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Michigan shifts 'Signing of the Stars' focus back to where it should be

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Harbaugh has special reunion (0:46)

Randy Scott and Sarina Morales react to Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh reuniting with the man who broke his leg while driving a mail truck when Harbaugh was 7. (0:46)

For the second year in a row, Michigan had someone named Jeter on stage for its national signing day show.

Last year, during the original version of the "Signing of the Stars" production created by coach Jim Harbaugh, it was five-time World Series champion and former New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter who helped introduce some of the Wolverines' newest players along with a cast of fellow celebrities. This year the Jeter was Donovan Jeter, a four-star defensive tackle from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, who started college classes last month.

The football-playing Jeter said he hopes to wear No. 2 like the future Hall of Famer and well-documented Michigan fan. His new peers on campus ask him at least once a day if he's related to Derek.

"'Of course I'm related to Derek Jeter,'" he tells them. "Now, I don't know if I am, but we went to Michigan, we hopefully will wear the same number and we've got the same last name. So, yeah, we're related."

You could make a similar argument about the relationship between this year's signing day event in Ann Arbor and the original. They both were at Michigan. They both had stages and guest presenters and some video highlights. So sure, they're related. But the proceedings took a sharp (and healthy) turn away from the attention-seeking red-carpet extravaganza of a year ago and toward highlighting the school and its newest athletes.

Gone were the guest appearances from sports and entertainment stars and the odd mash-ups that led to septuagenarian former coaches Lou Holtz and Jim Leyland dabbing on stage with rap duo Migos. They were replaced by head coaches from Michigan's others sports who helped introduce the new football players while lists of the newest signees for their own teams scrolled across the bottom of the screens behind and above them. The panel of celebrity football evaluators from a year ago was replaced by a rotation of former Wolverine players who chatted about and interacted with early enrollees like Donovan Jeter.

"The thought that I had, we had, was to make it more about Michigan," Harbaugh said. "I thought it would be better. Not comparing the two. I think they're both great. It just felt right. That was the why."

The venue was larger. Nearly half of the school's 13,751-seat Crisler Center was filled with fans who skipped out of work on a Wednesday afternoon to attend. This time, though, they appeared to spend the day celebrating the school and its new additions rather than celebrating at the altar of Harbaugh and the viral identity he brought to the program. To the coach's credit, shifting the spotlight from himself toward the players and the school was very much a maneuver of his own doing.

Less sizzle did not mean less steak. Michigan signed 30 players in this class. More than half of them are ranked among ESPN's Top 300 prospects. Eleven of them arrived on campus in January, and many of them have a chance to contribute early in their college careers.

The staff finished on a high note for the second straight year, securing commitments from four-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon and four-star wide receiver Nico Collins on Wednesday. Those late additions helped keep the Wolverines from sliding past No. 6 in ESPN's class rankings, the same place they finished in 2016.

Ric Flair, Tom Brady and Derek Jeter weren't there to welcome them this time around. And while that might be a little disappointing for the other Jeter ("I've been a Patriots fan my whole life," he said), it's probably a step in a smart direction for Michigan.

Those stunts ring hollow eventually and aren't going to help Michigan contend for championships. Back-to-back recruiting classes full of blue-chip prospects are much more effective on that front. This time around, that was the focus.