P.J. Fleck is mining gold in metro Detroit.
The Western Michigan coach said he would stay in the area, and over the past two years has been very productive landing quality players:
■Junior Darius Phillips from Dearborn Heights Robichaud averaged 23.3 yards per kickoff return last season. He made second-team All-MAC at cornerback with five interceptions.
■Sophomore defensive lineman Antonio Balabani was all-state at Macomb Dakota and should be a contributor this year.
■Sophomore Paul Engram starred at Detroit Loyola and helped the team to a Division 7 state championship as a linebacker.
■Anton Curtis from Detroit East English Village, Davontae Ginwright from Southfield and DeLano Madison from Birmingham Brother Rice were in the 2015 class.
The haul was even better in the metro Detroit area for 2016:
■Mitch Heimbuch was a two-way star for Romeo as a linebacker and tight end and helped the team to its first Division 1 state championship with its victory over Detroit Cass Tech.
■Brad Tanner, also from Romeo, was one of the most versatile players in the state at wide receiver and defensive back. Like Heimbuch, he made the Free Press Dream Team and was all-state.
■Defensive back/wide receiver Stefan Claiborne was one of the most gifted athletes Scott Merchant ever had at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley. He also was a Free Press Dream Team member and finished his career as one of the best field goal and punt blockers in school history.
■Dontre Boyd helped Detroit King to a Division 2 championship and an undefeated season a year ago as a defensive back, receiver and returner.
“We love Detroit,” Fleck said. “We love recruiting the city. Detroit kids are tough, they are hungry. They’re going to fight for you, and they are loyal. That’s very important for our culture. You have to have the right people in your culture to be successful.
“It’s not just ‘he’s the best football player.’ We passed on some of the better football players to take the right cultural guys. A lot of the guys coming from this area have won state championships, like Romeo High School. Brad Tanner and Mitch Heimbuch — when you start taking players like that, they expect to win. They know how to win. That’s how you transform your culture. We’re very excited about them coming to the program.
“They have a long way to go, and they have a lot to prove. Training camp is a way to do that.”
Western is the favorite to win the Mid-American Conference West Division and the championship game in December at Ford Field.
The culture has changed with the infusion of Detroit talent, and Fleck isn’t about to let up.
“When you start over in a culture, literally ground zero, there were close to 40-some kids that left the program after Year 1 — 25 to graduation and then through attrition a lot of kids left because they didn’t fit the culture,” Fleck said. “When you start looking at our culture and exactly how you build things, the defense is still a little bit behind the offense, in my opinion.
“When we played our second year, we started 18 true freshmen, whether it was offense or defense. You can get away with starting some freshmen on offense. You can’t get away with it on the front seven on defense.
“I think now we have the depth to be successful. Each season brings a new challenge.”
WMU surprises walk-on TE Odell Miller with scholarship
Contact Perry A. Farrell: 313-222-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @farrellperry.
Up first: Wildcats
Matchup: Western Michigan (8-5 in 2015) at Northwestern (10-3).
When: Noon Saturday.
Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
Line: Northwestern by 5.