "That's basically how I am going to make my college decision… my relationship with the people. The school is just a set of bricks, really. It is the people that really make a difference."
Among his key interactions were those with the coaches when they discussed scheme, and with the players when they were just hanging out. In both instances Cooper received a much better idea of how he would fit in should he decided to don the Maize & Blue.
"(The coaches) told me in the 4-3 under, I would be over the center," stated Cooper. "(Mattison) told me that he wants me to use my speed and agility over the center so I could just kind of cause havoc and everything like that. That's how I would be used. I would be able to disrupt, and be versatile, and kind of move around inside."
"The players are great guys," he continued. "Josh Furman was my host I hung out with Josh, Patrick (Omameh), Taylor (Lewan)… a whole bunch of guys. Antonio Poole, the linebacker commit – I hung out with him. Another running back (Michigan) brought in… I hung out with him… a whole bunch of guys. It was amazing. Everybody up there is so relaxed and calmed down... it was different. I've seen these guys walk to each others house and not even locking their doors. I'm standing outside and I was like, ‘is this breaking and entering, man?' They were like, ‘naw, this is Ann Arbor. This is how we are man. Just leave your doors unlocked and people don't mess with you out there.' It was peaceful."
Just like the last time he was Ann Arbor, Cooper shared the Michigan visit experience with his mother. And just like last time, she too came away impressed.
"My mom loved it," Cooper reported. "Michigan being the 15th ranked university in the nation academically, worldwide. That's amazing. She likes the coaching staff and everybody."
"They're in the mix," Cooper said of the Wolverines. "They're definitely in the mix. After today, I'm cutting my phone off from all reporters and I'm just going to sit down and block out all outside forces so I can figure out where I'm going to go to school."
That process could last all the way until signing day. Should that happen, Michigan State could be eliminated as an option. The Spartans informed Cooper last week of the intense competition for the last spot in their class. Despite that, he is determined to stick to his own timetable.
"I'm not going to commit until I'm ready to commit," Cooper said matter-of-factly. "Numbers and things like that never scared me into making a decision. It is not going to scare me into a decision. This decision is way too big for me to hop into something prematurely and not be 100% sure. If somebody wants me to commit before I'm ready, then best of luck to the next guy they get because I won't be the one for them."
With all of the information about each school now in tow and his plan to sequester himself now in place, the four-star prospect is gearing up to think long and hard about a few key questions.
"It is a business decision ultimately," he stated. "It is about what is going to put me in the best situation to help my family and me succeed throughout life. Not just momentary success, but throughout life. This decision is not a four to five year decision but a 40-50 year decision. That's what a coach told me. I'm just thinking with that, what is going to set me up with the long haul? Where do I feel comfortable? Where do I feel as though these are the guys that I can call my family… where the coaches become my surrogate parents and I feel as though I can be under these guys? Are these the type of people that I want to be around? Are these the type of guys I want to be."
Now that his recruitment is nearing its end, Cooper looks back on a process that he grew weary of at times with great fondness. Even with all of the twists and turns over the kast year, it's an experience he wouldn't trade for anything.
"This process has opened up my eyes to a lot of different things," he said. "This has taken me to places that I never thought I would go. It has allowed me to show my little brother and family things that they never thought they would see. I am grateful that I have been through this process and it is time for the next group to come through. I can't hold this life forever. Now I'm ready for the next group (of recruits) to come out and get their shine. I'm just ready to move on to the next level and start my college career."
Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine and Scout.com for up to the minute coverage of Cooper's decision in the coming days.