Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh has proven in just over a year that he will use every opportunity to gain exposure and build his program's brand. He ruffled feathers, particularly in SEC country, for being a proponent of satellite camps in other states. Last year, Harbaugh held camps in various states, including Alabama and Florida. On Friday, the NCAA ruled against allowing these to continue moving forward.
Last month, he took his team to IMG Academy in Florida during spring break as part of the Wolverine's spring practice sessions. IMG Academy happens to be a nationally ranked high school prep football program.
Today, the following was reported by the Bergen Record.
#Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh to deliver commencement address at Paramus Catholic https://t.co/lUNtVxLsCY pic.twitter.com/RM0UvVuVlL— Record Sports (@TheRecordSports) April 11, 2016
Harbaugh is reinventing ways to promote his football program and recruiting New Jersey is certainly near the top of his list. The connection to Paramus Catholic is obvious, as Harbaugh hired former PC head coach Chris Partridge last year. Partridge was the recruiting coordinator for Michigan last season, before being promoted as linebackers and specials teams coach. Then Harbaugh and Michigan landed the #1 recruit in the country, Paramus Catholic's Rashan Gary. The June 9th graduation will include Gary, who will walk with roughly 400 other graduates. Here is what school president Jim Vail told the Record in this article:
"Commencement is an academic ceremony. It’s not connected to athletics," Vail said. "But I have gotten to know Coach Harbaugh pretty well. I’m not a football guy, but I know a great educator when I see one, and he always impressed me as a great educator and great leader.
"He’s a very dynamic individual. He does many things that would make him a great role model for our students."
Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, who broke out last season under Harbaugh's guidance, also attended Paramus Catholic and played under Partridge. Vail stated Harbaugh accepted months ago but that it took time for approval from the NCAA's compliance office.
Michigan had great success recruiting New Jersey with the class of 2016, landing seven garden state recruits.
Michigan ended up signing five of the top eight kids in the state of New Jersey ... clearly the Rutgers/Big Ten effect.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) February 3, 2016
I wrote about it in more detail after national signing day here. Partridge was a major factor in Michigan's success, who was offered a job by former Rutgers coach Kyle Flood before heading to Ann Arbor. After Rutgers hired Chris Ash as head coach, keeping New Jersey players home became a big priority of the new staff, who coined "fence the garden" as a recruiting mantra. Wide receivers coach Zak Kuhr started it with this tweet:
Attention all NJ top prospects, Rutgers Faithfuls & ALL JERSEYANS world wide!!! Please read below!!! #FenceTheGarden pic.twitter.com/5LbuYAmRrG— Zak Kuhr (@RUcoachK) December 30, 2015
Rutgers Football Staff 2016...... pic.twitter.com/0ReZgymckG— John Blazek (@WuShock77) January 11, 2016
It was encouraging to hear the new Rutgers staff be vocal and aggressive in their decree to keep Jersey kids home, a key ingredient for the football program to have sustained success in the Big Ten. Of course, that goal didn't sit well with Partridge, who countered with this tweet:
#JumpingFences #NJ2A2 is Real! @_KareemWalker @TheDeuce_2_Nice— Chris Partridge (@CoachCPartridge) January 3, 2016
Welcome to MICHIGAN! pic.twitter.com/UtKt9Ov0qN
Now that Harbaugh is giving the commencement address at Paramus Catholic, Michigan continues to innovate ways to recruit in New Jersey. It just so happens that according to 247 sports, the top recruit in the class of 2017 for New Jersey is Paramus Catholic linebacker Drew Singleton. The #6 recruit is defensive tackle Corey Bolds, also of Paramus Catholic. You can view 247 sports full list of the top 2017 recruits for New Jersey here. Both players have offers from Rutgers, as well as from Michigan.
Michigan's presence in the garden state and Harbaugh's early success in taking top Jersey kids is definitely something Ash and his staff will have to counter against. The Rutgers football program has done a great job at marketing the team, promoting various offseason workouts and practices this winter and spring. Recruits have taken notice of the changes within the program since Ash's arrival. The changing of the culture and the way Rutgers operates now, will go a long way to changing the perception of the program, and ultimately lead to greater success within the Big Ten. Ash named the theme of spring practice "the hunt", and it is detailed in Keith Sargeant's article here. Ash described the reasoning behind it:
"'The Hunt' is really the theme of the team right now,'' Ash said Thursday after Rutgers concluded the first of 15 spring practices. "We're basically chasing the other teams in the Big Ten. We can't make any secret about that. To chase them, we gotta go hunt every single day. That's the theme of the offseason, that's the theme of the team right now. Whether it's in the weight room, out in the indoor (bubble) with our special workouts or in practice.''
This is exactly the mindset the Rutgers football team needs to be successful next season. But for now, Michigan and head coach Jim Harbaugh remain a large thorn in the side of Ash and Rutgers in battling for the top players in the garden state. "The Hunt" certainly extends in recruiting as well, with Michigan the team to beat for now. Hopefully, the more time Ash and his staff have coaching at Rutgers and building relationships across recruiting circles in-state, the more success they will have both on and off the field.