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  5. Early line set for Michigan-Florida State Elite Eight matchup

  6. Spring Preview: Dwumfour, Kemp, & Paye Among Expected Breakouts


Michigan Making Strides at Belleville High

Michigan is putting a full court press on Belleville high, home to several big time prospects including Devontae Dobbs and Damon Payne.

In a few short years Belleville high school has become a mandatory stop for coaches recruiting the state of Michigan. That distinction coincides with the arrival three years ago of headman Jermain Crowell. The former Detroit Cass Tech assistant was responsible for several top prospects choosing to attend that powerhouse program while coordinating its defense. He has been a similar magnet at Belleville.

Tapping into that burgeoning pipeline has long been a focus for Michigan, but the effort to do so was interrupted last winter by significant staff turnover both on the field (Tyrone Wheatley) and off it (the entire personnel department). That development certainly affected the Wolverines’ pursuit of top Belleville prospect Devontae Dobbs. Jim Harbaugh & company began the work of bridging the gap last spring and summer, but their efforts didn’t gain much traction until recently. Michigan’s push to strengthen ties to Belleville took on added intensity when the contact period resumed in early January, and Crowell has taken notice.

“I talk to Pep almost every day,” Crowell told The Michigan Insider recently. “I think Pep Hamilton has taken it as a personal challenge to form a personal relationship between Belleville and Michigan. I speak to the man on a regular basis. I talked to him today. We don’t just talk about kids. We talk about the state of Michigan, players, and where they are. We talked about Rashawn Williams. Rashawn Williams went down to Florida (for a Pylon 7-on-7 tournament) and showed out. He is a (Detroit) King guy, but he is for real! He was down here manhandling the best DBs in the country. He did it the whole time down in the Florida. I told Pep about it.”

“So we talk football all the time. We talk about a lot of things. He’s just a good guy.”

While Crowell was at that tournament in the Sunshine State, his assistant head coach Rami Abousaleh took Dobbs and fellow Belleville standouts Jalen Hunt and Damon Payne to Michigan for a visit. Each of the players shared their favorable impressions in prior interviews.

Abousaleh was similarly impressed.

“We spent the most time with Coach Pep,” Abousaleh said. “Sean McGee… spent quite some time with him. And coach Mattison, he showed us around and talked to us quite a bit. I sat in on the defensive linemen group because Damon and Jalen Hunt were in there. And plus the man is a legend, so I wanted to listen to what he had to say. You don’t get too many opportunities to listen to some of these guys, so you take advantage of it.”

One of the highlights of their time on campus was touring the new weight room.

“That thing is beautiful,” said Abousaleh. “I know they’re not finished with it yet, but it was pretty impressive. “

“We got to see the new indoor turf in the facility that was right next door. And I thought that was pretty neat too with the grass and the special lighting to mimic AT&T stadium. So I liked that.

“We got to meet the new trainers and those guys are phenomenal. Just listening to them, talking to them, asking them questions. They can help our kids and they were so accommodating and everything. You know, it’s appreciated when guys are willing to talk to you, you know, man-to-man about different things that could help your kids.”

“And the kids got to play on the basketball court (in the new training facility). I couldn’t pry them away from that thing! (Laughter).”

All told, it was arguably the strongest visit to date for the Belleville contingent.

“It was a positive experience, I think, for everybody,” Abousaleh said. “So, I do think it was a positive thing to go there.”

There is still ground to be made up with both Dobbs and recent Michigan offer recipient (and Michigan State commitment) Julian Barnett, but even if those hills aren’t traversed, growing the connections in the school will help with the pursuit of Payne. Ask any of the Belleville coaches about the youngster’s talent and they’ll tell you he will likely be the best of all their prospects by the time his career is over.

“I got a few pictures of Damon (in a Michigan uniform during the visit), and that kid looks like he’s ready to enter the Big House now,” said Abousaleh. “I mean he is something else. Everybody’s eyes just popped when I told him he was just a freshman. He’s going to be one of the top recruits in a long time to come out of this state when it’s all said and done.”

“Just a special kid.”

One that Michigan has already prioritized with an offer.