With 11 early enrollees, a third of Michigan football’s 2017 freshman class already is on the team. They’re going through the workouts, the classes and experiencing college life a semester before the other two-thirds of their classmates.
It made National Signing Day a bit different for those who will wait until June to arrive on campus. Berrien Springs defensive tackle Phillip Paea and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s linebacker Josh Ross, for example, couldn’t be part of U-M’s Signing of the Stars event on Feb. 1, per NCAA rules.
“I was just watching it on my phone during class,” Paea said at the Detroit Free Press/National Football Foundation Dream Team banquet Wednesday at the Dearborn Inn. “I was listening to it, and whenever they called out the names, I would pull it out on my phone and watch it.”
For Ross, after signing his national letter of intent at a morning ceremony, he went to Ann Arbor and got as close as he could in the crowd at the Crisler Center.
“I sat in the stands and watched the guys walk up, watched them talk and watched them present my name,” Ross said. “It was really sweet, the way they laid it out. I kind of wish I early-enrolled to experience something like that.”
Flint Southwestern defensive end Deron Irving-Bey didn’t get a chance to watch the festivities but has thought about what it would have been like to enroll early and get all the benefits, including the April trip to Italy.
“That’s nice. Nobody’s ever done it, so I’m glad to be a part of it (in the future),” Irving-Bey said of traveling overseas. “I’ll be a part of it next year.”
With months to go before they can get involved with the coaches and players on campus, they players are trying to stay in shape. Ross is playing on the St. Mary’s basketball team, as he has throughout high school.
“I love it. I wasn’t going to not play my last year,” said Ross, who weighs 228 pounds. “It’s definitely keeping your cardio up, quickness, agility, your hands, all that stuff is in basketball. It’s a great sport. I love my team and I love playing.”
For Paea and Irving-Bey, their focus is on workouts suggested by Michigan. Paea is about 280 pounds but wants to lose some weight before putting it back on in muscle.
Ross is absorbing the best advice from his older brother James, who played at U-M through the 2015 season.
“The best advice he’s given me is to take advantage of everything you possibly can,” Ross said. “When he was in there in school, he didn’t take advantage of it as much as he could have, and he harps on me about it every day.”
U-M coach Jim Harbaugh posted a video Tuesday of a 200-meter photo-finish race between sophomore cornerback David Long Jr. and sophomore tailback Chris Evans. Freshman defensive back Ambry Thomas, who enrolled at U-M last month, said Wednesday that when he had raced Long earlier, Long nipped him by 0.1 seconds.
Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) February 14, 2017
Thomas, a former Detroit King star, and the other enrollees are adjusting to the challenges.
“It’s all a mind-set thing,” Thomas said. “If you’ve got a tough mind-set, you can make it through the workouts. That’s what I have been doing.”
The lessons are seeping in.
“Just to compete,” Thomas said. “It’s wonderful.”