The Wolverine

March 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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MARCH 2019 THE WOLVERINE 97 O n National Signing Day 2019, Michigan officially signed the best recruiting class in the Big Ten, and one of the leaders of that group was running back Zach Charbonnet. Ranked No. 60 nation- ally by Rivals, Charbonnet checked in third highest among the future Wolverines. That the California na- tive finished as the 2019 class's No. 4 running back was further evidence that he was an elite prospect. Charbonnet is not the first top-level running back prospect that Michigan has inked. But he has the opportunity to be the first elite running back pros- pect to meet or exceed expectations at U-M in recent memory. There's no question that the Wolverines have produced some excellent tailbacks. In 2003, Chris Perry won the Doak Walker Award, was recognized as a consensus All- American and was honored as the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player. Perry's successor, Mike Hart, rewrote the Michigan record book from 2004-07 and made a name for himself throughout the sport. Re- cent graduate Karan Higdon came on strong as a junior and senior, rushing for 2,172 yards those years. However, Perry predates the rise of the online recruiting services, and Hart and Higdon were not highly regarded. Both Hart (class of 2004) and Higdon (2015) were listed as just three-star recruits. Furthermore, Higdon — the No. 45 running back nationally and No. 77 prospect in Florida — was a last-minute pickup after Jim Harbaugh became Michi- gan's head coach, flipping from Iowa to the Maize and Blue. Neither player was expected to make large contributions at U-M. The Wolverine running backs that were expected to make such contribu- tions were Kelly Baraka (No. 12 over- all in 2001 per 247Sports' composite rankings, since Rivals' rankings from then are not accessible), Kevin Grady (No. 22 overall in 2005 per Rivals), Derrick Green (No. 8 overall in 2013), Carlos Brown (No. 39 overall in 2006), Kareem Walker (No. 181 overall in 2016), Justice Hayes (No. 85 overall in 2011) and Sam McGuffie (a 2008 four- star recruit). These recruits came to Ann Arbor surrounded by hype and buzz, anticipating they would be the next face of U-M's offense. Yet it never came to be for any of them. Essentially, in the last 15-20 years, every running back prospect who made it to Michigan with a high recruiting rating and an abun- dance of promise has been unable to fulfill their potential. And most have come up way short. Charbonnet will hope — and has the chance — to be the one who changes that. It isn't just that Charbonnet is 46th overall in his class in 247Sports' composite rankings, which is the fifth-best by a U-M running back since 2000. It's how Charbonnet fin- ished with that ranking that seems propitious. He was not always a well-recog- nized high school recruit. On Nov. 30, 2017, as he wrapped up his ju- nior season of high school, he was ranked just 582nd nationally. When he committed to U-M on June 24, 2018, he was still only 316th, still short of four-star status. It wasn't until after his commit- ment to the Wolverines when Char- bonnet began to soar up the national recruiting boards. In July 2018, he was ranked 186th overall. In Octo- ber 2018, he was 104th. In December 2018, he was rose as high as 42nd before settling in as the 46th-rated recruit. All three major recruit- ing services (Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports) tabbed him as a four-star recruit and top-101 prospect nation- ally by the end of his career. Charbonnet's sudden trajectory up the recruiting rankings reflected the growth that scouts and coaches had seen in his game during the course of his junior and, particu- larly, his senior seasons. With his 6-1, 222-pound frame, Charbonnet demonstrated a power- ful running style that could wear down opponents while speeding around them for additional yards. He fits the style of running back that Harbaugh has loved to deploy in his time as a head coach with Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers and now U-M. Charbonnet also appears to have the quality character and work ethic that won't handicap his poten- tial like some of his predecessors. And he has the opportunity to make an impact right out of the gates as a Wolverine. Michigan needs to find a replacement for Hig- don, who accounted for 40.8 percent of U-M's carries in 2018. Further- more, the next three Wolverines with the most carries were more specialists (Chris Evans and Tru Wilson), have since been suspended (Evans) or were the quarterback (Shea Patterson). Michigan doesn't have another bell cow back waiting in the wings. That's where Charbonnet should step right in. As an early enrollee, he is already on the roster and vy- ing with Evans (if reinstated), the former walk-on Wilson and redshirt freshman Christian Turner to win the starting job. If he wins it, he, unlike the elite running back recruits before him, could run right past expectations. ❏ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Rookie Could Run Past Expectations national recruiting analyst Adam Gorney said of incoming freshman Zach Charbonnet: "He's one of the toughest run- ning backs I've seen in recent years." PHOTO BY NICK LUCERO/COURTESY RIVALS.COM Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett.

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