For every Shaun Alexander there is a Lynell Hamilton

Even for fans that didn’t follow recruiting that far back, most are likely aware of Michigan’s involvement in Shaun Alexander’s recruitment. The Wolverines held a strong position, but a snow storm during his official visit gave him second thoughts about heading north to play, and the Wolverines finished second in the race for his signature. The talented running back went on to have a sensational career at Alabama, where he piled up 3,565 yards on the ground over four seasons. He was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by Seattle and had an excellent pro career.

Michigan signed Clarence Williams in the same recruiting class, who went on to be a solid contributor, but certainly not the star that Alexander developed into. Looking back on that class, there is no question that losing that particular recruiting battle would leave thoughts of “what could have been” in the minds of Michigan fans.

By contrast, if the name Lynell Hamilton is one that is not as familiar to football fans, there is a good reason for that – he didn’t do much. Back in 2003, however, Hamilton was the must have running back recruit for Michigan. The Wolverines coaching staff not only felt he was the top rushing prospect in the nation, but the recruit that they had virtually wrapped up. While the reasons were a little more complicated than just that, their status with him encouraged the coaches to take a pass on Colorado native LenDale White, who went to USC. They never offered or made much of a push for Maurice Jones-Drew, who had a definite interest in the Wolverines, and former teammate Matt Gutierrez on the squad.

When Hamilton made a late decision that he would stay close to home and play for San Diego State, fans of the Maize and Blue were devastated. Hamilton’s college career, however, turned out to be the real disappointment. He had a strong freshman season, but ultimately could never stay healthy enough to make the impact fans expected. He signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent, where he spent two years on the practice squad and working as the fourth string running back.

While these are just anecdotes, they provide an important reminder that there are no sure things in recruiting. That applies both in terms of a prospect being considered a lock to one school and in terms of panning out.

As a further illustration, when the 2004 Michigan recruiting class entered as freshmen, there was certainly some fan excitement about Mike Hart, because of his highlights and high school accomplishments. However, even the Michigan coaches were more excited about Max Martin, who they considered to be the top running back prospect in the nation. And many fans had already turned their eyes a year forward to 2005 running back commitment Kevin Grady. A virtually unstoppable bowling ball in high school, many figured he would be a four year starter until seeing Hart in action.

There are too many examples of the unpredictability of recruiting to provide them all, but the conclusion that one must always reach is that we won’t know how good any prospect is until we see them on the field. Ty Isaac could end up being the next Shaun Alexander for the Trojans. And it is certain that the Michigan coaches were hoping they could land him. But we’re not going to know how big of a loss he is, or if he is a loss at all, until we get to see what he does in college.

Don’t forget what you’ve got

For Michigan fans, long memories aren’t required to realize that players can emerge when not expected. Just a year ago at this time, most expected Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw to be the primary options at running back in 2011. While there was still certainly some lingering excitement about Fitzgerald Toussaint based on his obvious talent and high school production, many fans questioned if he could tie his shoelaces without breaking a bone. After a bizarre injury in fall camp claimed his freshman year, and he was injured on his first or second carry in 2010, no one was counting on him to break 1,000 yards last fall.

The point being, while Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes have not yet given reason for great excitement, it would be premature to write them off. Hayes hasn’t even played yet. Former four-star running back Dennis Norfleet hasn’t arrived on campus yet. And 2013 commitment Deveon Smith, rated as a four star by three of the four major recruiting services, hasn’t even finished his junior season.

It possible that Michigan may already have a player in the fold that will be the next star and only time will tell if that is the case. Within the Big Ten, there are few teams that have gained quite as many highly rated running backs in the last three classes.

Moving forward

The loss of Ty Isaac to Southern Cal might hurt now, but the Wolverines will move on to recruit other running backs. The two big names on the board are Derrick Green of Richmond (Va.) Hermitage and Jordan Wilkins of Cordova (Tenn.) St. Benedict.

Green has already made an unofficial visit to Michigan in March, but has also made trips to Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Clemson. Schools such as Clemson and Ohio State may hold an early edge, but he is still exploring options and does not appear close to deciding, which leaves the door open for a lot to change. While the Wolverines placed most of their focus on Isaac, they are certain to turn up the heat on Green going forward.

Wilkins is also a very highly regarded prospect and the Wolverines are solidly in the running. While most of his attention so far has been on southern schools, he does plan to make trips in the summer to Michigan and Ohio State.

Stay tuned as additional prospects are certain to pop up over the next several months. It is likely that more scholarship offers will be made.


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