Some of the earliest witnesses to Michal Menet's unique athletic skills were his schoolmates in a junior high phys ed class. The details remain sketchy. It could have been seventh grade, or maybe it was eighth. He stood roughly 6-foot and about 200 pounds, though nobody would swear to those exact measurements.
What he did that day, though, is etched on the minds of everyone who was there. At the time, Menet (pronounced MEN-et) was already a football prodigy, dominating at a variety of positions on the school's ninth-grade team. But on this afternoon, he found himself holding a basketball in the gym at Exeter Township Junior High in Reading, Pa.
With his friends urging him on, Menet took a run at the standard 10-foot basket and boom slammed the ball through the rim.
Everybody went crazy, Menet recalled. My gym teacher he went crazy. The whole gym really did. It was pretty cool, actually.
Fast-forward several years, and Menet is now among the most highly recruited rising senior football offensive linemen in the nation. He checks in at just over 6-4 and 260 pounds, which is good for a 17-year-old lineman. But college coaches have been particularly wowed by the same thing that impressed the junior high kids way back when — Menet's extraordinary athletic ability for his size.
I played with some rare, rare athletes, said former NFL offensive lineman Ross Tucker, a Reading native who now helps high school athletes navigate the recruiting process via his company Go Big Recruiting. If you look at his NFL pro agility shuttle, he's off the charts. His change of direction is extremely rare, which is why a school like Alabama offered him as a defensive lineman.
You're talking about being athletic enough to be an SEC defensive lineman, Tucker added. Yet you're an offensive line recruit? It's pretty remarkable. He's exactly what you're looking for when you're talking about a left offensive tackle prospect.
Athleticism has always been a key for Menet.
THE PROCESS BEGINS
As extraordinary as Menet's first dunk was, it would be a couple of years before his recruitment as a college football player began in earnest. Throughout his youth football career, he was always so big that he played up, or with older kids. It was never an issue for him.
I felt like I fit in just fine, he recalled. I'd known all the kids. And I was still one of the bigger kids playing. So it wasn't like it was a huge challenge or anything. I was completely fine with it. I actually liked it a little bit, as opposed to going against kids that would not challenge me in the slightest.
At one point during his youth football days, Menet played running back, and his dad laughed while recalling the scene.
He was one of those guys, they weren't gonna take him down, Brian Menet said. He actually broke one loose, like a 60- or 70-yard run.
In seventh grade, Michal became a starter for the Exeter freshman team. In ninth grade, he became a varsity starter.
Following that season, he attended a local high school combine, and Tucker happened to be there. Brian went over to the seven-year NFL veteran and suggested he take a look at Michal.
Tucker was skeptical, at first, seeing as the youngster was still only in ninth grade.
Then he introduced me to Michal, and I was like, hmm, OK, he kind of looks the part, Tucker said. Then they e-mailed me his video, and I was amazed. He started in ninth grade for an AAAA school both ways and was really good. Polished, smooth, I was really blown away.
Through his contacts, Tucker helped spread the word to college programs. Almost immediately, Temple coach Matt Rhule offered. The Menets did their part, too, by attending a pair of summer football camps.
The first was at Rutgers.
The coaches starting finding out I was Michal's dad, Brian said. Then one coach after another came over to me on the sideline. Not long after camp, an offer came.
Next up was Penn State, where Bill O'Brien was still the head coach. Again came the procession of coaches to chat up Brian and then a post-camp meeting. The Lions eventually became the third school to offer.
Michal had not even started 10th grade, yet his recruitment was already snowballing.
Menet early in his high school career.
As highly recruited as Menet has become, almost without fail the first correspondence from every school has misspelled his first name. And that's not the only time it is butchered.
A lot of times on mail, it will still be spelled incorrectly, Michal said. The substitute teachers in school always mispronounce it. Some of the things they come up with are just ridiculous. It's just Michael without an 'e,' I don't think it's that hard.
So who picked out the unique spelling of the name?
His mother did, Brian said. She wanted it to come across as Mick-ell, or something like that. It never stuck. As husbands, we choose our battles. I said, 'Spell it however you want, I'm gonna call him Michael.'
An older brother, Christian, has not had nearly as many issues with folks misspelling or mispronouncing his name. An accomplished football player (tight end) in his own rite, he went through the recruiting process before signing a Letter of Intent with Eastern Michigan in 2011.
Michal really benefitted from the things I had gone through with his brother, as far as knowing to get on this early, how to try to promote him, what angles to take as far as getting us in camps, and getting in front of people, Brian said.
In the meantime, Brian was a successful athlete himself, and is able to draw from his own experiences while helping Michal through this process. He starred in football and basketball at Reading Central Catholic, as the hoop team won a state title during his senior season. He went on to be a four-year starter on the basketball team at Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster, Pa., and earlier this year was named to the Berks County Basketball Hall of Fame.
Of course, Brian is the first to admit that what Michal is going through now is just a different level from what anyone else in the family was up against when it came to recruiting.
As far back as his freshman season, Michal had an inkling that athletics might take him special places. During his sophomore season, with a few scholarship offers already in his back pocket, it became more than an inkling.
I realized I could probably do some pretty big things with a lot of hard work, he said.
Menet won All-State honors as a defensive lineman that year. But his most noteworthy play once again came on a basketball court. Now pushing 6-4 and weighing nearly 240 pounds, he manned the center position for Exeter. In a county playoff game, he took a pass down low, rose off of two feet and dunked with one hand.
I just posted up, and they fed me the ball, he said. I drop-stepped and dunked. It was extremely easy. After that, I was like, 'Well, I don't know why I haven't been doing that all season.' It was completely effortless.
How many 10th grade offensive line recruits have ever dunked in a playoff game? Tucker said. Offensive line recruits are not supposed to be able to dunk, period, yet he was able to dunk in a game. It just goes to show you what kind of athlete he is and the explosion he has.
By May of 2014, Ohio State, Florida State, Nebraska, Duke, Maryland, Pitt and South Carolina had joined in offering scholarships. Suddenly, getting Michal's name out there was no longer an issue. Finding a way to narrow an ever-expanding list (which is still growing) was.
So Brian created a spreadsheet that contained information about all of the schools in question, including national rankings in football, academic rankings and number of students. Distance from home was in there, too.
I said, pick a number you're comfortable with, Brian recalled. He's like, 'Anything under 12 hours (away).' I'm like, 'Oh, jeeze.' But you have to start somewhere, right?
In the summer came another trip to one of the closest schools on the list, Penn State. The Nittany Lions had a new staff under James Franklin, one Menet had a chance to meet during a Junior Day visit that winter. This time, he was going to participate in camp. And once again, his performance blew away everyone.
According to reports, he measured in at 6-4, 258, with a nearly 32.5-inch reach that ranked among the longest at the event. He ran the pro shuttle in less than 4.4 seconds.
I saw the coaches look at their watches and look at each other, Brian said. They had him do it again. Then they ran and got (offensive coordinator John) Donovan. It was pretty funny. Franklin came driving over and said, 'Your son's running in the 4.3s? We have some DBs who don't run in the 4.3s.'
Franklin with some of Menet's family (from left, Brian, Christian and stepmother Pam).
Why is everyone making such a big fuss about Menet's athletic ability?
On almost any running play, you've got a combination block at the line of scrimmage, and then multiple offensive linemen are trying to block the linebackers, Tucker said. So when you're blocking a linebacker who is a better athlete than you are, you need to be athletic enough to be able to change direction, see which way he's going, and have enough balance and body control to man him up. You can't be slow, you can't be a slug.
Then, there's just your kick slide when you're pass protecting, he added. You're sliding your feet back and forth, almost like you're covering someone in basketball, except you can't take a charge because if you do you're getting run over and giving up a sack. He just has those special feet.
NARROWING THE FIELD
Menet won All-State honors again during his junior season, this time as an offensive lineman. And the offers continued to come through December and into the new year.
The spreadsheet helped the family get down to what Brian called a workable number of schools.
I think that helped me knock off like 15, Michal said.
From there, the quality of football program and things like facilities became less of an issue — only because they had already been established with the schools still in the mix. In fact, as the process has continued, Menet has consistently stressed the importance of getting a family feel from a program.
Everybody will have the facilities and all the big stadiums and all the academic help and all that kind of stuff, he explained. The big-time programs I'm looking at, they all have that. So then it really comes down to the people I'll be with and around every day who are really going to affect my success the most. So it's definitely hugely important.
The emphasis on strong academics was apparent when he named a top five — Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Duke and Stanford — earlier this year. This is another area where Chrisitian's experience is helping guide the family now. In 2013, the older Menet brother's football career was cut short after he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis.
We've talked about life after football, Brian said. You don't pick a school just because of the coaches. As evidenced by my older son, if football's not around, is it still a good school for you?
Brian and Michal on an Ohio State visit.
THE HOME STRETCH
Every Tuesday and Thursday after school, Michal Menet heads to a place called Sneaker Villa in downtown Reading. He can be spotted there for several hours every weekend, too.
No, he is not buying new kicks. He is, more than likely, the largest footwear salesperson in town.
It's not a hard job, Menet said. I get a couple customers a day. I grab a pair of sneakers for 'em and put them on their feet. I'm fine with that. I enjoy it.
It is not just about earning some extra spending money.
I didn't want to have a resume and not have any job experience ever in my life, he said. Football is like a full-time job, but I don't know how far that will go on my resume. It's a little job. But it's something. You have to be there. You can't just blow it off because you don't feel like going. It's just a little more responsibility put on my plate.
Exactly how full that plate is through the spring and summer remains to be seen.
Now that basketball season is complete, Menet has turned his athletic focus back to getting stronger, faster and quicker as a football player. But adding weight is not a priority. Never has been.
I don't see a point in just putting on useless weight just because, Menet said. Wherever I go, they'll put me at whatever weight they want me, and I figure it will be easier to put weight on instead of having to shed pounds. So I see no sense in going to college at 310, 315. My frame is ready to put on weight. So when it's time, the weight will come right on. But there's no sense just putting on useless weight. It'll just slow me down.
One thing I'll attribute to all the coaches we've ever visited, they'll comment on his weight, but all of them (stress) not to put on bad weight, Brian said.
In terms of recruiting, some of that is set, but some is up in the air. Recent visits to Duke and Penn State — as well as an upcoming trip to Michigan State — were (and will be) all about getting to know the people at the respective schools. Everything else about the programs was vetted much earlier in the process.
The first visits were probably the most important, Michal said. The second and third visits were really just to clarify things that I kind of already knew but wasn't positive about. They always say first impressions are important, and a lot of them really were.
Especially in my recruitment, he added.
There could also be another first visit, to Stanford. And recently, other heavy hitters entered the picture, including Alabama, which offered him as an offensive and defensive lineman.
Of course I would like to get in as many visits as possible to make this the easiest decision that it can be, Michal said. I'm not too sure where yet. That's something me and my dad will talk about. Maybe we'll try to go see a few more places.
Brian runs hot and cold on new schools getting involved in the process.
Unless somebody gets into school and makes an impression on him, whether he's going to change things around or not, I don't know at this point, Brian said. At first you hear, people have got to get in early. I never gave much credence to it until now. It is two years later, and you've had year, year-and-a-half relationships with people. Do you really want to start over? It's like, ugh.
But obviously if the right school that has the right combination of what he's looking for comes around, he'll take a look, Brian added. We talk about all his new offers. Some are short conversations, some are longer conversations.
All of that said, like most parents of 17-year-olds, Brian is not sure exactly what is going through Michal's mind at this point.
He's been around enough of the people and places, Brian said. Some part of me thinks he knows pretty much, but isn't that 100 percent sure yet.
Michal insists he will be 100 percent sure before his senior season begins and will make his decision by then. He understands the proverbial clock is ticking.
I've built a lot of great relationships with a lot of great people, and so, yeah, it is kind of starting to pop up in my head that I've really got to start buckling down and making some tough decisions, he said. But it's all for the good. I'm somewhat looking forward to it and somewhat not, if you know what I mean.
Looking back, so much has happened so fast. Just like that first dunk back in junior high, there are elements of Menet's recruitment that remain etched on his mind. The traveling. Meeting famous coaches. Working so closely with his dad, brother, Tucker and Exeter coach Matt Bauer throughout the process.
And his initial offer, from Temple.
I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world, Menet said. I've enjoyed (the process) so much and I still do to this day. Now, it can be a little bit much, but I'm still enjoying it. It's a huge honor. I couldn't be more blessed and grateful for all of these schools and coaches that are looking at me to come play there.
So what is he going to do after he makes the big decision?
I feel like it's gonna be the hugest weight in the world lifted off my shoulders, he said. I'm looking forward to that. I'll take a huge, deep breath, and just relax for a couple of seconds.