March 18, 2009

Michigan recruit gets coaching lowdown

Many high school coaches sending a player off to college feel a level of uncertainty with the process. But the coach of a junior who recently snagged a Michigan football offer knows precisely what his standout would experience under head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Nelson Stewart, coach of four-star athlete Ronnie Vinson at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, finds himself in a perfect position to guide the versatile prep performer. Stewart has been there and done that.

"I was a guy that played at Tulane while Coach Rod was there, and we run the spread," Stewart said. "I walked on and played there for four years, two years with Coach Rodriguez. I know how Coach Rod is, and what he expects of his players. Obviously, the success he's had each and every year, wherever he's been, speaks for itself. I know the kind of person he is and the kind of coach he is, and that's very helpful in the process."

The process won't be a quick one for Vinson, a versatile athlete who played running back and defensive back last fall for Isidore Newman, renown for producing the NFL's Manning brothers. Vinson holds offers from a Who's-Who of big-time football schools, and he's just starting to sort through the list.

Michigan jumped onto the list of favorites, though, by merely extending the offer.

"I got a letter in the mail from Coach [Fred] Jackson," Vinson said. "The letter said to call him, that he liked my film, and he'd like to talk to me as soon as possible. I called him, and he said again that he liked my film and offered me a scholarship.

"I was shocked, actually. I hadn't really heard much from Michigan in the past. I'm excited, too, because I know Michigan has a lot of tradition. They also have a great business school, so it would be a great opportunity."

Vinson admitted that LSU will be a major contestant for his college efforts, but by no means limited himself in the process. He also named USC, Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan, Florida State and Texas as early favorites. That's no wish list, either, since he has offers from all of them.

Meanwhile, with a sister, brother-in-law and their family living in Detroit, Vinson is not without a Michigan connection that extends beyond the Stewart-Rodriguez tie.

"Location is not really a factor with me," he said. "I know my family will come see me no matter where I play. Location is not a big factor. I have a lot of family up around the Detroit area. I was actually hoping to get up and see some of the spring practices."

"In speaking with him, the biggest thing is that he wants to go through the process and see what's out there," Stewart noted. "He wants to take his visits, really take a look at the whole country.

"He's a young man who is very driven. Obviously, some kids tend to be homebodies, but he really wants to see what's out there. He's going to take a look at Michigan and USC and some of the out-of-state schools. I know he's been very impressed talking to the coaches. I think he wants to see what it's about."

If he doesn't make it up to a U-M spring practice, Vinson noted, he'll definitely be taking an official visit to Michigan next winter. He's aware of the New Orleans-area performers who went to Ann Arbor and fared well, and could be seeking the same sort of situation.

"I'm looking for a good education, to win some ball games and just feel comfortable with all the coaches," Vinson said. "Overall, it's just feeling comfortable."

He can definitely find a comfort zone at more than one spot on a football field. He played running back and strong safety last year at Isidore Newman, but has experience and potential at a number of positions.

"I've been hearing from a bunch of different colleges for different positions," he said. "When I talked to Coach Jackson at Michigan, he said I could play both ways in college. I could play receiver or running back, and also play a little corner. Most of the schools that have been recruiting me have been recruiting me as a cornerback or a safety."

Stewart acknowledged the Manning name connected with the school, but added that in his tenure, he hasn't seen the likes of Vinson. Stewart also underscored the junior's versatility in describing his attributes.

"He's a very, very talented athlete, in terms of the things he can do," Stewart said. "He'll play running back for us, he started as a wideout as a sophomore, he plays corner, he plays strong safety. He's very powerful for his size. While he's 5-11 1/2, 195 pounds, he has tremendous explosion.

"He tackles very well. He's very aggressive, in terms of attacking the line of scrimmage and wrapping up. As a running back, he has power and speed. We like to think he's a one-cut runner. We run the zone read, and we think he's a real nice fit for that. With one hard cut, he can take it in the A gap and the backside B gap.

"He is an all-around athlete. We'll run the single-wing with him, and he's probably our best wideout as well. He's just very, very special. It's hard to group him into one category."

It wouldn't be hard to see him grouped into Rodriguez's offense, Stewart added. That's coming from someone who knows, the prep coach assured.

"Coach Rod really built quite a reputation for himself down here, in a very short time at Tulane," Stewart said. "It's funny, the spread offense is starting to catch on here. We're in an area where there is a lot of old wing-T and veer, We were one of the first groups that were running [the spread].

"We'll run it verbatim. That's the stuff we're running down here. I can't give him enough credit, just seeing what he was able to do at that school. He's quite an inspirational figure, in terms of being a coach."

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