Michigan football didn't focus on transfer portal. But it made time to land Josh Priebe

The program Josh Priebe recently entered now looks a lot different than the one he visited in December.

Jim Harbaugh isn’t in charge anymore and Ben Herbert is no longer running the strength and conditioning program. But the graduate transfer from Northwestern still believes Michigan football can help him reach his desired destination: the NFL.

“What they have been able to do with their offensive line was really appealing to me,” the 6-foot-5, 310-pound guard told the Free Press earlier this week. “Nothing that has been built here is going to change.”

Priebe has reason to feel that way. Harbaugh’s successor, Sherrone Moore, used to direct the heralded unit Priebe joined last month and burnished his reputation by turning it into a lean, mean blocking machine that became the foundation of Michigan’s brawny offense. Moore’s motto is “smash,” and that’s what Michigan’s rotating cast of linemen did the past three seasons as the Wolverines won 40 of 43 games, three Big Ten titles and a national championship in January.

But each of the five starters who spent much of last fall opening holes for Blake Corum, protecting J.J. McCarthy and clearing the path for Michigan’s run to glory have since left the fold. They, along with reserve tackle Trente Jones and 12 other Wolverines, are scheduled to be in Indianapolis next week for the NFL scouting combine. Harbaugh built an incubator for pro talent rivaled by few other schools.

[ MUST LISTEN: Make "Hail Yes!" your go-to Michigan Wolverines podcast, available anywhere you listen to podcasts (Apple, Spotify) ]

“I feel like I've been watching Michigan for the last two weeks. Just whatever position I go to, there's more and more Michigan guys to watch,” NFL Network lead draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “It's just so many of them. ... It's almost become kind of a given that you get a Michigan guy, you're going to get somebody who has been well-coached, can take hard coaching. He's smart and he is tough. ... That's something that they've developed there. They've developed that toughness. They've developed that kind of smart football player with a good knowledge of the game. I would imagine that's a foundation that Harbaugh has put in place there and built there.”

The question is whether Moore can sustain it and preserve Michigan’s identity as both a transformational program for undervalued assets and a finishing school for transfers. Priebe, in many ways, will be a test case as he begins his fifth year of college football. The former three-star recruit from Niles, a small town tucked into the southwest corner of the state, is the latest among a recent wave of offensive linemen who joined Michigan after spending the bulk of their careers at another program.

Olu Oluwatimi was the first of those major imports. He came from Virginia in 2022 and made an immediate impact during his lone year in Ann Arbor, winning the Rimington Award presented to the nation’s best center and positioning himself to be drafted by the Seattle Seahawks the following April.

Then, just as Oluwatimi headed out the door, Michigan welcomed in LaDarius Henderson from Arizona State and Stanford’s Drake Nugent. Nugent was earmarked as Oluwatimi’s replacement last summer while Henderson had to fight his way onto the field, where he won the job at left tackle in late September. Both now have a chance to be picked this spring.

Priebe hopes to follow in their footsteps. As one of Michigan’s two recent transfer additions, he was deemed a priority. He was courted by Wolverines at a time when their attention was almost entirely devoted toward their pursuit of a national championship. A former staffer told the Free Press the program was not active in the transfer marketplace because “we didn’t have the time and were committed to winning. ... We didn’t mess with the portal in December.”

[ MUST LISTEN: Make "Carlos and Shawn" your go-to Detroit sports podcast, available anywhere you listen to podcasts (Apple, Spotify) ] 

But Priebe was an exception. Michigan contacted him not long after he entered early that month. The Wolverines even hosted him on campus during a brief visit, where he sat down with Moore and Harbaugh. They told Priebe he was the only offensive lineman they were targeting. It made sense, of course. The program would soon bid farewell to their top two guards, Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan.

The Wolverines, in turn, needed someone like Priebe — an established player with Big Ten bona fides. He was a third-team all-conference selection this past season and had 29 starts under his belt. He had also been on the Wolverines’ radar for quite some time, having received a scholarship offer from them in 2019.

MORE FROM SABIN: Why 1 Michigan player says team hasn't panicked following defensive staff exodus

It wasn’t a perfect match at that time, Priebe determined back then. But, now four years later, it was. Michigan also arrived at that same conclusion, knowing Priebe would be able to avoid any admissions roadblocks as an incoming grad student.

“I’m definitely thankful to be prioritized when they were obviously trying to win the national title,” he said. “And I think that sort of commitment, especially during that time was a good indicator of how interested they were in having me and wanting me to play here. ... Offensive linemen are valued so much here, relied upon so much. The system we run is something I wanted to be a part of.”

It could be the vehicle that carries Priebe toward the NFL. But first Moore must piece it back together, part by part.

Edwardsburg offensive lineman Josh Priebe
Edwardsburg offensive lineman Josh Priebe

It will be a bit of a project.

Yet Priebe has faith in his 38-year-old coach, a man who once played the same position he does and vowed to uphold what Harbaugh built at his introductory news conference last month.

“We will continue to attack every day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind,” Moore said. “And I promise you, we will smash.”

That’s what Priebe signed up for when he came to Michigan, a place where he plans to position himself for a job at the next level.

“Very focused on what I can do to maximize my last year of eligibility as a player,” he said. “And very excited to play for Coach Moore in this new era.”

Contact Rainer Sabin at Follow him @RainerSabin

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Michigan football made an exception to land transfer Josh Priebe