Thursday December 17th, 2015

When Kareem Walker first committed to a school (Ohio State), it was during halftime of the first College Football Playoff final. It took the five-star running back until about three weeks before the second playoff final to reach a final decision.

Walker announced Thursday that he is headed to Michigan, picking the Wolverines over Auburn, Alabama, Florida State and Arizona State.

Walker’s announcement comes less than two months after he reneged on his pledge to the Buckeyes (which followed the decision by another running back, Antonio Williams, to commit to Ohio State in October). Though the Wolverines had been considered strong contenders to land Walker since he decommitted from their longstanding, bitter rival, Walker suggested as late as Wednesday night that he hadn’t made up his mind. “One of the hardest decisions ever,” he tweeted.

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Ultimately the decision turned out the way most observers expected it would.

Speaking with SI.com this fall, Walker, a standout at DePaul (N.J.) Catholic High, said he enjoyed his official visit to Ann Arbor in October and described his relationship with current Michigan defensive back Jabrill Peppers—who attended Paramus Catholic (N.J.) High—as “like my big brother, honestly.” Walker also is familiar with Chris Partridge, the former Paramus Catholic coach whom Michigan hired to a recruiting operations position in January.

The Wolverines already counted commitments from three players from New Jersey (four-star wide receiver Brad Hawkins Jr., three-star defensive end Ron Johnson and four-star wide receiver Ahmir Mitchell), and Mitchell made no secret of his desire for Walker to join him in the class.

Listed at 6’0”, 210 pounds, Walker ranks No. 2 among running backs and No. 25 among all players in the class of 2016, according to Scout.com. “Walker runs well between the tackles and is explosive through the hole,” Scout.com national analyst Brian Dohn wrote of Walker. “He runs with a low center of gravity and is difficult to bring down on first contact. He can get to the edge but needs to improve on finding the hole when the play isn't blocked well in front of him.”

The Wolverines already earned pledges from two other players in the class of 2016 listed as running backs (Chris Evans and Kingston Davis) as well as one listed as an athlete who could play running back (Kiante Enis). Walker is far more highly regarded than all three of them. As a senior, he carried 215 times for 1,517 yards with 13 touchdowns, according to MaxPreps, and led DePaul to its third consecutive state championship earlier this month.

Walker’s decision is the second massive recruiting win for Michigan this week. On Wednesday the Wolverines secured a commitment from Devin Bush Jr., an inside linebacker from Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines, Fla., who turned down scholarship offers from Florida State and Auburn, among other big-time Power 5 programs. A day later, the Wolverines beat out the Seminoles and Tigers again for an even more coveted prospect in Walker, who should be able to compete for carries right away after enrolling in college early.

The commitments from Bush and Walker give the Wolverines one of the nation’s top-ranked classes and add to a group that also includes a top-flight offensive lineman (Ben Bredeson), a four-star quarterback (Brandon Peters) and a four-star defensive tackle (Jordan Elliott), among other highly regarded prospects. Michigan’s other targets in the class of 2016 include Paramus Catholic (N.J.) defensive tackle Rashan Gary, Scout.com’s top recruit in the class of 2016, and Martin Luther King (Mich.) High cornerback Lavert Hill.

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Irrespective of which other prospects Michigan adds between now and National Signing Day, first-year coach Jim Harbaugh has delivered on the recruiting buzz that attended his arrival by assembling the type of class the Wolverines will need to consistently contend with Big Ten East competitors Michigan State and Ohio State. Harbaugh’s pitch is resonating nationally, and more top recruits from around the country should buy in if Michigan can build on its success from this season.

After finishing 35th nationally in Scout.com’s team recruiting rankings last year, Michigan entered Thursday at No. 5, only one spot behind the Buckeyes. Walker’s commitment strikes another blow for the Wolverines.

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