SportsPulse: NFL stars couldn’t hide their excitement for the NCAA video game to come back this year. Heisman winner Devonta Smith also wasn’t shy about why he should be on the cover of it.
Just like that, Xavier Worthy was gone in a flash — living up to the nickname he earned as a hot-shot prospect in California.
The lightning bolt of a receiver announced Thursday on Twitter he submitted a request to be released from the national letter of intent he signed with Michigan footballin December because of “circumstances beyond my control.”
Worthy was an early signee, but opted not to join the program as an early enrollee in January. Now he remains in a transitional phase between high school star and promising college newcomer. The news of Worthy’s planned departure rocked the Wolverines like a blindside hit — the latest of many absorbed by the program in the last 16 months while sputtering to a 2-6 record dating back to its last showdown with Ohio State on Nov. 30, 2019.
That day, the Buckeyes walloped Michigan, 56-27 and reasserted their dominance over a team once seen as their biggest threat in the Big Ten. That is no longer the case, as that victory illustrated. Ohio State outmanned Michigan with a better quarterback, a sturdier offensive line and more dynamic receivers on the outside.
Fresno (California) Central East wide receiver Xavier Worthy (Photo: 247Sports)
During the lopsided affair, the difference in skill-position talent between the two rivals was stark. But it has only grown since then. In the past recruiting two cycles, Ohio State reeled in seven wideouts ranked among the top 100 players in the nation. Michigan signed one — Worthy.
His exit stings a Michigan team that has invested more than two years into the development of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ “speed in space” system. Because of his physical gifts, Worthy was expected to be a linchpin for a scheme that emphasized winning matchups outside the numbers.
The loss of Worthy is compounded by the defection of Giles Jackson, the versatile receiver and returner who entered the NCAA transfer portal last month and popped out at Washington. Like Worthy, Jackson is from California – a state Michigan has tapped throughout the Jim Harbaugh era without getting much production. Among the nine prospects the Wolverines have signed from California since 2015, five have left the program. Three others — Jeffrey Persi, Darion Green-Warren, and true freshman Cristian Dixon — have yet to play a snap. Only cornerback David Long, an All-Big Ten selection in 2018, made a notable impact.
Those results are indicative of a larger problem at Michigan, which has been beset by its own scattershot approach to recruiting and an ongoing instability that has led to an exodus of players already on the roster.
In the offseason, Harbaugh aimed to clear the cloud of negativity shrouding the Wolverines. He hired six new assistants, all under the age of 40, and introduced a new defensive system straight from the NFL.
For a brief period, the changes created some new energy. Four players in the 2022 class committed to Michigan in late winter, including five-star cornerback Will Johnson. Former Texas Tech quarterback Alan Bowman soon followed, announcing he would join the team later this year.
When practice resumed in February, players talked about a renewed spirit despite a 2-4 record last fall.
But the positive vibe has since evaporated.
Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh leaves the field after losing to Michigan State on Oct. 31, 2020. (Photo: Nick King, Lansing State Journal)
In late March, four-star athlete Taylor Groves backed out of his February commitment. Around the same time, more Wolverines began to hit the transfer portal. Then they played their spring game behind closed doors, which drew widespread criticism.
Now, one of the stars of the 2021 class is planning to leave Ann Arbor before he ever really arrived.
Here one second, gone the next.
Worthy, in so many ways, resembled a flash.
But his sudden announcement casts a spotlight on something deeper, protracted and inexorable — the widening gap between the Wolverines and Buckeyes.
A little over 500 days — 504, to be exact — since OSU exerted its supremacy over U-M, the story remains the same. With one instant tweet Thursday, Worthy added one more paragraph to the tale of Michigan’s misery.
Contact Rainer Sabin at email@example.com and follow on Twitter @RainerSabin.