National Signing Day always delivers surprises and Michigan has pulled an early stunner this year by grabbing a Rivals250 prospect who had not been on its board until Tuesday night.
That's not to say Detroit King running back Dennis Norfleet is an under-the-radar prospect. On the contrary, the 5-foot-7, 180-pound former Cincinnati commit is one of the state's most electrifying prospects in the 2012 class and is ranked as the No. 236 overall player in the nation. He just finished a senior season in which he rushed for 2,033 yards and 27 touchdowns on 260 carries.
No, Norfleet was a known commodity across the state, if not the nation (which is likely after the shows he put on in 7-on-7 events from Texas to Florida to New Jersey last offseason). But Michigan's National Signing Day Eve offer to the four-star back caught even Norfleet by surprise.
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"It's been a crazy night," Norfleet told Rivals.com. "I was coming off a loss in our basketball game and then getting something I've been waiting for. This is just one of the best nights of my life."
Norfleet walked off the basketball court Tuesday night and was handed the news that Michigan was offering by his mentor, Curtis Blackwell, whom Norfleet has worked with through the Lifting As We Climb Foundation and Maximum Exposure group. Contact between the Wolverines and Norfleet had been sporadic over the last several months and never left the fleet-footed back with much hope that an offer would ever come.
"I've been looking at Michigan for four years and just hadn't heard anything," Norfleet said. "Now, for this to come out of nowhere, it's just a great feeling."
Michigan coaches were on the phone relaying their offer to Norfleet soon after his basketball game had finished. With signing day just hours away, the Detroit native did not have much time to contemplate his choices, but he did not need much.
"I talked to Coach [Jeff] Hecklinski and it just felt right," Norfleet said. "I talked things over with my family and it all went great. I couldn't turn down this opportunity because an offer from Michigan doesn't come daily."
The question many teams had with Norfleet was exactly where he projected. Although he was an every-down back for King High this past fall, his size and skill set had him destined for a different role at the college level. Michigan discussed where it saw him fitting when the two parties spoke Tuesday night.
"They said they were going to use me in a place where I can help the team and contribute. Basically, they are going to use me at kick return, punt return and some slot and running back."
Tennessee, Michigan State and Cincinnati came in with offers at different times during his junior year, and Norfleet committed to the Bearcats in August. Cincinnati coaches were expecting Norfleet to sign their letter of intent on Wednesday, until he broke the news to their staff Tuesday night.
"It's kind of hard not keeping your word to somebody you've been rolling with," Norfleet said. "It was a tough decision that I had to make, and basically it came down to where I was going to succeed. Don't get me wrong, Cincinnati is a good college. They have good coaches and great team chemistry, but I feel it is a bigger stage for me at Michigan."
The chance to play in his home state, along with long-time friends Terry Richardson, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Devin Funchess further enhanced the idea of being a Wolverine for Norfleet. This is no buddies trip for the local star, however.
"To be a Michigan player, you have to learn how to bleed blue," Norfleet said. "It's a big family thing and playing at the Big House is something I always dreamed of. I didn't expect to be at this level, but now that I am here I'm going to take advantage of it."