When it comes to the recruiting process there is hardly ever an aspect more crucial than the official visit. That’s the time when a program shows itself in the best possible light and the time when it rolls out the red carpet for a weekend of wining and dining fit for an A-list celebrity. For many recruits and their parents the bigger the official visit spectacle, the more impressed are. For others, though, the pomp & circumstance is nothing but fluff.
Count Rashan Gary's mother as one of the “others.”
As the guiding voice in Gary’s recruitment, Jennifer Coney made it clear that the purpose of his official visit to Michigan was to find out about what happens when the game is over, the lights are off, and the players are away from the football building. That’s not to say mother & son wouldn’t enjoy a little five-star dining, but such things were to be secondary. The importance of placing the emphasis of the meat & potatoes of a student athlete’s could not be overstated. But she isn’t going to tell the schools about her preferences. The schools have to figure that out or their own.
Or in the Wolverines’ case they had to take advantage of the advanced scouting report they received from former Paramus Catholic head coach and current Michigan Director of Player Personnel and Recruiting, Chris Partridge.
.“Chris Partridge… with Rashan going to Paramus Catholic… he knows me and he knows me well,” Coney said. “He knows the things I want to hear.”
“Yeah… Chris Partridge ain’t no dummy!”
Indeed he isn’t.
Partridge mapped out the visit so precisely it was as if he reading Coney’s mind every step of the way.
At times even she was surprised by Partridge’s acute awareness of exactly what buttons needed to be pushed.
“We went to visit the president,” Coney said referring to University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel. “When Coach Partridge said we’re going to meet the president my eyes rolled to the back of my head, like, ‘what are we going to meet him for?’ But I was very impressed by him because he seems to be an academic guy (first). He came from Brown University, he worked for Cal Berkeley, and he’s just been there for a year, but he understands and supports the academics. It’s the support they have for all the athletes (that’s so impressive). It doesn’t matter football, basketball, baseball… they need academic support primarily because they’re work schedule… their school schedule. If they don’t have anyone to back that academic part up, nine times out of ten you’re destined to fail. Unless you’re a great student with great time management skills you’re destined to fail. He said, ‘my kids don’t fail.’ He puts everything in place to make sure they’re successful.”
A vivid example of Michigan’s attention to “everything” is the support it provides for the emotional well-being of its student athletes. The man that has headed up the Wolverines cutting edge counseling program for decades became acquainted with Coney during her initial visit to Ann Arbor during the summer. They connected again this time around and picked up right where they left off before.
“I met with (Michigan Director of Athletic Counseling and his sixth year as Associate Athletic Director) Greg Harden and his beautiful wife,” said Coney. “I met with them on game day. I was completely impressed by her and her degrees. Oh my gosh… I was so impressed. That’s truly a power couple and I’m so impressed by both of them.”
“We talked about church and that’s an important part (the process) for Rashan… just that spiritual part… praising, worshipping, honoring God for all of his blessings. They’ll provide the avenues for that for Rashan if he goes to Michigan. I don’t know if Rashan will ever need to talk to (Harden) about things going on, but I believe he would be an inspirational, motivational shoulder. Someone who can motivate, give Rashan some encouraging words, and have something to back it up. That’s what I got from Greg. He’s just a great person to talk to.”
That wasn’t only strong connection Coney and Gary made. And just as was the case with Harden, it was an interaction devoid of the typical contrived recruiting pitch.
“I met Tyran Steward. He’s a history professor,” Coney said. “He was just telling me about his classes. “I can talk to this guy for hours. The day we left, Sunday morning, we went and had breakfast together and we just talked about everything. Not so much about Rashan, but just about life. Going through questions that I had, picking his brain… I was really impressed by him. I said if Rashan goes to Michigan, Rashan will be definitely taking one of his writing courses.”
Michigan even detailed the attention it assigns to professional development after football. One of programs newest hires is an alum name John Rotche. Charged with heading up the internship program with Team Blue (“a student support group that assists with office work during the week and recruiting game day operations”), Rotche brings unique organizational and business skills to the position. In his day job Rotche is the CEO, TITLE Boxing Club International. His meeting with Gary was offered an in-person example to the professional and entrepreneurial opportunities made possible by a Michigan education. It also gave him a glimpse into the extensive network a Maize & Blue affiliation would tie him into.
“He has a great (internship) program,” Coney said. “He’s helping a lot of these players out and the student body as well. We met with him and I was very impressed with him.”
“It was just a really good visit.”
Stay tuned to the Michigan Insider for part two of this feature during which Mrs. Coney details just how much the Wolverines helped themselves with her son.