Orange Bowl

Harbaugh brings Michigan to the front line of South Florida recruiting battles

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh talks at the ‘Signing With the Stars’ event on national signing day last February.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh talks at the ‘Signing With the Stars’ event on national signing day last February. AP

On Friday night, Michigan and Florida State fought it out on the football field.

In the coming weeks, the Wolverines and Seminoles may find themselves battling it out in living rooms across Florida as the recruiting wars heat up leading to national signing day on Feb. 1.

And while FSU has always been a player when it comes to recruiting South Florida, Michigan is a relative newcomer in the power race to grab up talented players from Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Michigan, of course, has had talented players from Florida in the past such as Riviera Beach’s Anthony Carter, Steve Hutchinson from Coral Springs and Deerfield Beach’s Denard Robinson.

Only the Wolverines have made the Sunshine State a major recruiting target these days.

“You know, I’ve always had great respect for the state of Florida in terms of how the youngsters play football,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who signed nine players from Florida — including five from Miami-Dade and Broward last year — in his first two recruiting seasons at his alma mater, and has commitments from three more in 2017.

“They come up early. There’s stories of 5- and 6-year-olds playing football. You know, I just love it. Frank Gore has told me all the stories of growing up in Florida and started playing football when he was 5 and played his college ball here.

“There’s a real pride when you talk to anybody that’s played football growing up in the state of Florida, pride about the type of football that’s played in Florida, and there’s a respect nationally. Everybody that I know that knows football has a great respect for Florida football.”

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has done fine mining South Florida for talent in direct competition with the homestanding Miami Hurricanes.

In Friday’s Orange Bowl, the Seminoles had four players from the tri-county area in its starting lineup; Michigan had just one Florida-born player in its starting lineup.

Former Miami Central standout Dalvin Cook perhaps wound up his fantastic FSU career on Friday as speculation is he’ll turn pro following the game.

“We run into each other a couple times,” Fisher said of Harbaugh. “I mean, we ran into each other this year, whether it’s up north or down there. But Michigan is a brand name now, not just him. Michigan is a school that people want to go to. They’re a brand name, but Jim does a great job. He’s a relentless guy. We don’t bump into each other a lot in recruiting, but we do a couple times, and they do a great job.”

Michigan is not the only northern school coming south to try and land players from Florida — not by a long shot.

But, Harbaugh’s inventive way of selling his program and finding talent through satellite camps has brought plenty of attention — and scorn from opposing coaches and athletic directors.

This offseason alone, Harbaugh set up satellite Michigan football camps throughout the United States from New Jersey to Texas, with a few stops in South Florida.

Harbaugh held two camps in Broward County at St. Thomas Aquinas and the University School at Nova Southeastern in Davie.

At Aquinas, more than 300 players showed up to work out for not only Harbaugh, but coaches from other schools, such as Maryland and Stetson.

Ohio State also held a camp at Aquinas over the summer.

Although many coaches have complained about the practice (which others have picked up on and started themselves), Fisher doesn’t seem to mind the increased competition.

On Thursday, Fisher was asked about how recruiting in Florida could change with the influx of high-profile hires like Lane Kiffin at FAU, Butch Davis at FIU and Charlie Strong at USF — not to mention increased attention from the likes of northern powerhouses such as Michigan and Ohio State.

“Florida is such a different state; everyone comes here to recruit. I mean, everybody,” Fisher said. “I think you’re getting a lot more native Floridians now, but back in the day … people moved down here to retire and play, and that’s why so many kids leave and go back to Ohio State, leave and go back to Michigan, leave and go back up north. ...

“People say, ‘He should stay in Florida,’ but he’s got a grandmother, an aunt, an uncle and everybody else who grew up watching Michigan or Ohio State or Penn State or whoever it may be up north. ...

“But Florida has always kind of been that way just because of the number of players; you can’t sign them all, and people have connections out of the state so much, so it makes it a very challenging state to recruit.”


South Florida high school football players committed to FSU and Michigan in 2017

▪ Florida State

CB Stanford Samuels, Flanagan

QB James Blackman, Belle Glade Glades Central

▪ Michigan

OL Kai-Leon Herbert, American Heritage

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