Donovan Edwards walks through the door, looking like a grown man.
He is just 15 years old, but he is big and strong, a running back who is one of the most sought-after recruits in the 2021 class.
Michigan wants him.
So does Ohio State.
And he plans to be in the stands when the teams meet today in Columbus, Ohio.
We shake hands, and he’s got one of those vice-grip handshakes. I want to talk to Edwards to get a different perspective on this Michigan-Ohio State game. I want to view it through the eyes of a recruit.
The Wolverines are rolling, winners of their last 10 games and are ranked No. 4 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings.
Ohio State is 10-1 and ranked No.10, but the Buckeyes seem vulnerable and flawed.
They don’t have a complete team like Michigan. And now, there are rumors that coach Urban Meyer might retire.
“Does it affect you when you hear stuff about Urban Meyer? That he might retire?” I ask this sophomore.
“Not as of right now,” Edwards says. “I would love to go to a team that has college playoff experience, national championship-type experience.”
Hmm. That’s an interesting clue. Michigan has never played in the playoffs.
Ohio State has playoff experience and so does Michigan State, which has also offered Edwards a scholarship.
Then again, Michigan would gain that playoff experience if it beats Ohio State, wins the Big Ten championship game and gets the bid.
“Will who wins this game affect your decision?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says. “I feel like whatever team wins is the team that wants to win more, that won’t give up quickly when things get rough.”
To be honest, that surprises me. Edwards won’t go to college for 2½ years, so I find it interesting that one game could carry that kind of significance.
But a single game or experience can change everything for a recruit. It did for Lance Dixon, one of Edwards’ teammates at West Bloomfield in Michigan.
“Absolutely,” West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy says. “I’m convinced to this day that the reason Lance Dixon is going to Penn State is because of the white-out against Michigan last year. Without question.”
Dixon was at Penn State on Oct. 21, 2017, when the Nittany Lions rocked Michigan, 42-13.
“He went to the game, came back and said, ‘I’m going to Penn State,’ “ Bellamy says.
So that sheds some light on what is at stake this weekend. The entire season is on the line for both teams, but this game will have a ripple effect. There will be a bunch of recruits at the game — some of whom are being recruited by both schools — and they will be watching to see how these teams measure up against one another.
“Both teams talk a lot of smack about each other, and I want to see which team is actually the better team,” Edwards said.
Before we go any further, let me reveal my own bias: I’m a big fan of Edwards. I love watching him play. My own son, Nick, played with Edwards last year at West Bloomfield, and I’ve seen Edwards play more than 15 times. He is fast and explosive. Shoot, he looked like a college running back last year as a freshman.
But I want to make one thing clear: I don’t care where he ends up. I figure, I’m going to end up covering him no matter where he goes.
“Donovan is electrifying,” Bellamy says. “I’ve never been around a kid as young as Donovan who exudes confidence, swagger, and he’s competitive as hell. He wants to win every rep.”
Edwards is 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, and he was having a fantastic season (104 carries for 567 yards; 17 catches for 192 yards) until he broke his ankle and required surgery.
“It’s getting better,” he says. “I’m doing physical therapy.”
There is something you have to consider when you talk about these recruits.
You can’t forget how young they are and how they view everything through such a small window. They have only a peep hole of historical perspective on this 115-year rivalry.
For most of Edwards’ life, the Buckeyes have dominated the Wolverines. Ohio State has won 13 of the past 14 years, including six in a row. That’s significant, considering Edwards is just 15.
“I’ve liked Michigan State since I was 8,” he says. “Then, I liked Ohio State way more. Michigan, I didn’t really like them until I started going up there.”
Now, Edwards says he loves all three schools.
This will be Edwards’ second visit to Columbus. Earlier this fall, he watched the Buckeyes beat Tulane, 49-6. “It was great,” Edwards says. “That was actually my first college game.”
He was supposed to go to Ann Arbor to watch the Wisconsin game but he broke his ankle and was on crutches. “I plan on going to one or two at Michigan,” he says.
Right now, he is in the sweet spot of the recruiting process. Coaches can’t contact him directly, but they can call Bellamy.
“He’s young, so they can’t reach out to him,” Bellamy says. “If Ohio State wants to get him a message, they call me. I’m the message man.”
“How bad do both schools want him?” I ask.
“Huge,” Bellamy says. “I’m getting calls from Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia about Donovan. He’s a kid who can play at that level. He is one of the top backs in the country in 2021 class.”
The recruiting doesn’t stop with the coaches or the fans of the schools, who contact Donovan on social media.
Edwards is being recruited by his West Bloomfield teammates.
Dixon is pushing him to go to Penn State. “Lance tells me to go to Penn State and I can be the next Saquon Barkley,” Edwards says.
Cornell Wheeler, who has committed to Michigan, is pushing him to become a Wolverine. “Cornell says, ‘Come on home,’ “ Edwards says.
And then there is Tre Mosley, a gifted wide receiver going to MSU. “Tre always talks about Michigan State, how they are better than Penn State or Michigan,” Edwards says.
Edwards says he will wait until signing day of his senior season, the last possible moment, to announce where he’s going.
That’s what he says now. Bellamy expects that to change, once all of the coaches can start contacting him directly and his phone gets blown up with texts and calls.
At some point, Bellamy says, Edwards will want to make it stop.
That’s why this one game matters so much. That decision is coming.
And that’s the story of just one recruit. There are dozens of players just like him. Trying to decide where to go. Watching this game, trying to figure out where is the best place to be.
And remember, for most their lives, Ohio State has dominated Michigan.
That’s what makes this game so huge. For the present. And the future.
The winner of this game could get Edwards. Then again, maybe, he’ll end up at MSU, or Alabama, or LSU, or Georgia.
One game can change everything, like it did for Dixon.
And you never know when that game will be.