|Dennis Norfleet (image via USA Today)|
Rumors had been swirling about Norfleet for the past couple weeks, and this was likely the reason. The story going around is that Jim Harbaugh informed him that he did not see Norfleet playing a significant role in Michigan's future, which caused Norfleet to have a negative reaction. He essentially made an emotional decision and put his academics on the back burner, which sealed the deal for his departure.
You may remember that Norfleet was switched to defense in the spring game. Primarily an offensive and special teams player throughout his career, he played cornerback a little at the end of the 2012 season and then this spring. The spring game saw Shane Morris, Amara Darboh, and Jaron Dukes picking on him for several completions, including the only touchdown of the day. Those were unfair matchups since Norfleet was largely inexperienced at the position and going against much larger receivers (Norfleet is 5'7", while Darboh and Dukes are comfortably over 6'0"), but regardless, he had a job to do and didn't get it done.
His career offensive output includes 15 carries for 130 yards (8.7 yards/carry) and 21 catches for 157 yards (7.5 yards/catch). He was a little awkward in 2014 as a downfield receiver, excelling more as a screen guy, a change-of-pace guy out of the backfield, etc. Norfleet's biggest contribution came as a kickoff returner, where he was the school's all-time return yardage leader (94 returns for 2,203 yards). He also returned 15 career punts for 90 yards. Norfleet never scored a touchdown in a Michigan uniform, unless you count the game against Maryland when an apparent punt return score was called back due to a penalty.
Norfleet was a late addition to the 2012 class, flipping from Cincinnati just before National Signing Day when the Wolverines stepped forward with an offer. In my commitment post (LINK), I thought he would be a solid starter on special teams, and he was. Too small to expect much of a regular role on either side of the ball, I said that I was bothered by the way Norfleet finished plays. It looks like that criticism carries over to classes, too.
Despite my criticism, I am a little disappointed that Norfleet will not return to the field for Michigan. He brought a lot of energy with his dancing and antics, and I can't help feeling a little bad for a guy who touches the ball so much and never crosses the goal line. When Norfleet ambled over to the sideline when his touchdown was called back against Maryland, he needed consoling. It seemed like only a matter of time before Norfleet would break a big return, but he was always a half-step too slow or a bit too weak to break the last tackle attempt.
Norfleet will likely look to transfer. Since he reportedly has not graduated, he will have to either sit out a year while waiting to become eligible at another FBS school or transfer to a lower division for immediate eligibility. Meanwhile, Michigan will have to find a guy or guys to fill his special teams roles. Jabrill Peppers will probably handle some of those duties, while other candidates include Jourdan Lewis, Freddy Canteen, Amara Darboh, Brian Cole, Blake Countess, and Da'Mario Jones.