Gary's choice: Top recruit's pick could help swing power
Rashan Gary is a baby-faced man-child and a defensive tackle who could become the foundation of a championship team.
As national signing day approaches, the No. 1 recruit in the country according to most everyone who rates them is still weighing his options. Gary's choice could be part of a power shift in college football.
Will Gary become a Michigan man and help lead the Wolverines' rebirth under coach Jim Harbaugh? Will he become the latest five-star to join Nick Saban's championship machine at Alabama? Will Gary join the Clemson team that nearly took down the Crimson Tide? Or will he pick one of Alabama's Southeastern Conference rivals?
''A lot of college coaches are trying to get back into the fight. It's getting crazy, but I'm enjoying it,'' said Gary, the senior from Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey.
At 6-foot-5, 292 pounds, Gary is the rarest of recruits - an interior defensive lineman with elite athleticism.
''Defensive linemen are the hardest people to recruit,'' said Gerry DiNardo, the former college football coach who is now an analyst for the Big Ten Network.
''When you watch what Alabama has done and when you watch what Urban (Meyer) has done at Ohio State, you can track the last two national champions and probably go back through the BCS era and you could track the winner of the national championship to the line of scrimmage.''
Mike Farrell, director of recruiting for Rivals, compared Gary to Stephon Tuitt, the Pittsburgh Steelers starter and former Notre Dame star.
''It's hard to find a 6-5 guy who can play D-tackle and also end because they just don't exist very often,'' Farrell said.
Hence, all the teams scrambling to the finish line in pursuit of Gary.
Michigan is the presumptive favorite in the race. Harbaugh and his staff have been cleaning up in New Jersey during this recruiting cycle, with five commitments already from the Garden State. Harbaugh's point man in New Jersey has been newly promoted linebackers coach Chris Partridge, Gary's former coach at Paramus Catholic who came to Michigan last year as director of player personnel.
Paramus Catholic is also the alma mater of Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers.
Gary visited Ann Arbor last week and his planned two-day trip turned into a long weekend because of the East Coast snowstorm.
''Shared time with the players. Played video games. Just studying for my midterms I had coming up,'' Gary said Thursday while in the Atlanta area to receive the Bobby Dodd national high school lineman of the year award.
While down South, Gary met with coaches from Auburn, Ole Miss and Michigan - the Wolverines sent Partridge to check in on his former player - and he was planning to take his last official recruiting visit to Clemson. Gary said he has an uncle who lives in South Carolina, not far from Clemson.
He said he heard from Saban, who was making a pitch to get Gary to Tuscaloosa for one last visit before he and his mother returned to New Jersey.
Saban. Harbaugh. Meyer. Dabo Swinney. Gus Malzahn. Gary and his mom, Jennifer Coney, have been pitched by them all and many more.
''It's unreal. Big names like that, just having them sit down in your own living room and really getting a feel for them. It's very cool and obviously a blessing,'' Gary said.
Getting in that living room is a big deal for Michigan and, by extension, the Big Ten.
''Not every school can usually get in on the No. 1 recruit in the country. That matters,'' DiNardo said.
Closing the deal matters even more. Just a couple years ago, Da'Shawn Hand, a defensive end from Virginia, was the top-rated recruit by many experts and his choice came down to Alabama or Michigan. He picked the Tide.
It was only one choice by one player, but the high-profile jilting of Michigan seemed symbolic of the state of college football.
''The SEC is getting kids they want. The Big Ten can't compete in recruiting. And I think that's changed with Harbaugh,'' Farrell said. ''(Getting Gary) would send a message to other recruits ... I think it would send a message to kids all over the country that Michigan's an option for them.''
Even after Michigan State was thumped by Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinals, the Big Ten is still riding the momentum of the recent success by the Spartans and Buckeyes, along with Michigan's better-than-expected first season under Harbaugh. All three stand a good chance to sign top-10 recruiting classes Wednesday.
Gary said conference matters.
''That's why I'm still considering schools in the SEC and Big Ten,'' he said. ''Definitely the style of play and physicality of it, that's what I think about, too. You've got to play against the best to be the best.''
Gary will announce his decision at ESPN's Bristol, Connecticut, studios Wednesday morning, but he said he plans to sit down with his mom Sunday and make a choice.
''When Rashan and I go to colleges, we have notebook for pros and cons,'' Coney said. ''We put down things we like, things we don't like and put them together. We're going to go over it Sunday. It's going to be our own war room.''
Sports Writer Charles Odom in Atlanta contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP