Even after the departure of long-time head coach Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan Wolverines continue to rack up wins in 2024. Their run started in the beginning of January, with wins over Alabama and Washington in the College Football Playoff, a pair of victories that brought the National Title to Ann Arbor for the first time since 1997. And since then, with Jim Harbaugh off in LA preparing to coach the Chargers, new head coach — and former Harbaugh offensive coordinator — Sherrone Moore has kept this Maize and Blue train on the tracks in a way that may surprise even some of his biggest outside supporters.

The Michigan Wolverines enter the 2024 season with a top-twenty class of incoming freshmen, according to 247Sports, and they've just added another key piece to their 2025 recruiting class in four-star running back Donovan Johnson, who chose the Wolverines over powerhouses such as Ohio State, Georgia, Florida State and LSU.

“I just couldn’t leave and not commit,” Donovan Johnson said after completing his first official visit with Michigan over the weekend, per Chad Simmons of On3. “It was my first time there, so I had to see how I felt, but I just got that feeling up there. The atmosphere, the people, the coaches, the team – it was all like a genuine family. That family atmosphere just made it feel right for me.”

Donovan Johnson tore his ACL during the spring of 2023, missed his entire junior season, and now looks to return to the field better than ever this fall for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. After that, it's going to be Saturday's in The Big House where Johnson continues to make his name.

“Michigan has great coaches, it is family-oriented, they develop players and the whole atmosphere makes it where I want to be.”

While the entire offensive staff likely played some small role in getting Johnson to commit over the weekend, there's one coach in particular who was pivotal in the recruitment of the 16th-ranked running back in the class of 2025… running backs coach Tony Alford, who has been recruiting Johnson for multiple years, ever since he was on the staff at Ohio State.

Michigan running back coach Tony Alford walks down the tunnel before the spring game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor

The unsung hero of Donovan Johnson's Michigan recruitment 

Back in mid-March, Buckeyes running backs coach Tony Alford announced his decision to leave Ohio State for the same job with the Michigan Wolverines, a rare occasion where a player or coach made a move from Columbus to Ann Arbor (or vice versa, for that matter). Alford stated at the time, “I just thought it was a great opportunity for me,” and made sure to note it, “might have been time for both parties,” for him to move on.

Little did we know at the time, but this move would likely be the determining factor in Donovan Johnson ending up at Michigan.

“As soon as he went to Michigan, they recruited me harder,” Johnson said. “I have known Coach Alford since my freshman year and we have a real relationship. I can’t even put into words what our relationship is like. It is like he is already my coach. We can talk about everything and I love who he is as a person.”

Like Donovan Johnson said, it was about the genuine family atmosphere he felt at Michigan that led to his decision, and Tony Alford's presence is what made that possible.