Late in last year’s recruiting cycle there wasn’t much optimism outside of Ann Arbor about Michigan’s chances in its pursuit of Leesburg (Ga.) Lee County defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon. The Wolverines had overcome a mistake that led to his decommitment, but the persistence and appeal of his closer-to-home options made the Maize & Blue’s outlook bleak. When the five-star standout joined a group of Georgia commits in disparaging Michigan in a video in early January the chances of him winding up in a winged helmet appeared to be virtually nil.
Or so most people thought.
Jim Harbaugh and company knew otherwise. And just like they had when Solomon decommitted in August, they stayed the course.
“It is hard to describe, but you find a kid that you love. He’s a great kid… a hard worker,” said Solomon’s primary recruiter Chris Partridge. “He’s a great football player – he’s a Michigan Man. I’m going to form a relationship with him and recruit him all the way through. I don’t care about all this social media and what other colleges are saying and what the fans are saying. Even to what he is saying in the public… I don’t read into any of that. All I know is my relationship. All I know is what I’m talking to the young man about and what he is saying to me, and what his parents or his mom is saying and what is happening there. Nothing else outside matters and I think that is all that it is. You form a relationship and you go with it. If he doesn’t pick Michigan, all the fans and everyone will be mad and we’ll be upset, but ultimately I still have that relationship with the kid. I can only do what I can do and talk to them, get to know them, and that is it. All the ups and downs are on the outside. I felt good about it the entire time. You can ask anyone here. I just kept flowing with it and why we kept staying the course. Coach Harbaugh kept staying the course. If we rode the rollercoaster, we’re not going to use the head coach to keep talking to that person. You can’t ride the rollercoaster on everyone. I think that was more of an outside thing.”
In this case, Michigan fans were a big part of that “outside thing.” The criticism from the Wolverine fan base was unrelenting in the aftermath of the video, especially on social media. That proved problematic for Partridge and company.
“I’m not going to pretend I’m a psychologist, but I knew what he was probably going through, so I reached out to him,” said Partridge. “I said, ‘hey we’re all good. Don’t worry about it.’ Kids will be kids. I think that probably comforted him. I honestly think the hardest thing with that recruitment was having to explain to him why the fans said and did what they did. That was the biggest obstacle we had to overcome. With the Twitter, with the fans, it gets so emotional. I get it. They should be emotional about their program, but I don’t get why you negatively attack a 17-year-old kid, because they’re kids. They’re going through a process that is crazy and they should be protected from the process.”
That Michigan could lure the nation’s #2 defensive tackle away from southern powers despite the hindrances from its own fans made the feat more impressive. In the end getting that done wasn’t a one man show.
“I was Aubrey Solomon’s main recruiter, but if it wasn’t for the other coaches we’re not signing the kid. That’s for any kid. Rashan Gary, I had the relationship and it helped of course, but come on now. You think without Greg Mattison we sign Rashan Gary or without Shari Acho? It takes a village to recruit some of these kids. Yeah, the recruiter of the year stuff is nice, and of course for a day I’ll look at it and be happy about it. At the same time, I know and everyone else should know it is everybody. It is everybody. Now the main recruiter has to be the point guard of the whole thing and understand what they need to see to keep the relationship going, but without a strong staff that we have and a family oriented atmosphere at the school and all the people around, we’re not getting these kids. I think the credit has to be spread out.”
For more from Chris Partridge on Michigan intensifying its efforts in Georgia, his other recruiting regions, and much more press play below.