From the moment Hunter Echols committed to UCLA back in February the Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral four-star defensive end made it clear that he would continue to explore his options.
“I told the coaches that I wanted to make sure this was the place for me, and if I can't do that then I don't want to be rushing into anything and rush into something I'm not sure about,” Echols explained.
“I was always in love because I've been going to (UCLA) games for two years in a row. I fell in love and love being there. I just wanted to take trips to make sure everything was good for me. My family (and I) all feel (good) about letting me go to UCLA, but if UCLA isn't the destination for me then we'll know by taking these trips."
Thus far he has already made his way to Washington, Arizona, USC, and San Diego State. As his offer list grows so too does his visit itinerary. When Michigan suddenly added its name to his scholarship ledger in late March he wasted little time expressing his desire to get to Ann Arbor as well. Turns out it’s a place he has always wanted to see.
"The recruiting stuff is tricky. You never really expect Michigan to offer you, especially a west coast guy like me playing varsity football for the first time,” said Echols. “I didn't really expect it, but once I got it it was really great for me. I've been a Michigan fan all my life. I've got a Michigan flag in my house from when they played in the Rose Bowl in 2005 or 2003. I've been a Michigan fan (and) my big brother is a Michigan fan. It was kind of a big family deal, so I'm going to take a trip to see if it's for me."
Echols’ boyhood affinity for the Maize & Blue isn’t the result of any ties to the school. It’s born simply of Michigan’s status one of the most iconic programs in the country with a rich tradition that is well known from coast to coast.
"(I grew up) just watching those Michigan games on ESPN,” he said. “I'm a student of football. (I’m) watching football highlights all the time. When I'm not doing homework I'm watching football, trying to get better. Just growing up as a kid watching Michigan and hearing my dad talk about guys like Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson, Tom Brady, just a lot of stories and a whole bunch of stuff about Michigan and the alumni and what it could do for you after football. One of the best alumni (bases) in the world. You could have connections anywhere with someone that has a Michigan degree. I want to be a communications major and all of that plays a big factor and a big role for Michigan for me."
To say that the rest of the Wolverine fans in his family were excited by the offer news would be an understatement.
Said Echols, "It was like, 'you got Michigan??? Ooooh!' We all went crazy like, ‘yeah I just got Michigan.’ My dad said I'm really going to blow up now if you got Michigan. They were just real excited. I know what Coach Harbaugh has going on, he's a good coach. If I wasn't committed anywhere and he comes and climbs up a tree for me, I'll be committed to Michigan. (Laughter) That's how much I like him."
Such an interaction will have to come when the coaches are allowed to make off-campus contact with players. For now they have to demonstrate their interest by dropping by the high schools of their respective targets.
"(Michigan) came by just last week,” said Echols. “Coach Tim Drevno, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach… he's a real cool dude. He couldn’t talk to me personally, but he talked to my coach and he told him how much they really like me, what they're going to do for me.”
Drevno has struck up a strong early rapport with his Golden State target, but Echols indicated similar comfort with a number of other Michigan staff members also. That much became clear when he was asked which Maize & Blue coach had been showing him the most attention.
"Everybody,” Echols replied. “Coach Harbaugh, Coach Mattison, Coach Tuioti, Coach Drevno and the defensive analyst, Coach Bam."
“Mattison, he's going to coach me (if Michigan wound up being the school that’s picked) so he's got a good relationship with me. If he wants me like he says he does… and he'll be my position coach… we've got to talk a lot. He tells me how much they want me at Michigan and I feel the love. Coach T… he's just in my ear every day and tells me how much they love me too. He shows me the real stuff… getting a Michigan degree. They constantly hit me up and I feel they want me really bad. I can feel it and I like how they're recruiting me and I hope they keep it going."
Those collective efforts have helped Michigan become a strong presence in the recruitment of a youngster that blew up in his first year playing with the big boys. After waiting behind a talented upper-classman for a few seasons he emerged last year as a disruptive force with 27 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, two forced fumbles, a touchdown, and three fumble recoveries. That explains why there are a number of other schools recruiting him with the same ferocity Michigan is.
"I know for sure USC is like that,” Echols stated. “UCLA is recruiting me like that, Notre Dame. Washington is recruiting me real heavily, and Arizona is recruiting me heavily. A lot of schools recruit me like that, but I got to give it up to Michigan and UCLA for being the two schools really recruiting me."
For Michigan the next step in the process is to get Echols to Ann Arbor. That’s something he guarantees he will do… and not just once.
"I'm coming out there in the summer for a camp,” he reported. “After I do my Notre Dame camp I'm going to drive to Michigan. After that, I'm going to take an official to Michigan."
His final decision will depend largely upon “feel.” One clear non-factor in that equation is distance from home.
"I want to get so far away from my parents it's ridiculous,” Echols said laughingly. “I am not trying to be close to mom or dad. That's a bonus for me to get out of here."
Echols plans to use all five of his official visits to determine the best fit, a process which he says could go all the way to signing day.