The one 5-star recruit Michigan football can’t afford to lose in 2021

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Wolverines. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

If Michigan football wants another five-star, it needs to be Damon Payne.

Michigan football needs to add a second five-star commit in Damon Payne for 2021.

Payne is one of 31 five-star recruits in the 2021 high school class in the 247Sports Composite. At 6-foot-3.5 and 297 pounds, the Belleville, Michigan native is the No. 1 defensive tackle in the country, the No. 1 player from the state of Michigan and the No. 18 player nationally.

The Belleville High School standout is firmly undecided at this point. However, he is getting a lot of attention from programs like the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Arizona State Sun Devils, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Ohio State Buckeyes. Michigan is one of 27 schools that Payne officially has offers from.

His primary recruiter is Michigan defensive line coach Shaun Nua. He has netted four four-star recruits in his last four years with the Michigan and Arizona State programs. Payne’s secondary recruiter is Michigan tight ends coach Sherrone Moore. He has landed Michigan a pair of five-stars before, including 2021 commit in pro-style quarterback J.J. McCarthy of the IMG Academy.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is a former star quarterback for the Wolverines and had good success as a player in the NFL for the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts. While quarterbacks are usually his specialty, landing top-tier defensive talent has been Michigan’s bread and butter since he returned to Ann Arbor in 2015 to lead his alma mater’s football program.

Michigan football will have a terrific 2021 class if it lands Damon Payne.

There are so many reasons why Michigan needs seriously get after Payne in this recruiting cycle. While landing McCarthy out of the IMG Academy by way of Illinois, the Wolverines are in a great spot to final win at quarterback. Then again, Shea Patterson was a former IMG Academy product himself, and we all saw how that played out in Ann Arbor after he transferred from Ole Miss.

Not only is Payne the best player in Michigan, but he’s the best player at his position. If he goes to Ohio State, you deserve to lose. Should Payne go to Alabama, you couldn’t really blame him. Nick Saban and his program often get the best defensive talent, regardless of where a guy played his high school ball.

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As for the two other schools really in on Payne in Arizona State and Kentucky, there’s a lot to read into here. We know that Herm Edwards is doing a fabulous job rebuilding the Sun Devils. Though Payne could have a serious interest in playing in the Pac-12, if he leaves Michigan for Tempe, it only means the Wolverines didn’t try hard enough to keep him in-state.

As for Kentucky, that would signify a huge red flag in the recruiting landscape, and here’s why. Recruiting in Big Ten country is nothing new for Mark Stoops and his Kentucky program. The Youngstown, Ohio native has cleaned up in his home state by getting whoever Ohio State doesn’t want. That’s fine, but if he’s moving up into Michigan with his recruiting, that’s a problem for sure.

Michigan is still in a great position to land a top-10 class. With McCarthy’s commitment, that might help the Wolverines gain two top-50 recruits in running back Donovan Edwards from West Bloomfield, Michigan (No. 36 nationally) and guard Rocco Spindler from Clarkston, Michigan (No. 50 nationally).

Edwards has stronger leanings towards Michigan but could be recruited down to SEC country to play running back for the Georgia Bulldogs. It seems like a 50-50 split on if Spindler goes to play his college ball for Harbaugh at Michigan or for Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Securing Payne’s commitment ensures Michigan ends up with a top-10 class for 2021.

It won’t be easy, but Michigan football can’t afford to let Payne leave the state to play his college ball.

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