June 22, 2016
ANN ARBOR — Michigan Stadium isn’t just down the street for Nico Collins.
It’s about 700 miles up the road.
Collins, a four-star wide receiver from Clay-Chalkville High School in Pinson, Alabama, is the most prized 2017 prospect in his state for 2017, per 247sports’ composite ranking. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide were his first big-time offer, coming more than a year ago.
But this past weekend, for the second time in two months he’s made the 11-hour trek up north to visit Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. A coach and a school that continue to catch his eye.
After spending time running routes on the turf inside Michigan Stadium, Collins stopped to think about what the place would look like at capacity.
“I can imagine it just packed out on game day,” he said. “There’s a vibe here that’s different than any other college, really.
“Just the vibe they have here, there’s something different about it from any other school.”
That “vibe” — along with members of his extended family who live in Lansing — has kept Michigan on Collins’ short list as he prepares to head into his final year of high school football.
He says he’s not planning on making any decision until national signing day in February, but his list of top schools is firm: Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, Alabama and Georgia.
There is one school that’s not like the others in that group. Collins is from the south, so Clemson, Florida State, Alabama and Georgia make sense.
But Harbaugh has kept Michigan — the school that’s not close to home — on Collins’ list for some time now.
In May, Collins said Michigan actually sat atop his list — ahead of Alabama — after his unofficial to campus. He got along well with Harbaugh and the coaching staff, speaking a great deal about how much he believes Harbaugh cares about players away from the football field.
He’s also interested in Michigan’s academic standing. And something else, too.
The team’s future quarterback.
“I was running a go route and ran into one in the end zone and then I saw (five-star Michigan commit Dylan McCaffrey) there and spoke with him,” Collins said. “Then after he came up and talked with me and my parents. He’s my quarterback at ‘The Opening,’ so we’re getting close.
“A lot of quarterbacks want me. But for him to come out and hang out with me, we’ll probably go hang out right now, and it means a lot.”
McCaffrey is currently the crown jewel of Michigan’s 2017 class. And Collins is one of the top players’ still on the team’s wish list.
So, naturally, McCaffrey has started to recruit the 6-foot-5, 195-pound receiver whenever he can. The two spent plenty of time together this past weekend and will spend even more time together later this summer at “The Opening” in Oregon.
“Having a connection with a quarterback (is big for me),” he said. “He’s a pretty good quarterback. I know he’s my quarterback at ‘The Opening,’ so we’ll hang out more there and we’ll see how it goes.”
Beating Alabama for an in-state prospect of Collins’ caliber will be no easy task for Harbaugh and Michigan, as the defending national champions still have the ability to boast more recent on-field success than any other program in the country.
But Michigan’s not about to give up on the task after making what appears to be a great deal of progress over the past few months. Collins says he plans on taking all five of his official visits. And, unless something drastic changes, Michigan will certainly be on his travel schedule this fall.
“I’m trying my best,” McCaffrey said last weekend. “I’ve been talking with Nico and his family (today), and we’ve got a long night (ahead) so I’m looking forward to (spending more time with him).
“The whole package at Michigan (sells itself). This place has so much to offer. You can go here and get so much out of just four years. You have football, you can get an education, find a career and get some of the best coaching in the world while playing in front of some of the best fans in the world.”