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Posted on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

The 5 incoming freshmen most likely to play for the Michigan football team next year

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan's Frank Clark, center, and Desmond Morgan, right, saw action as freshman in 2011, including this interception celebration by Clark during the Sugar Bowl. The tight end, defensive line and wide receiver positions seem the most likely to find a freshman contributing in 2012.

Melanie Maxwell |

Brady Hoke's first recruiting haul as the Michigan football team's head coach is shaping up to be one of the school's finest in its modern recruiting era.

It's drawn so much praise, in fact, that it's easy to forget most of the team's 23 verbal commitments won't see the field for at least a couple years -- especially at positions of strength, such as linebacker and running back. Still, there are a few freshmen who will be called upon next season, either because of circumstance or talent.

For five players, both apply, and it makes them the likeliest true freshmen to see the field in the fall. They are, in descending order:


Kyle Kalis

5. Kyle Kalis, offensive lineman

It's rare for true freshmen to play regularly on the offensive line because of the physical superiority of veteran defensive linemen, and also the time it takes to digest the complicated blocking and protection schemes. However, one freshman might be asked to round out the rotation next year, with starters David Molk and Mark Huyge departing from a group of eight scholarship players.

If that's the case, Michigan would have several options from which to choose -- it has perhaps the country's No. 1 offensive line haul, and is a finalist for a couple more -- but Kalis would be the guy. The consensus five-star recruit has separated himself from his classmates in technique and physique (6-foot-5, 300 pounds), in part because of his pedigree. His father played the position in the NFL, and he's now working out with former NFL lineman LeCharles Bentley. Kalis can play tackle or guard, although if he were to play next season, it most likely would be at guard, the easier of the two to play.

If he's not needed for depth, the staff would jump at redshirting him. It's just, they might not have that luxury.

4. A.J. Williams, tight end

Williams is a three-star recruit, and it's possible he'll switch to offensive line at some point. But, tight end also is one of two positions that has been crushed by turnover (defensive line is the other), with both starter Kevin Koger and backup Steve Watson graduating. Brandon Moore (two career catches) is the top returner, and Ricardo Miller (no catches) also is on the roster, but neither has played a meaningful snap.

This is shaping up to be the Wolverines' thinnest position on offense. Even if Williams isn't used in the passing game, he could be used as a blocking tight end, especially in two-tight end sets. That also would provide insurance at the position, in case of injury.

3. Joe Bolden, linebacker

Bolden is walking into a position of great depth, with every linebacker from the two-deep expected to return next season. But, as one of Michigan's three early enrollees, Bolden should be well along in picking up the scheme by the time fall camp rolls around, and he already has flashed the kind of size (6-3, 225 pounds) and speed that could challenge for a spot in the rotation.

2. Amara Darboh, receiver

Michigan lost top receiver Junior Hemingway to graduation, and now projected starter Darryl Stonum has been kicked off the team due to his legal troubles. That means there is a void in the starting lineup alongside top returners Jeremy Gallon and Roy Roundtree, and especially for someone of size, as neither of those two is taller than 6-foot.

The spot likely will go to either little-used returners Jerald Robinson (6-1) or Jeremy Jackson (6-3), although Darboh (6-2) could join the fray with a strong fall camp. Even if he doesn't start, he could see the field right away as a reserve. Wideout Jehu Chesson joins Darboh in the incoming class, but Darboh is more polished.


Ondre Pipkins

Courtesy U.S. Army All-American Bowl

1. Ondre Pipkins, defensive tackle

Pipkins is being called "college ready," and he might have to be, more than any other player in this class. Starting defensive tackles Mike Martin and Will Heininger have graduated, and top returner Will Campbell has yet to grow into an every-down player.

Pipkins is virtually guaranteed of playing right away and, in fact, could be tabbed as a starter out of the chute. His 6-foot-3, 320-pound frame gives him an edge most freshman don't have in physique, and he showcased elite speed during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

He also is one of the fastest-rising recruits in the country, going from Rivals' No. 246 player when he committed last summer to No. 14 in the service's latest ranking.

That makes him Michigan's top-ranked recruit -- and its most important heading into next season.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 9:38 p.m.

The five players listed are hard to argue against.I have a feeling that Jarrod Wilson and JoeBolden are going to make some noise too.Go Blue.


Wed, Jan 25, 2012 : 4:24 a.m.

Oh man, did you see Pipkins chase down the opposing QB all the way across the field to the sideline and smash him out of bounds?! 320 lbs! Freight. Train.

Matt Patercsak

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 11:57 p.m.

Pipkins has no choice but to "have an impact". Because of his size and his athletic ability, mixed with the absolute lack of depth up front on defense, he will play immediately. I also think that every defensive lineman on the roster (chris rock excluded) will see valuable time because of the way Mattison rotates bodies to keep them fresh. so its not just Pipkins who needs to step up. its Quinton Washington, Richard ash, and maybe even Matt Godin. and of course, Big Will. If Campbell loses more weight and ups his explosiveness our defense could be outstanding...nationally. if not, then we have problems. I'll not speculate either way and just say that the line play will be streaky. great in some games, average in others. Pipkins will be good though. he's just too big and too quick. Kyle Kalis will be used. Probably not right off the bat, but I remember Borges saying he wanted to do a 6 lineman front but had no depth, I bet Kalis will be that 6th lineman. Someone will probably get hurt somewhere, if it's a tackle then I bet chris bryant would fill in (especially at RT). If it's a guard then Kalis will step in, where I would imagine he would cement his starting role. He's already big enough, he just needs to become a cerebral lineman which i have no doubt he will become. I think that in the years coming, our defense will be defined by great linebackers. we're getting some serious depth at the position, deep enough that maybe we will switch to a 3-4 like Alabama a blitz like hell simply because we can. Joe Bolden will push for playing time as early as the spring. RJS should redshirt to add bulk, James Ross isnt going to get much bigger but the dog in him is plenty big enough and he plays with great technique. I don't think he'll threaten a starting job right away, but I think he will be great with time. The air of competition alone is enough to light a fire under these kids and yield a very high level of play. Morgan, Bolden, Ryan, Ross, RJS. don't forget t


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 9:20 p.m.

I don't like playing the grammar police role, but, under #2: " neither of those two *is* taller than 6-foot." Correction to be made?


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 9:19 p.m.

Why A.J. Williams over Devin Funchess?

Matt Patercsak

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 11:11 p.m.

because Devin Funchess has more of the build of a receiver right now. AJ williams is like 270lbs and played a lot of offensive tackle this year. He will get time in double tight-sets. Funchess may play, but I predict more of a receiver role because he has good speed for his size (6'4) and can catch very well.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

Well, it's never too early to discuss noncommitted football players (remember, none of these guys is obligated to come to the mecca until after next week). I love the thoughts of new blood in our uniforms, embracing our traditions, winning, dominating, but very few frosh make it into the lineup and do that well. Even Jake Long redshirted. Tom Brady didn't even play for 3 years. Let's discuss, get excited, and all, but also, not pressure these guys too much because they have to have time to grow up, mature, develop, and become leaders and the best.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 5:57 p.m.

The exictement builds. Looking forward to more recruiting stories in the days leading up to LOI day and anything else Maize and Blue football.

Terry Star21

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.

@ lumberg......No I don't think there is any harm in a story like this, it's a scenario and brings up some very good points. Coach Brady Hoke will tell you competition (even in practice) brings out the best of football players. It will make the starters work harder to keep what the have and the younger guys work harder to get what they want. @scott...going to be an interesting week. We have a great haul and I think if we only get Reeves, Grant ant Garnett - we are sitting pretty with recruits. Last three years, this was hell week for me. Concerned that some of our commitments would bolt elsewhere and we'd lose our final big two or three were always a worry. My have times quickly changed - I'm eating well, sleeping great and won't be in the doctors office in early February - for sure. MgoBlueForTiM....doesn't matter what other teams do, we're doing it right - as champions do.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 6:30 p.m.

The guys over at traffic in these recruiting stories all the time. It's mostly in good fun ... while one *hopes* these high-profile players sign with Michigan, I think everyone knows the mind of a 17 year old can change with 20 or more big name colleges banging at the door. See "Gunner Kiel"."


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

@Terry Star21 recruiting stories are fine and fun to read. Signing day is a big deal. I simply felt the author of the story led with hyperbole that could not possibly be proven true (or untrue) for years... especially when he states as much in the next graph. I Just wanted him to tone down the (endless) hyperpole that is found on the pages of


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 4:02 p.m.

A week to go until signing day. It will be interesting to see who else Michigan gets. Will they get Joshua Payton? Armani Reeves? Lot of suspense.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

with respect to the author, how could this statement possibly be verified until the players play a game? "Brady Hoke's first recruiting haul as the Michigan football team's head coach is shaping up to be one of the school's finest in its modern recruiting era." Blue chips are nice but recruiting rankings/reports are nice only to keep us interested in the offseason; a recruiting class can only be judged (partially) after one year and more so as the players continue through graduation a little less hyperbole would be welcome in

Terry Star21

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 7:53 p.m.

Agree with Don.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 6:28 p.m.

@Nathan Park -- I am a rabid college football fan. U-M football is my primary passion. But I enjoy the heck out of college football in general. The implication of your comment is that I'm pro-Michigan in football only, but not in any other sport. Not true. I would like to see Michigan excel in all sports. It's just I'm not likely to invest time watching those other sports because my interest is not in those sports.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

I try to follow many of the Maize and Blue athletic activites. While basketball is front burner, nothing beats the passion and excitement of Michigan football. This coming from a track runner. National LOI day is Wed, Feb 1st in football...GO BLUE!! Keep the football stories coming!


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 5:11 p.m.

Good points But I have to tell you, I watched Penn State vs. Iowa wrestling on BTN and it was awesome College wrestling is not for everyone, but Big Ten wrestling is fantastic; amazing to see 15K in an arena for matches

Nathan Parke

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 4:56 p.m.

Don and Scott- So your Michigan FOOTBALL fans not University of Michigan


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 4:13 p.m.

@Scott -- LOL ... agree completely. It's football or it's nothing. :-)


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 4:07 p.m.

True but it's basketball season. I rather read about who cleans out the locker room and pumps up the footballs than watch a basketball game.

Ted Bundy

Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 3:31 p.m.

"...and he already has flashed the kind of size (6-3, 225 pounds) and speed that could challenge for a spot in the rotation, probably on the strong-side." We are kinda loaded at the SAM position arent we? Jake Ryan, Brennan Beyer, Cam Gordon. I know there has been talk of Ryan and Beyer growing into DEs but I love Frank Clark at the rush end, and rather Ryan stay at SAM. I see alot more need at the WILL position. We got Desmond Morgan, Brandon Hawthorne and Mike Jones at the weakside linebacker. Heck who is gonna back up Demens at the MIKE? JB Fitz graduated right? The linebacker position battles are going to be an interesting story plot come spring and summer.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

Pipkins is an absolute beast. He should be able to live up to the hype, unlike our last two 5* DT recruits (Will Campbell and Gabe Watson). His quickness is amazing for someone of his size. And AJ Williams is supposed to be a tremendous blocker who could really give us a 6th OL on some plays. Kalis and Bolden are almost certain future All Big Ten players. It will be fun to see how they do next year.


Tue, Jan 24, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

I agree.. UM will definitely need Pipkins to make an impact early. If Campbell can play at a consistent level and live up to at least a little of his hype the DT position could be ok. There definitely would be a lot more size compared to last year. Its definitely a big "if" since Big will hasn't shown very much, and Pipkins will be a true freshmen. There is some other DTs on the roster that show potential, but they are equally unproven. It will be interesting to see who steps up on the DL next fall. Im confident Hoke and Co. will get these players ready.