Florida has been a recruiting hotbed for Michigan’s football program since Jim Harbaugh took over prior to the 2015 season.
In Harbaugh’s previous recruiting classes, the Wolverines have signed three or more prospects from Florida in four of the six years. That wasn’t the case in 2020, when they signed just one player from the Sunshine state.
That will likely change this cycle, and Michigan’s first-year linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary is a major reason why.
Jean-Mary, who spent the previous three seasons as the defensive coordinator at the University of South Florida, has played a role in landing three commitments from Florida in the 2021 class, including two four-star linebackers. (Five-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy also is listed as a Florida prospect because he plays for IMG Academy in Bradenton, but he attended Nazareth Academy in Illinois when he committed to Michigan).
While Jean-Mary cannot discuss specific recruits until they sign their letters of intent, per NCAA rules, he said having roots in Florida has helped in recruiting. Michigan might not have the same recruiting presence in New Jersey after losing two coaches in the offseason with strong ties to the area: Anthony Campanile (linebackers coach) Chris Partridge (safeties coach).
But if the Wolverines can maintain a foothold in Florida, a state loaded with talent, it should bode well for the program moving forward. Of the top 200 prospects in the 2021 class, 28 are from Florida.
“I think recruiting is about relationships,” Jean-Mary told reporters Wednesday. “It’s like anything else in life: if you can walk through someone’s door and there’s a backstory there, whether you recruited there or not, or you know some of the same people from the area, it makes it easier. You already broken the ice and they know who you are and you feel like you have a decent enough relationship with someone in that area and that school, so it makes a world of difference.
“But nowadays in recruiting, between social media — a lot of the things that the kids are doing now, you have to really take the time to not only have familiarity with the area, you also have to get to know the kid and the parents and some of the people that are really going to affect the recruiting decision. It’s good to be able to get your foot in the door, but you still have to come up with creative ways to make sure you can finish the job and build a relationship with the actual prospect.”
The Wolverines’ current pledges from Florida are Jacksonville Sandalwood four-star linebacker Branden Jennings, the team’s highest-ranked defensive commit at No. 82 nationally, per 247Sports Composite, Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas four-star linebacker Jaydon Hood (ranked No. 306) and St. Thomas Aquinas three-star cornerback Ja’Den McBurrows (ranked No. 596).
Michigan also has commitments from two more linebackers in the 2021 class: Brentwood (Tenn.) Ravenwood’s Junior Colson (ranked No. 104) and Bolingbrook (Illi.) High’s Tyler McLaurin (ranked No. 45).
“He is a great coach and an even better human,” Colson said of Jean-Mary. “Over the course of recruiting, he has become a really great friend and someone I look up to.”
With the recruiting dead period in effect since March because of the coronavirus pandemic, coaches have had to get creative while building relationships with recruits without being able to meet in person.
Some pledges in the 2021 class, like Hood, have never visited Ann Arbor. But with technology such as video chats and other communication channels, Jean-Mary said he can utilize his biggest strength in recruiting: his personability.
“I’m not as tech savvy as maybe some of these younger coaches as far as social media,” Jean-Mary said. “I feel like my strength is when I get a chance to sit down in front of a prospect, get a chance to have a good conversation with his parent or champion.
“But the pandemic has posed challenges in every aspect of life, so you have to adjust or you’re going to get left behind. I think the Zooms like we’re on right now have been gold for us, because now we can make face-to-face contact as close as possible. But it’s been a challenge because the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor area in general are one of the big selling points. When kids come up here, they really fall in love with the area and the university, so we can’t wait until the opportunity to get them back and get them on campus and see what we have to offer. But everybody’s got the same challenge right now when it comes to recruiting and the pandemic.”
Jean-Mary said he believes his recruiting philosophies also coincide with the other coaches on Michigan’s staff. The Wolverines currently have the No. 9-ranked recruiting class in 2021 with 21 commits.
“I think they’re intertwined,” he said. “The main thing when you’re recruiting a young man, I always want to get to know their families or their champion, whoever they lean on and trust as far as a decision-maker. I think that’s the atmosphere Coach Harbaugh and the staff, that’s what they sell to recruits is. That we’re gonna take care of you as individuals, and it’s a family atmosphere and it’s always bigger than just football. We want to make sure they get a degree, want to make sure they become good men in society, whether that is husbands, fathers or just men who are going to be leaders in society. We talk about those things, and that’s always been my philosophy, too.”
Get Wolverine Confidential texts straight to your phone from our Michigan football writers. Cut through the clutter of social media and communicate directly with our beat reporters, just like you would with your friends. Sign up for insight on the Wolverines for $4.99 a month (with a 60-day free trial) by texting 734-215-6605