In just a few short and blustery weeks, the class of 2018 athletes will sign their letters of intent (if they didn’t already in December), shaping their futures and their schools’ futures.
Ten years ago, when these young men about to sign were just barely starting to be able to tie their own shoes let alone know how to run a triple option or know how to efficiently run a Cover 2 defense, Michigan was entering a rocky time in their historic program. The 2008 class of players was highly talented, ranking 2nd in the Big Ten and 11th nationally (recruiting wasn’t quite what it is today, so these numbers aren’t as scientific), but they also were caught in a state of limbo.
Lloyd Carr perhaps stayed one season too long, ending 2006 as one of the best team’s in the nation, losing a match-up of #1 vs. #2 in the Game of the Century in Columbus and missing out a shot at another national title. 2007 started off…in a subpar manor…and was a tenuous battle between good (senior starting QB and RB and beating Notre Dame 38-0) and bad (starting 0-2 to two seemingly overmatched opponents), but it ended on an extremely high note, defeating Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow’s 9th ranked Gators in the Capital One Bowl. I want to say all’s well that ends well; even though this season ended well, the majority of this season was not all well.
Regardless, the incoming class was talented, and even though they had committed to Lloyd Carr’s Michigan rather than just the program of Michigan, they could probably read the writing on the wall about his departure. That said, they probably didn’t see Rich Rodriguez coming in, a spread offense coach who would could not have been more different than his predecessor, both in scheme and temperament. I understood the attraction; he was wildly successful at West Virginia and was innovative to run past the best defenses in the country, but it didn’t make sense and the hire was largely seen as a consolation prize.
I’m getting off track here. You all know how much I love Denard Robinson, and he thrived under Hoke’s offense – how would he have fared with more time under Rich Rod? The first two years were terrible but there were signs of improvement until Mississippi State embarrassed Michigan on New Year’s Day, 52-14. Rich Rod out, Hoke in, you know the rest.
I need to perform some breathing exercises. Give me a minute.
Where were we? Right, 2008 ‘crooting class. It was talented but not necessarily gifted; it had some good pieces but it was similar to this year’s class – the previous classes had set the team up for success so the 2008 class was largely supplemental. Ryan Mallett was the heir apparent to Chad Henne’s tremendous if not partially flawed career, Brandon Minor was set to take over for Mike Hart, and even though Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington both were drafted to the NFL, the 2008 class did boast Darryl Stonnum, a top 10 wide receiver and top 50 player nationally.
It was a weird hybrid of old school Michigan dudes like JB Fitzgerald, a monstrous outside linebacker, and Kevin Koger, an equally monstrous but-not-quite-Jake-Butt-monstrous tight end, who both committed to Michigan even before the 2007 season. Then there were the speedster Rich Rod guys like Martavious Odoms, all 5’8″ and 164 pounds of him, who didn’t visit until February 1st, and Ricky Barnum, a 6’2″ 246 pound offensive tackle, who didn’t commit until February 6th. That’s a Rich Rod lineman if I’ve ever seen one.
This class shouldered the burden of having 2 of the 3 worst seasons in Michigan history and never beat Michigan State. The individual successes were a mixed bag.
- Darryl Stonum, WR (#48 overall, #9 WR, Sugar Land, TX)
- Stonum was a big get for Michigan. Out of Texas, he was looking at some powerhouse programs such as Alabama and Florida, but committed to Michigan in July of 2007. Though his receiving impact was limited, he was a gifted return man, returning 62 kickoffs at Michigan for over 1500 yards and holds the single season record for kickoff return yards with 1,001 in 2009. He was suspended for the 2011 season after his second DUI arrest and was kicked off the team for violating his probation after Michigan beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. He played out his final year of eligibility at Baylor in 2012, catching 3 balls in 9 games. In 2014, he was convicted in a domestic violence case.
- Dann O’Neill, OL (#72 overall, #10 OT, Grand Haven, MI)
- One of the victims of the coaching change. At 6’8″ and 290 pounds, he fell into the genetic lottery along with alumni Jake Long and Taylor Lewan but he didn’t fit with Rich Rod’s spread system. He transferred to Western Michigan to join his brother James and played his way to third team all conference in the MAC. He signed a UDFA deal with the Texans but never made a roster.
- JB Fitzgerald, OLB (#110 overall, #12 OLB, Princeton Junction, NJ)
- Fitzgerald played in every game all four years at Michigan, grinding through the Rich Rod years and Hoke’s honeymoon first year. He was never a world beater but a solid player and ended with a bang in the Sugar Bowl, forcing a fumble against Virginia Tech. He is now a talent agent in LA, and you can connect with him on LinkedIn!
- Brandon Moore, TE (#116 overall, #5 TE, Dayton, OH)
- Despite being a 4-star 6’5″ tight end and one of the longest committed recruits, Moore fell through the cracks in Rich Rod’s system that uses cardboard cutouts for tight ends. He caught 2 balls in 2 years and played in 17 career games. After graduating from Michigan with a BS in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience (holy hell), he received his MBA from Wake Forest and is now a consultant for TIAA Cref – you can connect with him too on LinkedIn.
- Boubacar Cissoko, DB (#137 overall, #13 CB, Detroit, MI)
- One of the best defensive backs in the country, Cissoko was labeled one of the five biggest recruiting busts in Michigan history according to Bleacher Report in 2012. He had a promising freshman season and an even more promising sophomore season through four games, but was kicked off the team in October of 2009 after an arrest for theft and then was convicted again for assaulting a jail employee. After his release, he dabbled in the Arena League for a few years.
- Brandon Smith, S (#178 overall, #17 S, New Brunswick, NJ)
- Although recruited as a safety, Brandon Smith played in 11 games as a linebacker his RS freshman year in 2009. He left the program and I was unable to find anything else on him.
- Sam McGuffie, RB (#184 overall, #17 RB, Cypress, TX)
- Arguably the most well known player from this class at the time, McGuffie gained national attention when his highlight tape went viral (if that’s such a thing in 2008) for hurdling defenders and making many others look completely silly. He was an Army All-American coming out of high school but even his quickness and speed couldn’t translate to the Rich Rod system. He transferred to Rice after the 2008 season and played three solid seasons there and bounced around NFL practice squads before playing in Canada and eventually finding another outlet for his speed: he will represent Team USA in the 2- and 4-man bobsled teams in the Olympics in February. Best of luck to him.
- Michael Shaw, RB (#196 overall, #19 RB, Dayton, OH)
- Unlike McGuffie, Shaw found some success at Michigan. He stayed and played all four years, never as The Guy, but a solid role player out of the backfield and scored 9 touchdowns his junior year in 2011. He signed UDFA deal with the Redskins but did not make it through mini camp.
- Kevin Koger, TE, (#203 overall, #7 TE, Toledo, OH)
- One of my favorite Twitter handles of all time: @KogerNotKroger. He scored 9 touchdowns in 4 years at Michigan. While preparing for the NFL Draft in March of 2011, he tore his Achilles tendon and went undrafted. He is now the wide receivers coach at Eastern Kentucky.
- Mike Martin, DT (#213 overall, #14 DT, Novi, MI)
- One of my favorite players from this class. Martin thrived at Michigan, recording 172 tackles in 4 years as a defensive lineman. A third round draft pick to the Titans, he played 4 years in Tennessee and was on the Eagles practice squad in 2016. Off the football field, Martin marched for his high school band playing alto sax, was an all-state wrestler in high school, and was the #1 junior dog handler according to the American Kennel Club his sophomore year in high school. A true renaissance man.
- Terrence Robinson, WR (#226 overall, #32 WR, Spring, TX)
- Robinson fell behind Stonum and (spoiler alert in a few names) Roy Roundtree on the depth chart and only caught 2 passes in 3 seasons.
- Marcus Witherspoon, LB (#239 overall, #23 OLB, Absecon, NJ)
- Witherspoon committed to Michigan but did not qualify academically. He transferred to Rutgers but never saw the field and left the team for personal reasons.
- Elliott Mealer, OG (#286 overall, #12 OG, Wauseon, OH)
- Mealer only played one full season at Michigan, but the story surrounding his career is heartbreaking. On Christmas Eve in 2007, his family’s vehicle was struck by a 90-year old man, killing Mealer’s father and his girlfriend, and leaving his brother Brock paralyzed. Given a 1% chance to ever walk again, Brock worked with then strength coach Mike Barwis to regain use and muscle in his legs and led the team onto the field in 2010. Elliott started his senior year and won the Sugar Bowl in 2011.
- Ricky Barnum, OT (#298 overall, #29 OT, Lakeland, FL)
- Finally got an opportunity to be a full time starter as a fifth year senior and graduated from Michigan’s prestigious social work program. From what I could find, his football career ended with Michigan.
- Kenny Demens, LB (#351 overall, #15 ILB, Franklin, MI)
- Another one of my favorites from the past. Demens collected 258 tackles in three years as a starter and played three years for the Arizona Cardinals before tearing his ACL and is still trying to return to an active roster. I would have loved to see Don Brown coach Kenny Demens, who, from what I remember, was everywhere on the field tackling everything that moved. His younger brother Kolin is in the high school class of 2018; UCLA is the favorite.
- Martavious Odoms, WR (#368 overall, #52 WR, Pahokee, FL)
- Odoms was a solid role player, catching 5 touchdown passes in 4 years and amassing over 1000 return yards. He joined fellow alum Vincent Smith in championing the Team Garden effort in Flint and Pahokee, FL; a movement geared towards providing healthy and low cost food to their respective neighborhoods. Good for him.
- Michael Cox, RB (#379 overall, #36 RB, Avon, CT)
- Cox fell behind Minor and then the aforementioned Smith on the depth chart and grad transferred to UMass in 2012, where he scored 5 touchdowns on 198 rushes. He was drafted 253rd overall (one before Mr. Irrelevant) in the 2013 draft and played 2 years for the Giants.
- Roy Roundtree, WR (#384 overall, #55 WR, Dayton, OH)
- Other than Jeremy Gallon, three-star Roundtree was statistically Michigan’s best receiver between Manningham and Darboh. He caught 154 passes in 4 years, amassing 2,304 yards (6th most in program history) and 15 touchdowns. His finest moment came Under the Lights in the waning moments against Notre Dame when he caught a circus pass for the win while being gratuitously fouled. “Tree” signed a UDFA deal with the Bengals in 2013 but was cut on the final day of the preseason. He went on to play in the Indoor Football League and now coaches wide receiver’s at Indiana State.
- Taylor Hill, OLB (#413 overall, #37 OLB, Youngstown, OH)
- Hill committed to Michigan but did not play in 2008 and transferred to Youngstown State, his hometown school. He led the team in tackles as a freshman. I could not find anything past that.
- Justin Feagin, ATH (#429 overall, #24 ATH, Delray Beach, FL)
- Feagin played sparingly as a freshman in 2008 and then was kicked off the team after dealing a variety of illegal substances on campus.
- Kurt Wermers, OG (#435 overall, #24 OG, Crown Point, IN)
- Rocko Khoury, OT (#732 overall, #62 OT, Traverse City, MI)
- Despite having the name of the class, Khoury only played in a handful of games at Michigan, but was on the Sugar Bowl winning team. He also lettered in baseball and track and field, winning the conference championship in shotput as a freshman.
- JT Floyd, DB (#815 overall, #64 CB, Greenville, SC)
- Floyd was one of the lowest ranked commits in this class, coming in as the 815th ranked player nationally on the 247 Composite. Despite the ranking, Floyd turned out to be one of Michigan’s most productive defensive backs in his tenure, starting almost immediately and collecting 178 tackles and 3 interceptions in four years earning All Conference Honorable Mention in 2011 and 2012. He has been a branch manager at TD Ameritrade since 2014.
- Patrick Omameh, OL (NA, #121 OG, Columbus, OH)
- Not to be forgotten, Omameh was a 2-star recruit out of Columbus, OH, and was named to the First Team All Conference in the 2012 season. After season long professional stints in Chicago and Tampa, Omameh found a home in Jacksonville as their left guard. In the divisional round against Pittsburgh, Omameh was Jacksonville’s 2nd highest rated player according to Pro Football Focus.
Not mentioned in this class is Jordan Kovacs, who became a cult legend after walking on and working his way to captain’s honors and playing a few years in the NFL for the Dolphins. He recently returned to Michigan as an unspecified coach on defense and special teams.
There was a little bit of everything in the 2008 class: some winners (Omameh, Demens, Roundtree), some role players (Shaw, Odoms, Fitzgerald), unfortunately, some losers (Cissoko, Feagin), and some that were kind of screwed by the change in coaching philosophy (O’Neill, Moore). Only two years removed from one of the best Michigan teams to ever see the field, Rich Rod and his month-long recruiting period mostly netted misses and it resulted in a 3-9 season.
The question begs to be asked: how would they have turned out if someone like Les Miles had come to coach at Michigan? Unfortunately we will never know but it seems that by and large, most of these guys have found their way and are doing good things in the world. I just want to point out that the two most successful players from this class (Omameh and Kovacs, although I can see an argument for Roundtree) were the two lowest rated recruits of the 2008 group.
A few other national highlights in the 2008 class (rankings are 247 Composite):
- #3 overall Julio Jones
- #6 overall Patrick Peterson
- #7 overall AJ Green
- #14 overall Michael Floyd
- #19 overall Nigel Bradham
- #20 overall Matt Kalil
- #29 overall Kyle Rudolph
- #42 overall Andrew Luck
- #55 overall Janoris Jenkins
Header photo: Leon Halip, Getty Images. Kenny Demens (#25) and Mike Martin (#68) are a few of the studs that 2008 brought to Ann Arbor.