BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) Michigan fans spotted their hero and began to cheer. Jim Harbaugh jogged onto the field and waved his cap to acknowledge his admirers.
The Wolverines' spring break at IMG Academy, a one of a kind trip in college football that might never be allowed again, came to an end Friday night with an open-to-the-public practice that about drew about 5,000 members of Harbaugh Nation to the boarding school's campus.
''It really made it closer to a game than a normal practice,'' Harbaugh said. ''It was great to see the stands full. Lots of maize and blue.''
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The Michigan coach's traveling road show has drawn the ire of the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the NCAA president sounded less than thrilled with Harbaugh taking his team south to practice during spring break.
But the players seemed to love getting away from the chill of Ann Arbor, and Harbaugh made it clear he cares little what others think of how he is running Michigan.
''Exceeded expectations,'' Harbaugh said. ''I would recommend this to other football programs. I'd recommend it to us to do it again. There were no negatives.''
Once again, Harbaugh found a way to stay within the rules while pushing the envelope.
''No one else is doing what we're doing. And that makes something special,'' running back Drake Johnson said.
Michigan paid IMG Academy to use its FBS-quality facilities for the week and used its 5,000-seat stadium for the final practice. The Wolverines needed to keep their distance from IMG students this week to avoid NCAA violations, but IMG football players were allowed to sit in the stands and check out Friday's show.
K.K. Hahn, a receiver at IMG who will be going to Ann Arbor as a preferred walk-on in the fall, said the energy around Michigan is palpable.
''It definitely feels like something is happening right now,'' said Hahn, who is from Bethesda, Maryland.
Joshua Uche, a linebacker from Miami and a Michigan signee, made the 3-hour trip north with his high school coach to watch the Wolverines and spend some time with his future teammates.
''(Harbaugh) finding that loophole and doing something different, being outside the box, is pretty cool to me,'' he said.
Uche was committed to Miami for a few months and then considered signing with Florida or Alabama. When Michigan hired defensive coordinator Don Brown, who had been recruiting Uche for Boston College, the linebacker took a visit to Ann Arbor in January.
''And I loved it,'' Uche said. ''People in Florida, they never hear about Michigan, so they never end up taking their visits there or anything. Once you get up there, they'll love it.''
There was plenty of Michigan love at IMG Academy on Friday night.
The maize and blue faithful started streaming into campus a couple of hours before the Wolverines took the field for a four-hour workout. Several hundred fans gathered outside the gates a half hour before the stadium even opened. One fan fired up the Michigan fight song on a small, old-school boom box to get the crowd going - a little.
The vast majority of those in attendance were way past college eligibility age. Far more retirees and snowbirds than football prospects.
Matt Short, 28, and his parents - transplanted Michiganders - drove down 3 1/2 hours from Gainesville. Short had a regulation Michigan helmet in hand and he was hoping for Harbaugh's signature. Turns out, Harbaugh had to let down the autograph-seekers after practice. His compliance person told him it could result in an NCAA violation.
Short loves that Harbaugh has set up shop in SEC territory and the creative ways he has kept Michigan in the headlines.
''He's against the grain and I think that's part of the reason he's had the success he's had,'' Short said. ''He's done his satellite camps and you see the increase in our recruits. It speaks for itself when you see what he's done.''
Aside from the setting, the practice was routine. Tackling dummies. Blocking sleds. Players zig-zagging through orange cones. The Wolverines did some scrimmaging and a couple of long touchdown passes got the crowd buzzing.
''What was trying to be accomplished was developing as a team, further getting to know each other, getting to know your teammates,'' Harbaugh said. ''Player development, that was one of the main things. I think we accomplished a lot of really good things. That it was unique? It was good. I think we all feel like innovators.''
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP