Michigan's 2017 recruiting class picked up serious momentum in recent weeks thanks to the six new commitments added to the fold since March 22nd. Two of those commitments came from the Wolverines’ home turf in the form of Orchard Lake St. Mary’s linebacker Josh Ross and Berrien Spring defensive lineman Phil Paea. Now Harbaugh & company are pushing hard for another highly regarded in-stater; Detroit Cass Tech defensive back Jaylen Kelly-Powell.
The four-star standout has been a frequent visitor in Ann Arbor over the past year, and most recently made his way to campus on three separate occasions during the third week of spring practice.
“I went one day and then (Cass Tech) Coach (Thomas) Wilcher told me we're going back up there,” Kelly-Powell recalled. “I didn't really have anything to do because it was (the week before) spring break and teachers aren't really doing nothing but trying to get in and out for break. So I said, ‘okay, I don't have anything to do so might as well go to Michigan and see (Jourdan Lewis), Delano (Hill) and just see everybody."
The third and final trip that week was all about reconnecting with Florence (Ala.) safety J’Marick Woods. Kelly-Powell became fast friends with the recent Michigan commit during prior recruiting visits to Duke and Kentucky.
"We had a ball together talking about everything,” said Kelly-Powell. “It was great talking about competition in Alabama and Michigan, (asking) what schools have you seen so far, and things like that."
Now that Woods has pledged to Michigan his side of the conversation has changed significantly. He went from talking about multiple schools to only talking about one.
Said Kelly-Powell, "(Woods) said, ‘it’s my time (to commit to Michigan). You're next.’"
He has gotten a similar pro-Michigan vibe from a few other future Wolverines as well.
"Big Mike (Onwenu) and LaVert (Hill), I always hang out with them,” Kelly-Powell stated. “Me and Big Mike… we always get together and do some things separate from the team. Me and Big Mike have a really good relationship. Me and LaVert have a relationship based on being on the field together at Cass. We always helped each other out and we just bonded (with each other) and with (Demetric Vance) even though he's at Michigan State. It’s all a brotherhood. We all have each other’s back no matter what."
However, that doesn’t mean talented youngster is ready offer up his pledge. He still has a great deal of evaluating to do. One thing he already knows, though, is the Michigan coaching staff has made an extremely positive impression.
"They told me I was number one on the list.”
"Coach Harbaugh is a great guy. I talked to him and he always has a smile on his face and everything. He says to tackle the day. That's a great thing coming from a head coach. The coaches and position coaches are great. They're tough on their boys but they want them to do great. They help them with football but also about life in general. Especially Coach Bush. I got to meet him and talk to him a lot and had some great conversations about not just football but about life and everything."
Interactions like those resonate with Cass tech star, but they might resonate even more with his father. The elder Powell is searching for the crew of coaches that can do as good a job helping develop his son off the field as they do on it. And he has made it a point to take off the Maize & Blue glasses of an unabashed Michigan fan while he does it.
"He (puts his fandom to the side) very successfully,” Kelly-Powell said of his father. “I grew up in a Michigan household, but it's both our decisions really. He wants what's best for me. He wants what's best for his son and he said, ‘it's your life and you have to live it.’"
That open-minded approach has paved the way for other schools to make significant inroads. One the strongest contenders is Michigan’s arch-rival Ohio State.
"They're pretty attractive,” Kelly-Powell said of the Buckeyes. “Me, Josh (Alibi), Mike Weber, Damon Webb… you see us in pictures going back (years). We've always been together. They kind of took me under their wings and showed me the ropes, so I kind of look up to those guys. They’ve got my back no matter what."
He has strong relationships at Michigan State also, and lately the Spartans have been turning up the heat.
"About a month and a half ago (the Spartans offered),” said Kelly-Powell. “Every time I go up there they show me love… Coach (Terrence) Samuel, Coach (Harlon) Barnett, and Coach Dantonio. I mostly stay in touch with Coach Samuel and Coach Barnett when I can. Coach (Curtis) Blackwell was my 7-on-7 coach and he had me playing with the big boys in the eighth grade. Once he got the job there (as College Advancement & Performance) we've been talking a lot."
As important as those types of connections are Kelly-Powell insists his decision will be based on more than that.
"First of all, the education,” Kelly-Powell said. “Can football help me reach the next level? And If I don't, it's about life because some day football has to end. Really (it’s) what football can do for me and that education can do for me to be successful. Then the relationship with the coaches and stability. A lot of coaches talk and then the next day they're gone, so right now, stability."
The search for all of those ingredients will push into the summer. Visits last week to Notre Dame, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Florida State provided much more insight on those suitors. The next big trip on the docket with take him out west at the end of May. He plans to make stops at Oklahoma, Stanford, and California. From there Kelly-Powell’s father suggested a decision might be horizon.
Kelly-Powell, though, isn’t ready to say.
“Right now it's kind of hard but I'm trying to sit down with my coaches and family and everything in my inner circle,” he said. “We'll decide when I'm ready at that time."