Recruiting the West Coast hasn’t the most fruitful of ventures for Michigan in recent years due in large part to the difficulty in getting prospects from that region in for unofficial visits. That’s why Caleb Kelly’s trip to Ann Arbor last weekend was such a coup. The 2016 Fresno (Calif.) Clovis West linebacker is one of the most heavily recruited prospects in the country. If the Wolverines were going to remain major contenders in the race for his services they had to get him on campus, and they had to wow him when they did.
“It was real fun going out there and I’m happy that I got to so quick after the offer,” Kelly said. “It was a good experience going out with all the coaches and the players and everything.”
“I think it was a little bit better than I thought it would be. I didn’t think that all of the coaches would be laid back. I thought they’d be kind of stuck up… that Coach Harbaugh would be pretty stuck up and not trying to hang out with his players. They were real cool guys that you could just hang out with. Just normal people.”
Kelly received an extended glimpse of Harbaugh in “normal” mode thanks to the presence of his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.
“That was cool,” said Kelly of his time spent with the brothers Harbaugh. “They’re both NFL coaches and Coach (Jim) Harbaugh is coming back down to college… and he chose to do that. He could have been in the NFL still if he wanted to. The whole family does coaching, because their brother-in-law (Tom Crean) coaches basketball at Indiana too. So it is like the whole family does coaching. It’s real cool that they’re all doing the same thing and they all love the same thing.”
That passion extends to Harbaugh’s coaching staff. Kelly discovered that while observing his would-be position coach in Ann Arbor, D.J. Durkin.
“He’s just intense,” said Kelly. “He was screaming at his players. I went into a meeting and he was shaking the podium. He didn’t even know we were in there. He’s just real intense. He wants everything done right to the highest level. He’s all about competition. I think he is a pretty cool coach.”
“He showed me (the position I would play). He said in a regular, I think it was the 4-3, I would be WILL, weak side backer. In the nickel would come down in a 3-4 and I would be the SAM backer. I would just be the strong side outside linebacker coming off the edge or cover if I need to.”
The Golden State star had was excited to see that deployment in action while taking in spring practice. He was also excited by the aggressive tone being set.
“It was real competitive and I like how they’re all talking to each other, talking smack and just going back and forth the whole time,” Kelly stated. “Everybody is confident. They’re all going the best they can and making plays on both sides of the ball. I thought it was fun to watch it.”
There was one player the exemplified that competitive spirit more than any other.
“Jabrill Peppers,” Kelly said laughingly. “There was a tipped catch (for an interception he had). Then somebody broke on the ball so fast and they got a pick six and I was like, ‘(wow), that was a good play. I think it was him both plays because he was talking (like it was him).”
That type of favorable impression has become norm during his time in Ann Arbor, and has far more to do with his ability to connect with recruits off of the field than it does his ability to make plays on it.
“He’s like the (highly rated) recruit… the five star out of high school, and he deserves it,” said Kelly. “When I was with him (I saw that) he doesn’t party… he doesn’t do any of that stuff. He just sits on his I-pad and watches film. That’s all he was doing. He would get up and dance every once in a while and listen to music (laughter). He just was chill. He’s the real deal. He’s real focused and he knows what he wants. He knows he wants go to the league. I really respect him. He was like a big brother to me. He was making sure that I was good and everything. He texted me when I got home. He said, ‘make sure you get home safe and everything.’ He was just real cool.”
Kelly came away with a similarly positive feel for redshirt freshman wideout Maurice Ways.
“He’s a funny dude,” Kelly said of Ways. “He’s one of those guys you want to go against in practice because he thinks he’s good and he’s confident. He’s already talking smack saying, ‘you probably shouldn’t come here because I’m just going to have to show you what’s up.’ I was like, ‘nah, you crazy (laughter).’ He’s one of those guys you laugh a lot with too. They’re all like that, all the players. They’re just to cool to hang with and be with. They’re just normal kids too.”
All told, the visit couldn’t have gone any better. The five-star standout was coy about revealing his leaderboard (though we were able to get the dish on that, so stay tuned for part two), but it’s clear that the Wolverines acquitted themselves very well.
“I don’t think (the visit) hurts them at all,” Kelly said with an obvious smile. “That trip was pretty cool. They did a real good job. It felt like an official visit and Coach Partridge told me that he would make it an official visit, but we just paid for it (laughter).”
“I think (what stuck out the most was) how laid back Coach Harbaugh was and how all the coaches cared for me like I’m a player over there. I know they’re supposed to because they really want me to go there, but you could tell that they genuinely cared about me. They were all just coaches that you could hang out with and be yourself with. They let you be yourself and they were happy with it. They were always looking for a laugh and being positive. I just think the coaches were the biggest thing.”
Michigan’s cause was further aided by the presence of longtime Fresno area defensive backs Coach Tony Perry. He accompanied Kelly on the trip and participated in Michigan’s coaching clinic. He will play a pivotal role in helping his talented protégé reach a decision, and he too came away from the experience extremely impressed.
“When he saw the Big House he thought it was crazy, and I thought it was too,” Kelly said. “When I walked down, the first thing I felt was, ‘damn!’ It was cool. I know he was going to like the Big House and at the clinic, he did real well. He loves all the coaches over there, he said. He said they’re changing things around over there (and) it is looking up over there at Michigan.”
In the aftermath of such a memorable visit the Wolverines appear poised to remain strong standing for the duration a recruitment that is slated to go the distance
“I’m going to be a signing day guy,” stated Kelly. “I’m going to visit as many schools as I can. June 19th, I’m going to Notre Dame and then July 13th, I’m going to Alabama. Those are the two I know right now.”
And there’s a chance that down the line he will make his way back to Michigan, this time for an official visit.
“I’d like to, but I’m not going to say 100% yeah. But it would be cool to be able to go back again. You never know.”
Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for part two of this feature for word on exactly where Michigan stands on Kelly’s list.