Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is building quite the rapport with high school football coaches, players and administrators around the state.
Detroit Cass Tech, a football powerhouse in recent years, tops the list.
Harbaugh’s nationally ranked 2017 recruiting class includes two potential stars from Cass Tech: receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and defensive back Jaylen Kelly-Powell, both of whom graduated in December.
Peoples-Jones, along with numerous other Wolverine commitments, finished his high school career at the prestigious Army All-American Bowl on Saturday in San Antonio.
While making his college decision, which came down to Michigan, Florida State and Ohio State, Peoples-Jones never was swayed by rumors surrounding Harbaugh’s future in Ann Arbor.
A former NFL coach with the San Francisco 49ers, Harbaugh had been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Los Angeles Rams’ open coaching position, a rumor he strongly denied.
“I believe Coach Harbaugh is going to stay (at Michigan),” Peoples-Jones said after committing last month. “I’ve talked to him about it, and he doesn’t seem like a man who would tell a story like that.”
Harbaugh, a former Wolverines quarterback who played for legendary coach Bo Schembechler, made recruiting the state of Michigan — with an emphasis on Detroit — a top priority when he took over in Ann Arbor two years ago.
“Coach Harbaugh, he’s a great man, great enthusiasm,” Peoples-Jones said. “To show that he loves Michigan is going to help the university, help everything with the program. He does what it takes to win and definitely wants to be a winner.”
Cass Tech coach Thomas Wilcher, also a former Michigan player, has seen a renewed interest among elite high school prospects to play in Ann Arbor.
“Harbaugh is putting the players first,” Wilcher said. “He wants to excite them about being there and coming there. Whatever he believes it takes to get someone, he’s going to do it. I like that.”
He also has shown a passion for Detroit and the surrounding communities. Harbaugh first met Cass Tech principal Lisa Phillips at Michelle Obama’s visit to Wayne State in May 2015.
“He’s the bomb. I really respect him,” Phillips said. “He makes you feel like he’s part of your family, like a brother. He has a genuine, unconditional love for his players. You will not mess with his players, that’s understood to everyone.”
Harbaugh was at Cass Tech’s football banquet in December, an event also attended by former Lions offensive lineman and current media personality Lomas Brown.
“He was like just another person at the banquet, not Jim Harbaugh the coach at Michigan,” Brown said. “He seems to fit in with everybody. The kids love him, and the parents seem to love and respect him, too.”
Harbaugh’s recruiting techniques have drawn both praise and opposition. His memorable tactics include climbing a recruit’s tree and announcing a high school’s homecoming queen.
“The guy’s a little quirky,” Brown said. “He’s always been a dude that marches to his own beat, but I think that’s refreshing. It was something they needed in Ann Arbor and he seems to be the right ingredient.”