Every year the Michigan summer football camp attracts some of the most talented prospects in the country. Looking back on the 2005 session, it appears that the Wolverines hosted a bumper crop. Names like Ryan Mallett and J.R. Hemingway were in attendance were a few of the headliners from out of state, while Dionte Allen and Ronald Johnson were in-stat prospects that came in with a lot of acclaim. As impressive as the Allen/Johnson duo was, another young defensive back just may have stolen the show.
At 6-2, 190 pounds and capable of running a 4.49 forty, Cincinnati Colerain DB Eugene Clifford describes himself as "fast, tough, passionate." Another apt term would be versatile since he can play either corner or safety, and doubles as a standout receiver on offense. All of those traits were visible on the practice fields in Ann Arbor last June, and it didn't take long for him to be singled out as one of the camp's best players.
"That was my second year being up there and there was a difference (from the first year)," recalled Clifford. "My first year...it wasn't even like that because I wasn't with the seniors. I wasn't as productive. Last year they moved me up and I worked more with the position coach and I faced the best players in camp."
The chance to square off against top competition was one of the most memorable aspects of the week for Clifford, but so too was the relationship he forged Michigan's new defensive coordinator (and former defensive backs coach), Ron English. "Awww… that's my dude," Clifford said laughing. "He's funny. I like Coach English a lot. I'm cool with him. I had a great time with him."
Clifford's camp showing combined with his 147-tackle, six-interception performance during his junior campaign established him as a priority in the 2007 class for the Wolverines, as evidenced by their early scholarship offer. He reciprocated that interest this past fall by making his way to Michigan's campus a few times with good friend and future Wolverine, Cobrani Mixon.
"I visited Michigan twice for games," he said. "I haven't been to any games at other schools yet. I went to an Ohio State junior day though. Michigan and Cincinnati are the only two schools that have offered. I don't have favorite."
Even though Clifford has made his wide open status very clear, that hasn't stopped a few of his senior teammates at Colerain from putting plugs in for their respective schools. Both Mixon and future Buckeye Connor Smith have espoused the virtues of their future teams, but they also make it a point to give the youngster space to make his own decision.
"They might joke around every now and then," Clifford said. "They say, 'You should come to Michigan, or you should go to Ohio State,' but they always tell me to take my time and don't rush it."
Patience will continue to be the order of the day for Clifford as he waits to see which programs step forward to show interest. In the meantime, with a top list of Miami (FL), Florida State, Florida, Michigan, and Ohio State, he is looking forward to branching out on the camping circuit a little bit this year.
"I'm pretty sure we'll be coming back to Michigan's camp," he said. "I haven't camped anywhere else. I think I will go other places this summer. Right now I'm not sure where else that might be."
GoBlueWolverine will have more on Clifford in the coming months.