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FOOTBALL SIGNING DAY FEATURE: Gobs of in-state talent on the gridiron launch to the college ranks

By: Scott Burnstein, February 7, 2014, 9:00 am

The state of Michigan proved a hotbed of college football recruiting in 2014, with over 80 in-state players signing this week with Division I schools at the next level.

More than a quarter of those gridiron stars are headed to BCS programs, as 28 players committed or inked with teams representing the Big Ten, the ACC, the American Conference, the Mountain West Conference and independent schools Army, Navy and Notre Dame.

The highest-profile players being scooped up on Wednesday’s National Signing Day across the Mitten were; Southfield defensive lineman Malik McDowell landing at Michigan State, Grand Rapids Christian wide receiver Drake Harris and Southfield defensive end Lawrence Marshall both signing with Michigan, Detroit Cass Tech cornerback Damon Webb inking with Ohio State and Ithaca quarterback Travis Smith penning his letter to Wake Forest.

McDowell,  along with Webb, the state’s only U.S. Army All-Americans and generally considered the most coveted defensive player, announced his decision to wear Spartan Green and White in front of an eager and crowded crop of reporters and television cameras, but has still yet to sign and send his letter to East Lansing due to a public dispute with his mother regarding his choice. In interviews addressing the issue, McDowell told reporters he’s not deterred and will be signed, sealed and delivered soon.

Michigan State beat Michigan in the in-state battle, as the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl-champion Spartans brought seven Mitten born-and-bred on board against the Wolverines five in-state players collected for their Class of 2014.

All four quarterbacks that signed Wednesday, either inked with or had offers from BCS schools, led by Smith, one of the state’s all-time most prolific field generals, becoming a Demon Deacon Birmingham Detroit Country Day’s Tyler Wiegers signing with Iowa, Warren De La Salle Giovanni Rescigno signing with Rutgers and Sturgis’ Chance Stewart penning with Western Michigan, following a de-commit from Wisconsin.

The ACC made a nice mark in-state, walking away with a half-dozen signees; Smith at Wake Forest, Walled Lake Western kicker Kyle Bambard (N.C. State), Detroit U-D Jesuit linebacker Paris Bennett (Syracuse),Traverse City West offensive lineman Connor Hayes (Pitt), Detroit King cornerback Avonte Maddox (Pitt) and Detroit Country Day tailback Richie Wilson (Boston College).

McDowell’s and Marshall’s Southfield club and nationally-ranked teams, Cass Tech and Clarkston each sent a half-dozen players or more to the Division I ranks.

Southfield’s program had a whopping 14 overall different players sign and three-time defending state champion Birmingham Brother Rice (D2) had 13 separate players move on.

The Big Ten bagged 18 in-state signees. The Mid-American Conference walked away with bragging rights, corralling 47 letters of intent.

Military service academies continued building on its inroads in-state and snagged a six-pack of “Mitten Maulers,” in Hudsonville offensive lineman Evan Atkins (Navy), Brother Rice center Sage Baltrusaitis (Army), Novi Detroit Catholic Central defensive end Dylan Roney (Navy), Warren De La Salle defensive back Carter Wilson (Air Force) and Clarkston athlete Caine Watlington (Air Force).

All in all, Michigan saw over 400 kids sign National Letters of Intent this week, a number that dwarfs many states around the country.