In June of 2018, just days after graduating seventh grade, Dante Moore attended a one-day University of Michigan football camp, which is usually reserved for high school prospects. He was invited by coach Jim Harbaugh, who had heard of his extraordinary talent.
Dante’s father, Otha, told the Detroit Free Press at the time that he was surprised but thrilled with the request. He was a lifelong Detroiter and, as his son would declare, a “die-hard Michigan fan.” So tireless, in fact, that Otha has a shoulder tattoo of the Michigan logo peeing on the Ohio State logo.
Dante Moore was just a 13-year-old high school senior, but it only took a few workouts for Harbaugh to extend him a scholarship offer.
That offer, the first of dozens to come from around the country for Moore, made headlines. Michigan recruiting a seventh grader? Harbaugh, however, spent 14 seasons as an NFL QB and later coached Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick. He knew what he saw.
Thus began the relationship between Moore, who would go on to play at Detroit King High School, and Harbaugh, now entering his eighth season at Michigan.
The youthful offer turned Moore into a folk hero in the country. It’s a testament to himself, his family and his work ethic that he developed into not only one of the top 10 recruits in the Class of 2023, but someone hailed him for his poise, leadership and maturity.
All-American player; All American child.
Just not a Michigan man.
Sometime in the 49 months after that initial offer, the seemingly storied relationship between Harbuagh and Moore, not to mention the Wolverines and Detroit’s latest athletic wonder, fell apart.
Michigan continued to recruit Moore, even mercilessly, because this was a mature talent they believed could win championships and a charismatic personality that could attract other players. Moore was such a priority, they didn’t offer any other quarterbacks in the Class of 2023.
And Moore never publicly fumed at Michigan either, routinely visiting the campus for games and practices, hanging out with coaches and publicly calling the U of M his “Day 1.”
That felt preordained, especially when Harbaugh and Michigan regained competitive footing last season by winning the Big Ten, beating Ohio State and advancing to the College Football Playoff.
Still, in a nationally televised ceremony Friday afternoon, Moore tipped his hat to Oregon and said he was going to Eugene for college.
The Ducks have a great program. And no one player, not even a five-star quarterback, can make or break a team. That said, there’s no way to categorize this other than a huge recruiting loss for Michigan.
Moore has no ties to Oregon and the campus is 2,400 miles or at least two commercial flights away. The Ducks’ conference, the Pac 12, could be split until 2024. Their starting head man, Dan Lanning, while charismatic and coming over as an assistant for national champion Georgia, has yet to coach a game.
Maybe you’ll miss Dante Moore at Alabama. Or defending champion Georgia. Or Notre Dame, which once looked like a leader. But Oregon? In the end, Michigan seemed like an afterthought, and that was before Moore cited his “relationships” with the new Duck coaching staff and his belief that they would best prepare him as a player.
All of this comes after Saline, Michigan quarterback CJ Carr, the state’s top prospect in the Class of 2024, chose Notre Dame over the U of M. Carr wasn’t just another local star either. His grandfather, Lloyd, spent 13 years as Michigan’s coach and led the program to a national title in 1997.
The easy, if unfair, answer to Moore’s loss is money, ie. Oregon has paid off the commitment. There are many Michigan fans and even Harbaugh confidants who blame the state law and the school for being slow to so-called “collectives” who can guarantee money, rather than leaving it up to individual boosters to do so. agreement on name, image and likeness.
However, blaming cash has always been the loser’s cry in recruiting.
Oregon may very well have offered more guaranteed money than Michigan, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty available in Ann Arbor. This was not a zero dollar versus a million dollar decision. While Moore acknowledged that his family being financially able to travel to away games helped close the geographic gap, he would do a lot wherever he went.
“Everybody wants to get the bigger schools by offering them more money, but for me as a young kid enjoying football [it’s] really only [about trying] to improve myself,” Moore said on Friday. “If the NIL comes with the way I play, it comes with the way I play. But that’s not a big part of my recruitment.”
That falls on Harbaugh because if you can’t convince local, lifelong Michigan fans of the program’s strength and potential earnings, then it’s on you.
For Harbaugh, it’s been a strange six months. After the big 2021 season, he publicly tried (and failed) to return to coaching in the NFL. He lost, among other employees, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who had a strong relationship with Moore. Even after a breakthrough season, the program has yet to generate much recruiting momentum — the 2023 class is currently ranked 44th by Rivals.com.
Harbuagh began his tenure at Michigan as a recruiting force, with top-five classes in 2016 and 2017. Although he has finished 10th in average for Rivals over the last four years and signed only two elite players with five stars of Rivals.
Good, but not great.
The program tried, but quickly abandoned, a number of strategies, including satellite camps from rural Alabama to Australia, hosting spring practice at IMG Academy and hosting star-studded Signing with the Stars events.
Nothing seems to stick.
In fairness, the roster Harbaugh recruited last year — and then coached — was good enough to make the playoffs. Recruitment rankings are just recruitment rankings. And great players will still want to play in Ann Arbor, including, perhaps, 2024 QB Jadyn Davis of Charlotte, NC, who could turn out to be as good or better than Moore and Carr.
That’s why anyone who writes off Jim Harbaugh does so at their own peril. He was called “Captain Comeback” as a player for a reason. He tries to find a way.
In this case, it will be rebounding from back-to-back quarterback recruiting losses that he entered with significant upside.
Dante Moore will be a Duck, not a Wolverine. This would have seemed impossible four years ago.
It’s up to Harbaugh not to matter.