With New Coach, A Tighter Border

Ohio State has signed three players from Detroit in the last two recruiting cycles, but a change in coaches could make recruiting Michigan difficult again for OSU.

Recruiting Michigan has never been easy for Ohio State – Brady Hoke just made it look that way.

Starting with the commitment of Detroit Cass Tech cornerback Damon Webb on Jan. 13, 2013, Ohio State has secured four commitments from Michigan prospects spanning the 2014-16 classes.

As Michigan’s record plummeted from 11-2 to 8-5 to 7-6 to 5-7 over the last four seasons, the Buckeyes took advantage by signing Webb in the class of 2014 and fellow Technicians Joshua Alabi and Mike Weber in the class of 2015. Canton (Mich.) Plymouth offensive tackle Michael Jordan, a 2016 four-star prospect, committed to Ohio State on May 7.

The breaking point for Hoke came when Weber decommitted from Michigan during the Wolverines’ 23-16 home loss to Maryland on Nov. 22. The fact that it didn’t happen until the situation in Ann Arbor reached a new low, though, underscores that while the Buckeyes can do plenty to help their own cause, the biggest holes in the fence open simply because Michigan isn’t good.

“Mike Weber would have loved to go to Michigan,” Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher said at the recent Sound Mind Sound Body camp in Detroit. “If Michigan didn't have that rough patch, Mike Weber probably would have never turned over.

“If they didn’t fire the coach and the team wasn’t in limbo… would you let your kid go to a house where there's no babysitter? Yes or no? I'm not letting my kids go to a house when nobody's home. I want the parents to be there. I want someone supervising. I care about the welfare of the child.”

When Jim Harbaugh arrived at Michigan, the Wolverines very nearly ended up pulling away Weber from his Ohio State commitment. The four-star tailback was one of five players that Urban Meyer helped keep in the fold during a sleepless signing day eve.

Although Wilcher used to take handoffs from Harbaugh at Michigan in the mid-80s, he said he didn’t resent the fact that Weber stuck with his Ohio State pledge.

"It was a family decision," Wilcher said. "It was a good decision. I have no qualms about what he did.”

But going forward, that close call shows just how hard it might be for Ohio State to pluck in-state kids away from Michigan if the program improves upon its current state. Wilcher’s point is a simple one – more often than not, kids growing up in Detroit will choose the opportunity to play close to home for a program they know if the on-field product is anywhere close to tolerable.

For the most part, Ohio State’s pickups in the state have been a product of circumstances. Webb’s parents had no qualms about him leaving the state, Weber decommitted when it became apparent Hoke was on his way out and Jordan said Michigan wasn’t an option because it didn’t offer an international business major.

Cass Tech sent three of its top players to Ohio State in 2014-15, but Michael Onwenu, the team’s best 2016 prospect, is committed to Michigan.

“The most important thing people need to understand is that we have guys like this who live in Michigan, who grew up in Michigan, grew up in Detroit,” Wilcher said. “One thing they see is those winged helmets. One thing they hear about is Michigan. One thing they grow up knowing is Michigan. They understand Michigan is the home school and they have an opportunity to play in front of their parents.”

With that being said, Ohio State will always have a chance at Cass Tech – and the state in general – as long as cornerbacks Kerry Coombs is recruiting that territory. The fiery assistant has a great relationship with Wilcher, and any problems stemming from running backs coach Stan Drayton’s departure the day after Weber signed appear to have long been resolved.

“If my kid has an opportunity to go some place he’s comfortable with and he told me why, I’d let him go there,” Wilcher said. “That’s it. I want kids to be happy. I never want a kid to come back and say, ‘You made me go there.’ That’s the most important thing.”

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