The "Project 135" movement has taken Michigan Wolverines football recruiting by storm, and it's surely a sign of effective "internal recruiting" to come for one of the nation's most well known programs.
Michael Ferns, a 2014 Wolverines 4-star rated linebacker commit, has helped spearhead a unique approach to luring in prime-time targets to Ann Arbor -- no assists from coach Brady Hoke, running back coach Fred Jackson, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison or offensive coordinator Al Borges were needed.
Message boards have been lit up with interesting comments from college football followers, many of whom have no allegiance to Michigan. Ferns has offered pro-Michigan T-shirts on Twitter to fans and media in an attempt to gain the pledges of other high-caliber high school talent like himself.
So far, so good. He's drawing attention to Wolverines football the right way -- nothing too fancy, just good, old-fashioned elbow grease and determination. If he's willing to put in this type of work before he reaches Michigan, imagine what he'll do once he gets there.
Ferns' influence spread to Mason Cole, a 4-star offensive lineman out of East Lake High (Tarpon Springs, Fla.) who committed this past week to Michigan and, in turn, Ferns' wave has made its way to Da'Shawn Hand, a 5-star defensive end who's expected to visit Ann Arbor on March 16th or 17th, according to MLive.com's Kyle Meinke, who cited information from 247Sports.com.
Shane Morris, a 2013 commit, inspired Ferns to rally potential Wolverines. The former Warren De La Salle quarterback did a little extra in the internal recruiting department himself before signing with Michigan.
It all has to start somewhere, right?
"There was an expectation that I follow in (Morris') footsteps," Ferns told Meinke of MLive.com by phone in February. "I want to have my own impact, and this is my way of doing so."
Leadership is one of those tricky qualities. Sure, it can be taught, but for all intents and purposes, the truly effective head men are born, not necessarily crafted. Ferns, a Saint Clairsville High (Ohio) phenom, appears to have the born-and-bred, take-charge mentality that will perfectly fit with the Wolverines.
Seeing Ferns deliver on his promise to make "family" a priority at Michigan is refreshing. He's not only concerned about his stature within the ranks in Ann Arbor, but he's looking out for those around him. Continuity and a sense of togetherness is how teams achieve goals -- Ferns certainly has that philosophy nailed down firmly within his psyche.
David Dawson, in a sense, helped corral 5-star prospect Derrick Green, Michigan's prize running back of the 2013 class. Morris drew in Dymonte Thomas, a 4-star rated safety. The pieces were already in place for Ferns, the directions laid out in front of him. However, Ferns has essentially ramped up his predecessors work, taking to social media with a genuinely focused fury -- and it's only going to pay more dividends in the future.
The type of internalized "recruiting" by prospects isn't entirely new. Past stars have used their statuses to have other similarly athletic players jump on board with their team over the years, but Ferns' style seems to be a bit different.
Will it be a growing trend in college football?
But if the rest of the NCAA doesn't immediately catch on, the Wolverines can rest assured in knowing that their commitments are actively seeking verbals from kids from each corner of the country.
The groundwork laid by Morris can't be forgotten; he essentially put the training wheels on "Project 135," Ferns simply got on the bike and rode the distance. With any luck, Michigan will continue to inspire others to go above and beyond en route to rebuilding one of the proudest college programs in NCAA history.
If Ferns helps secure Hand, he'll have a legendary-like aura in the eyes of Wolverines fans before he ever plays a down at The Big House.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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