With Michigan traveling to SHI Stadium to play the Scarlet Knights Saturday, we’ll examine every dynamic between the two teams this week. We’ll start with Rutgers’ recruiting rivalry with the Wolverines, which has been less of a rivalry and more of the University of Michigan poaching top players from New Jersey.
In no class was this more evident than 2016 when Jim Harbaugh snagged six players from the Garden State, including Rashan Gary, the consensus top player in the country, and Kareem Walker, once the country’s top running back. The class ended up ranked fourth nationally (and second in the Big Ten behind OSU), according to Rivals.com, bolstered mostly by N.J. recruits.
But it’s gotten harder for football factories to poach talent from New Jersey and Maryland with Greg Schiano retaking the reins at Rutgers and Mike Locksley in his second year as head coach at the University of Maryland. Gone are the days when Michigan coaches could fly to either state and walk out with any recruits they want.
Sure, they’ll still get some, but Schiano is working to restrict the pipeline from similar returns. And it would help to be able to show that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. So, what are the six high school football stars from New Jersey who chose Michigan in 2016 doing today? And have they had enough success to steer current N.J. stars to the Wolverines?
Michael Dwumfour, 3-star DT, DePaul (Wayne, N.J.)
Now Rutgers’ starting DT after transferring from Michigan last offseason, Dwumfour is playing well. He overachieved at Michigan and when healthy was one of the most explosive players on Michigan’s defensive front.
He broke out in 2018 with 19 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception, softening the loss of Maurice Hurst who went to the NFL. Despite being the lowest-ranked of the N.J. recruits from U-M’s ’16 class, Dwumfour may go on to have one of the best careers. Based on how he’s competed for Rutgers thus far, the NFL could be in his future. He may only have nine tackles and 1.5 TFLs in four games but he and Julius Turner have been disruptive, utilizing quickness and leverage.
Ron Johnson, 4-star DE, Camden (N.J.)
A former four-star recruit and Top 10 member of the NJ.com Top 50, Johnson never earned significant playing time at Michigan as he never gelled with defensive line coach Greg Mattison, now co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes. A 6-4, 225-pounder with a quick first-step, Johnson was named Scout Team Player of the Week three times, but never really received a chance to prove himself in Ann Arbor.
He was slated to transfer to Rutgers last summer under Chris Ash but didn’t fulfill his academic requirements in time to do so with two years of eligibility remaining (he was attempting to graduate in three years before transferring). So, he transferred to Towson on Sept. 5, 2019. He played in three games last year but was limited due to Injury.
Brad Hawkins, 4-star DB, Camden (N.J.)
Hawkins (6-1, 218) is still in Ann Arbor and having a strong senior campaign. A three-time letterwinner who has played in 39 games and started 14, Hawkins lasted at Michigan longer than any other New Jerseyan from his class. However, Hawkins didn’t make it to Ann Arbor until 2017 as he spent a short stint at Suffield (Conn.) Academy where he solidified his academics prior to being admitted.
He’s one of the Wolverines’ defensive leaders, who’s notched 31 tackles and two pass break-ups in four games this year. Hawkins has 109 tackles, four for a loss and four break-ups throughout his career and is an NFL prospect. He’s coming off a strong year as a junior, when he made 53 tackles and a pass break-up.
Ahmir Mitchell, 4-star WR, Cedar Creek (Egg Harbor City, N.J.)
Mitchell had issues off the field at Michigan after enrolling early, including a team suspension, and transferred to Rutgers in September of 2016. However, things didn’t work out in Piscataway, either, and he transferred again to Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College (a junior college) inJune of 2018 — five months after being dismissed by Chris Ash for violating team rules.
Mitchell was attempting to work his way back to the Power 5 level, but it’s unclear where his comeback stands. But he looks impressive in his junior college highlights from late 2018.
Kareem Walker, 5-star RB, DePaul (Wayne, N.J.)
Walker never saw the field for significant time in Ann Arbor. Like Mitchell, he transferred to Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College (in July of 2018). Formerly the top running back in the 2016 class, Walker averaged 3.2 yards per carry and totaled 207 yards and a TD on 64 carries in the six games he played that year. He then transferred to Mississippi State where he played sparingly and has since left.
Walker entered the transfer portal on Nov. 5 as a graduate transfer but has yet to land at another school. Walker and Schiano built a bond when Schiano was hired by Ohio State in 2016, where Walker originally committed before flipping to Michigan. However, Rutgers hasn’t gotten involved thus far.
Rashan Gary, 5-star DL, Paramus (N.J.) Catholic
You may have heard of Rashan Gary. The All-Big Ten recipient was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the country in 2016 and became the 12th overall pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 2019 NFL Draft. Gary accumulated 119 tackles, 23 TFLs, 9.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his three-year Wolverines career.
He has 13 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two TFLs and six QB hits in limited action (six games played) this year. And he’s coming off his most important game this year, where he generated two tackles, a sack, a TFL and a hurry in a 24-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
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