Over the years Michigan has had the great fortune of seeing many of its verbal commitments turn into some of its most valuable recruiting tools. Fifteen years ago the first member of the Wolverines’ 1998 class, All American quarterback Drew Henson played a vital role in helping secure the #1 class in the country. He was instrumental in helping lure the top two receivers in the country (David Terrell and Marquise Walker), the top tailback (Justin Fargas), and host of other blue-chippers. More recently the first commitment in Michigan’s 2013 class, All American quarterback Shane Morris, proved to be a central figure in helping the Maize & Blue lock down the nation’s second best class. Both Henson and Morris were effective in communicating to others the attributes that that made Michigan so appealing to them with frequent phone correspondences and occasional campus visits. Now the first member of Michigan’s 2014 class is committed to conveying the same message in the same manner, but today he augmented his approach in a way that makes it truly unique.
Michael Ferns III hasn’t been bashful when it comes to texting and tweeting prospective teammates, but he had long thought about how he could make his pitch more effective. From that his dad Michael Ferns Jr. came up with idea of developing a T-shirt. From that they together thought up “Project 135.”
The T-shirt, which reads “Building a Class One Member at a Time,” serves both as a culmination and perpetuation of Ferns’ recruiting efforts. When a prospect commits to Michigan, Ferns will mail him a shirt. Then when that Michigan commit wears his shirt around to various events the “Team 135” seed will potentially be planted in other prospective targets. It’s a concept that could just as easily be applicable as a marketing strategy for a major company. Ferns’ goal, though, is much more modest. He isn’t looking to acquire wealth. He’s looking to acquire teammates.
“I got into the mindset that if I get into recruiting others, I have a chance to help get the kind of people that I want around me for four years,” Ferns explained. “It was a little weird at first. I never had someone my age there to talk to me about the whole (recruiting process), so I never knew how to really approach it. But over time you start to see that everyone is kind of in the same situation… especially Michigan recruits. They all strive for the same things academically and athletically."
One of Ferns’ earliest targets was recent commitment, Bryan Mone.
“I sent a couple of long messages to him,” Ferns recalled. “I know he had a little issue trying to make the decision because he’d be leaving his family for a long period of time. What I ended up telling him is, ‘You’re gonna go to a great university that is going to give you a great degree. You’re going to use that degree, and that will make up for the time that you’ve been away.’”
There are numerous recruits that he is attempting offer similarly sage words to, but he admits there are few that he is devoting special attention to.
“I really don’t know exactly how many I’ve contacted, but there are about six or seven on a constant basis. One is Mason Cole who will be visiting. (Another is) Kyle Berger, who I talked into showing up next weekend. Mason is visiting next weekend also for the Illinois game. I also talked Berger into it.”
“Mason is excited about (making his third trip to Ann Arbor), and I think he really needs that one more visit to really get what he wants in the visiting process out of Michigan. He has been on a couple of other visits recently, so I don’t know when he would be ready to make a decision. That’s all up to him. But I know that if we could really impress him on his visit next week it would really have some positive benefits in the future.”
Berger had been delaying hitting the visit trail in earnest until after his basketball season, but Ferns offered a perspective that apparently made the Cleveland St. Ignatius star alter his plan.
"I know Kyle is busy, but I’ve talked to him a lot,” Ferns stated. “He is one of the guys I’d really like to join Team 135. There are not many spots (in Michigan’s 2014 class), and at the linebacker position (in particular) there are not a lot of spots. I told him I’d really like for him to get up as soon as possible because I’d really hate to see him miss out because of his basketball season. He took that to heart and said he could make (next) Sunday work because (he has to think about) what is going to hurt him in the long run.”
Some youngsters might be satisfied with that type of progress, but not Ferns. Now that “Project 135” has officially launched, and with help from with fellow 2014 commitment Wilton Speight, he plans to kick his courtship efforts into an even higher gear.
“As the days go by I start to contact more and more guys,” he said. “I was really focusing on maybe three at a time for a period of time, but I’ve learned you can talk to a lot (more) people and get a lot done in a day’s time.”