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East Lansing, MI
Mark Dantonio and the #16 Michigan State Spartans will head to the Holiday Bowl on Friday for their matchup with #18 Washington State Cougars. But before they head out, Christmas came early for the Spartan Nation.
Earlier today Dantonio signed 20 new recruits for the program. You can watch the video above of him talking about each one or read the entire transcript below!
MARK DANTONIO: Good morning. Might be the earliest we’ve ever done a signing day press conference here. Just a couple notes before we get started here. Most of this class really has been committed for, I don’t know, six months to a year and a half ago. It’s a class that’s maintained its commitment. With early signing this year, it’s a little bit different situation. But I think it benefited Michigan State, and it benefited our class.
I think it’s important to recognize they believed in us from the start. Coming off of last season, a difficult season, as we all understand. I think due to our long-standing basically foundation of what we’ve been able to accomplish prior, to the culture here, they stayed with us. I appreciate very, very much their trust in us as people and their trust in the overall health of this program.
The class is full of state champions and players of the year across the board. Well-recognized group of young men who have accomplished great things not just on the football field but in the classroom as well and in their communities. Excited about that.
They’ve been on campus numerous times. Some guys 10, 15 times, some guys have seen seven home games. They’ve been people that we’ve sort of personally known. Our coaches have personally known them. I’ve personally known them and their families for quite some time. Obviously, they’ve been here last spring, in the summer as well.
Top 20 class pretty much across the board, whether it’s 20, 17, 23, whatever it is. Outstanding group of football players. Again, well-recognized across the nation.
Nine offensive players, 11 defensive players. They go across the board. You have guys like Elijah Collins, who never came off the field, and other guys much like that. They’ve played all over the place. Signed a majority of our class, still have room for a couple guys. We’ve signed 20. We may take a couple more. They’ll be specific guys relative to a defensive lineman probably. If you are out there listening, defensive lineman would be a great, great find right now. We look forward to putting that out there a little bit.
No drama today. I think paperwork was in by 10:00 this morning. A couple of guys from California and Nevada sending in the latest. Talked to every single one of our guys. They’re thrilled, excited, celebrating today really with their families and with their high schools across the country.
Basically one-third of our class right now probably — not probably, more than one-third of our class, seven guys will enroll in January. They’ll get a head start on things. They’ll be in school here in two and a half weeks. Time is coming. Again, another exciting time for them as they move through it.
I thought I’d run through each guy, then maybe stop if you have a specific question about that guy, the recruitment of that guy, then we’ll continue on. Might take a couple minutes longer. It’s more informative rather than trying to grab them all at the very end.
Quarterback is the first guy up, Theo Day, top ranked quarterback in the state. Been recruiting Theo for a long time. Very athletic guy, 6’5″, 212 pounds, big. I think he’s an outstanding leader. Very calm. Very calm on the practice field when we had him in camp. Dynamic in our camps. When we watched him play in person, just as dynamic. Can throw the ball very effectively. Big arm, big talent. Not afraid to run with it. I think really compares favorably with Brian Lewerke in a lot of ways.
Any questions on Theo?
Q. Had a MAC coach tell me that Theo reminds them of Kirk Cousins, the way he throws the ball, spins it. On the field he thought very similar. Do you agree with that?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, big arm strength. Great arm strength. When you look at his highlight film, it’s just play after play of him putting the ball down the field. The intermediate throws on target with a lot of velocity on it. The ability to run with the football when needed reminds me a lot of what Lewerke has done this year. Outstanding talent, an opportunity to come early in the process gives him a little bit of an advantage in terms of trying to get on the ground and build a foundation from a quarterback standpoint. Been on campus a lot in the past nine months, been on campus quite often. He’s a guy that I think knows what he’s getting involved in. Again, very calm.
Next guy, Trenton Gillison, tight end. Also played defensive end. Coach Bollman winces when I say that, but he looked pretty good on defense, too. Mike Tressel, primary recruiter, Coach Bollman very much involved in that. Trent’s father is from Steubenville, Ohio, played for Ken Manning way back when Ken was a high school coach. There’s some relationships there. Outstanding performer, four-star player, a guy that makes big plays. Played on a state championship team. Very gifted. Outstanding baseball player, as well. Recruited baseball player, may be able to play baseball here. That avenue is open for him if they get him on the field. I know Coach Boss will be excited about that, as well. Dynamic person. Big athlete. Two-time first-team all-state. Every one of these guys we targeted early in the process. When you can say at this time last year, Hey, we’ve offered Trent Gillison, Theo Day, then we go about trying to get that here. We get the guys we want. That’s the best thing you can say about a recruiting class. I think we did that over and over.
So questions on Trent?
Q. Tight end is a position that’s probably more complex than most. How quickly can a guy like that see the field?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, that’s coaching, I guess. Coach Bollman. Managed to get Matt Dotson on the field sometime this year. We didn’t lose a tight end, but there’s opportunities based on his skill set. He runs very well, catches the ball very well. He’s got power. He’s used to being at the point of attack. I think a lot of times right now, when you look across the nation, you see tight ends, they’re mismatched guys, out of wide receiver, moving in the slot a lot. He’s been at the point of attack, traditional tight end alignment. I think he’s used to that. He’s going to have to play against big people much like himself. I think he does have a skill set to be able to do that.
Q. With the tight end being such an integral part of your offense, any comparisons with guys you’ve had in the past decade?
MARK DANTONIO: Past decade? Makes me feel a little bit old (smiling).
I don’t know. Bowls, anything you got? Matt Sokol came here was a quarterback, learned how to be a tight end. Lyles came here, he was all over the place, quarterback, tailback, all these different positions. Matt Dotson was a traditional tight end. I think there’s a lot of opportunity with him being the athlete that he is. We’re going to put the best players on the field. It’s going to be a competitive situation. He’ll find his way onto the field. I think he’s a ballplayer. Didn’t come off the field for them.
We’ll go to the offensive line right now.
First guy up, Dimitri Douglas, early enrollee. Really looked the part in our camp. We offered him coming out of camp after an impressive performance. Came into camp, I remember, I think he long jumped very, very well. He was 280 pounds. I can’t remember how many times he put up 225, but it was right around 25 for a guy going into his high school senior year. He ran very well. He was a guy we looked at to possibly play any of those positions up front. Outstanding student. Another player that plays for a very good program. 6’4″, 285. I think he’s going to be an outstanding player for us, as well.
Questions? Nobody wants to talk about the offensive line.
Jacob Isaia from Las Vegas. Grandson of Bob Isaia. Got Spartan roots. Got family in the area. Was an attraction to Michigan State very early in the process because of his background. His family’s background is in that area. His father played at UCLA and in the NFL, as well. Another guy, he committed this fall, but he was a guy that leaned this way throughout the process. Has been able to be on campus quite a few times in the process. I think sometimes that’s the biggest thing. If you’re able to get on campus five, six times over the course of your lifetime, good things usually happen. That definitely happened. He’ll play in the game out west. I’m not sure which one it is. He’s an Under Armour All-American. Outstanding player, four-star player I believe. Huge upside. Again, the guy can play any of the positions across the board up front. He can be a guard, athletic, be a center. Plays against great competition, as good of competition as there is in the country really.
Q. You’ve been watching him for a long time. What is it like when you see some of these guys, they go out in their senior year, they’re even better? How much has that class grown? You had 14 or 15 commitments before the fall season started. Some took it up more as a senior.
MARK DANTONIO: I think that our class, first of all, they’re an outstanding group of young people. They’re motivated. We watch their senior film. We track them as they go through their senior year. Two-game highlight, two-game hit film, good and bad. We watch further in the process.
I think he’s a guy that keeps coming. That’s really been the statement for this entire program, if you’ve looked back on the 11 years. The guys that we brought here, they just keep coming. We’ve not had a great deal of a transition, don’t have a lot of players leaving the place, not a lot of transfers that transfer in here, not a lot of JC players. We’ve had guys, blue-collar guys, that have come in here, worked, learned our concepts, just kept pushing. He’ll be an outstanding player. He’s extremely athletic, strong, very strong guy, explosive, very explosive for an offensive lineman. We’re looking forward to great things.
James Ohonba. One of the top players in Georgia. One of the best offensive linemen in the nation. Big guy. I think I could have curled up and took a nap in his shoe, size 18 shoe. Big guy. 320 plus pounds, 6’4″, 6’5″ guy. Had a knee injury at the end of the season. He’ll have to rehab that knee. But outstanding student. Played soccer and basketball early in his life, in his athletic career. He’s got some athletic ability. Looks like he’ll be a dominant offensive lineman for us as we moves forward.
Q. The thing that really sold them, he could have stayed anywhere in the south, SEC, but the family, the way you recruited the entire family. Can you get into that? A lot of places recruit a kid, but you recruit the entire family.
MARK DANTONIO: I think probably like anyplace, it’s not only the player that comes to school here, it’s the entire family. You have to have a circle of trust or a relationship that you can sit and talk to the family as you go through the process of their time here. You end up talking to their mom or dad numerous times when there’s celebrations or when there’s tribulations. I think that’s something we try to do in the process. Our coaches do an outstanding job getting to know everybody in the family. I think most programs do do that.
There’s a sense of community here at Michigan State. That’s across the board, whether you’re talking about our administration, our coaching staff, our players. There’s a sense of community.
The offensive line in general, I think we have three athletic guys that can play multiple positions there. We really lose Brian Allen in our two-deep, so it’s a good situation for these guys to be coming in.
Runningbacks, Elijah Collins, top-ranked runningback in the state from what we felt. Targeted very early in the process. We looked at him and said that this is a guy we had to have. We passed on some other guys to hold for him. We had some other guys that wanted to commit. I just held firm saying that I think we can get this guy. We were very fortunate to do that. Played offense, defense and special teams. Really didn’t come off the field. I liked what his mom says. He can cut through the line there, has great vision, sort of sets his feet, breaks left. If you see him break left in the games coming up, that will be his mom talking. Great center of gravity, cutting ability. He’s big, physical. Got a very good understanding when he was here, played with our runningback coach coordinator Dave Warner. He’s a guy that expresses himself very well and understands things very well.
Primary recruiter Terrence Samuel and Dave Warner, get our position coaches involved in that. I think he plays against a high level of competition. Good student, good solid student, comes from a great program. We’re looking forward to him being here.
Q. With Elijah, a number of these guys, you talk about multi-position ability. With him, do you see him as a future running back or wait and see?
MARK DANTONIO: I firmly see his future at runningback. He’ll come here and be a runningback. He might play on special teams because of his versatility. I don’t see him playing defense. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to touch the ball for us. Again, when you go back and watch senior film or the highlights, the guy can make plays, run through tackles. Has big-playability. He’s durable, tough. Tough, smart and durable. We’re very, very excited.
Q. With as big a name as Le’Veon has become, does that help you with runningbacks? Do guys want to come here?
MARK DANTONIO: It’s not just Le’Veon Bell, it’s every runningback that ever played here. Be the feature guy, gone onto play the NFL, Javon Ringer, Edward Baker, even Glenn Winston for a time, Jeremy Langford, or the next guy coming out, when you’re here at Michigan State, there’s a reason we won a lot of games. Not all tied up in just what we do, it’s who does it. We’ve had very good players doing that. They’ve been very, very good football players, productive. They’re seen on the higher level.
I think this guy has that opportunity to be one of those types of guys.
La’Darius Jefferson. Mr. Football in the state of Michigan. Captain of the Dream Team. Led Muskegon to a record 14-0 record, state title. Rushed more than 2000 yards. Passed for 1200. We recruited him as an athlete. Way back last year when he wasn’t playing as much quarterback, played a little bit, we offered him as a linebacker. He has the ability to play linebacker, there’s no question about that. Watching him perform this season, I watched so much film on him as the season continued, so much film coming to me, I really felt like he was too good of an athlete to play too many positions. Ran for 2000 yards, as we said. He’s definitely an athlete. Thought he could be a runningback. Felt like we needed to take two runningbacks in this class. Felt like we needed to maybe take a quarterback and a half in this class. He has the possibility of playing quarterback if that situation presents itself. He’ll come in here as a tailback. If it runs out on him on the offensive side of the ball, I know he can play on defense. Recruited in a lot of ways much like Le’Veon Bell was. Le’Veon came here with the idea if not a runningback, he can be a great linebacker, punt returner, that type of thing. La’Darius fits into that. Quick feet, if you watch him on film. His running style is much like a tailback, runs through tackles, great hands. Guy touches the ball 220 times as a senior. He’s used to handling the football. Gives you a run-pass guy, a wildcat guy. There’s so many different things he can do as a football player. We were very, very excited. He’s another young man, we passed on some guys that had decommitted from other high-level programs that were very interested in coming to Michigan State in order to get this guy. He’s an outstanding student. He’s got great leadership abilities.
Q. There’s been some comparisons to T.J. do you get him on campus first, see where he fits best?
MARK DANTONIO: He’s coming in as a tailback. He’ll be a tailback unless the numbers would present themselves, with an injury or something, at quarterback. I think he reminds me really a lot of Troy Smith when I was at Ohio State. We took Troy Smith at the end of recruiting, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th guy. He could be a tailback, maybe play wide receiver, maybe do this, maybe do that. He ended up being a tremendous quarterback.
That’s on him. That’s on everybody else. But we’re always going to play the best players. I just think he’s an extremely good football player. I think he needs to touch the football. When you watch him on offense, he needs to touch the football.
Right now he’ll come in and touch that football at tailback. I think there’s opportunity there for him to get involved very quickly. Outstanding football player. Does so many different things. He could be successful with anything on special teams or across the board.
Q. With the quarterback ability, is there opportunity to use him creatively when you have a guy like Brian Lewerke?
MARK DANTONIO: He’s a freshman, got to learn the offense. He gives you an option dynamic in your offense if you ever want to do some of that. He’s done it. He certainly could be a wildcat guy. He has the ability to throw the football as a quarterback in high school. We’ve had great success here with guys that have played quarterback at high school, come here and transitioned to other positions, whether it’s been Cody White to some degree, Trishton Jackson, Keshawn Martin. Those guys have all played wide receiver, not been a runningback, but this guy is a little more powerful, more polished in terms of running option, things of that nature. Came back from watching film over and over, Mike Tressel did, saying the guy is too good. I think we recruit to need here. There was a need to have a second tailback. There was a need to have a fifth quarterback. Gives you a guy that can immediately go in there and do some of the different things we see so many opposing quarterbacks do, then you have so many different things he can do on special teams, even as a defensive player. He can line up and do some different things. That’s two years, two and a half years down the line if things don’t go well. I know he can do that. But he’s a very explosive player, gifted athlete. I think he’s been very well-coached, toughness.
Julian Major, wide receiver. Early enrollee. Very athletic, very smooth player. Great hands. Catches the ball fluidly. Penn Hills High School in Pittsburgh. Type of player that can really stretch the field. Another guy that was targeted early in the process, committed I think sometime early fall or late summer. He’s maintained his commitment throughout to be here early.
Javez Alexander, wide receiver. He’s a quarterback. Three-year starting quarterback. Came to camp, we recruited him as a wide receiver here. Long jump I think 10-6 in camp. Caught the ball fluidly. Made plays down the field. Gives you another guy that can throw it a little bit from the wide receiver position maybe, or run it. Primarily was a dual-threat quarterback in high school. Was a Mr. Football finalist. Finished third in the voting in Ohio, Division III offensive player of the year. Engineering student. I think he’s third or fourth in his class. He’s an early enrollee. Again, another multifaceted athlete. Big, athletic, explosive. Like Cody White in a lot of ways coming out of high school. I think Cody played much more wide receiver. Javez did not take a snap at wide receiver this year, but in camp looked the part, caught the ball very well. We offered him coming out of camp.
Parks Kissinger. Really was a young player. He just turned 17. I think he’ll be 18 next August or something. Went out to watch him play in California. Coach Snyder primary recruiter along with Dave Warner. Very active, uses his hands very well. Has a very good pass-rushing ability. Big frame guy, weighs 235, 240 right now. Played tight end, defensive end. I think he’s a big, raw athlete that’s going to be playing anywhere between 250, 260 personal. Another outstanding student in the classroom.
Jacob Slade, first-team all-state, played offensive line, defensive line. Very athletic, high-motor guy. 270-pound guy. Watched him in camp. Very athletic, smooth. Good punch. Great energy, attention to detail. Mike Tressel is the recruiter. Ron Burton and Mark Snyder obviously involved in that, as well. I think he’s an outstanding football player. Everywhere you go, when you go down to recruit in Ohio, certain guys, everybody talks about. He’s one of them. Very, very excited that Jacob is a Spartan.
Zach Slade, his twin brother. Two-time first-team all-conference, high motor, defensive end, uses his hands like his brother. When you watch them, very similar. A little difference in weight, but they’re identical twins. Not a lot of difference.
Another set of twins we’ve gotten here, a lot of brothers playing on this team, family members, that felt it was right for their family to send two boys here. We appreciate that. Plays very well at the point of attack.
Q. It looks like Jacob does well on the offensive line. Zach might have an interest in fullback also. Are these guys that could go either way?
MARK DANTONIO: They play both ways in their program. We see both as defensive players by nature of the numbers here. His high school coach keeps telling me he would be an NFL offensive guard or something like that, offensive lineman. He’s a defensive player for us. I think he’ll be very, very good. I think he’ll be very good, both of them.
Jeslord Boateng, very athletic, explosive player. 6’2″, 210, runs track. Huge upside because of his length and his athletic ability. Reminds me line of Taiwan Jones, former linebacker here. Comes from another very good high school. Mark has done a tremendous job coaching down there, has been there for quite a while. Mike Tressel is the recruiter. Will play linebacker here, probably be a money linebacker. Probably remind you of Taiwan or Ed Davis, one of those type of guys. Big body guy that did strike you.
Q. Had an Ohio coach that I was asking him, he mentioned he thought this was your this year’s Le’Veon Bell. He thinks this is the steal of your class. Do you agree with him?
MARK DANTONIO: We’re going to find out. He’s extremely athletic. He’s big, 210. When you watch him move, he doesn’t play in sections, it’s all smooth. Very good player. I think good family. Very dynamic, so…
Chase Kline. He’s the Division III defensive player of the year in Ohio. Linebacker. Possible defensive end. 6’3″, 227 pounds, almost 230. Big, physical, active player. Hundred miles an hour. Plays with a great sense of urgency. He’s a great pass-rusher. When he came to camp, what you saw was a guy that could really use his hands well, escape, close on ball carriers. That’s what you see on the film. Will play linebacker, money linebacker, could play Mike as well. If he gets 250 or so, could be a defensive end. For sure can be a pass-rushing defensive linebacker in our nickel package or 30 package. Outstanding student as well. Again, I think he’s a great football player, high-motor guy.
Ed Warinner, very instinctive linebacker. Knows where to be on the football field. Plays square downhill. Very powerful. Athletic, great knowledge of the game. Obviously is a coach’s son. Ed was a graduate assistant up at Michigan State. His mom was a Spartan. Grandparents live in the Detroit area. He’s got the connections here. Goes way back. Known Ed his father a very long time. I think he’ll be an outstanding player. Can come early. Javez can come early, as well. I just think the more you watch Ed, very physical. Reminds you a little bit of Joe Bachie in a lot of ways how he’s downhill playing a hundred miles an hour.
Michael Dowell. Third Dowell to come here. Try to get all three of those guys on the field at once maybe. He’s played corner. He’s played safety. Did a great job in camp here. Good foot skills. Got size. To transition to an outside backer with his size if he gains another 20 pounds. He did very well in our camp. Has the ability to change direction. Plays for an outstanding program. They play against some of the best competition in the nation. Great tackler. I thought he was a great blitzer on the film, as well. He’s a guy that’s going to show up for us in a multitude of ways. He’ll come here as a safety right now. Very excited to have Michael.
Q. The lineage of brothers, the idea that a third would come and want to play for you, is that an affirmation of the experience these guys are having? How important is that?
MARK DANTONIO: I think that is an affirmation. When you send a child one place, one of your children to a particular institution or school, whenever, then you follow with somebody else, then you follow it again, I think there is affirmation that their sons are being treated consistently and fairly. They’re either playing or they’re not playing, that’s on them, but they have opportunities, they’re in a good situation, they’re around good people. We’ve been blessed with a lot of families putting their trust in us to coach their sons. Some of them more than one. For example, I think the Bulloughs, Max came in 2010, Byron will be a senior this year. They’ve had almost nine years of them playing here. That’s a statement.
Q. When you’re recruiting brothers, already have the family ties established, how does that help accelerate the recruiting process for you guys as coaches?
MARK DANTONIO: I always tell our players that we’re recruiting to try to find the truth behind every program, look deep into that program, look deep into our program, try to find the truth. We try and deal with the truth here. We do deal with the truth.
When you have a brother who has played here, they know the ups and downs of the program, they know the positives, the negatives. They do know the truth. They know that they’re getting into right from the start. There’s a sense of a little bit of this is what it is, this is where you’re going, this is the work you have to do. It’s pretty laid out for them. I think that’s a positive. There are no surprises. I think that’s been a positive. If every recruit out there can know what he’s getting into when he gets to the school, I think he’s a lot farther ahead.
Kalon Gervin, the No. 1 ranked player in the state of Michigan by the recruiting services. Under Armour All-American, play in that game down there. He’s an early enrollee. Has all the makings of a great corner. Shows great change of direction. Can roll over, flip his hips, come back to you. Makes very tight cuts. Has the ability to flip his hips and run. I think he’s an outstanding tackler. We offered him off a junior, when he was a junior. Another guy that we said to try to get this guy. Had major visits he went on across the country. I think he’s a guy that will have an opportunity to play pretty quick. I think he’s a dynamic player. Very excited to have him.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK DANTONIO: I think he’s a return guy, I don’t know.
Q. To get a guy from Detroit like that, is that important for the program to go back in there and have a guy of his caliber, pedigree from there?
MARK DANTONIO: We’ve always been welcomed by Coach Wilkins into Cass Tech every year we’ve been here. They do a great job of turning out players. He’s a defensive back coach by trade. He’s done an outstanding job with them. They come here pretty skilled. As far as everything going on, everybody is treated separately, equally. Make decisions on people. Kalon is a great young man. Prior to committing he sent me a picture of him when he was in the seventh grade in a Spartan jersey standing behind me, talking about dreams are going to come true. That was something he’s been dreaming about for a long time obviously. It’s exciting when you see people’s dreams come true.
Q. He’s another early enrollee guy. You said seven?
MARK DANTONIO: We have seven.
Q. How does that work with those guys coming, with so many guys returning this next year?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, because your seniors graduate, you’re allowed to have 85 on scholarship at once. Seniors are graduating, so we had the numbers.
But as far as early enrollees, I’ve always sort of left it up to the individual player. If he’s able to do it first of all from an academic standpoint, all these guys are excellent students. I just think it takes a certain amount of discipline and maturity if you’re going to come early. You’re going to get hit right in the face with things: school, socially, football. There is no transition time like our freshmen usually get. They’re sort of thrown in there. They have to weather the storm a little bit.
They come out of that storm, they’re pretty good football players. They’ve had an opportunity to at least set a foundation under them for the fall camp.
Q. Back in August the Cass Tech (indiscernible), how unique was it to watch the film, to use that as evaluation? Was that game unique this year?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, it was. It’s not just those guys. Both those teams had a lot of players that are going to be recruited next year by major colleges, then also recruited this year, going to major colleges. There’s a lot of competition on that film. Actually our guys told us, You got to get him, he’s a great player, helped recruit him.
Next guy up, Xavier Henderson, ranked as one of the top players, defensive backs in the nation. Two times Columbus Dispatch defensive player of the year. Co-defensive player of the year in the state of Ohio. He’s an early enrollee. Committed to us his junior year, September of his junior year. Really stayed with us throughout the entire process. Came to camp, was phenomenal. Just big, physical, could run, catch the football. He can play wideout. Gains 130 yards in the championship game playing tailback. Outstanding tackler. I think he had 11 picks, as well. He really can play. I think he’ll have an opportunity to play early in his career here. Coming early will give him that foundation I just talked about.
Q. He committed 15 months ago. I don’t think he ever wavered. How important was it for you to get Henderson and Gillison, a couple four-star Ohio guys coming off of last year?
MARK DANTONIO: Sort of the way I opened the whole press conference. I appreciated everybody’s commitment to us, their trust in us as people. We had a tough year last year, other things going on in the off-season. They maintained their commitment. They maintained their belief in us as people.
It wasn’t just about us as a football program, it was in us as people. You just really appreciate that. They were the cornerstone of our class because they were the earliest commitment. People saw that, I think gravitated to do likewise.
This class in its entirety has tremendous students in it, has great families in it, gotten along very well with each other throughout the process. They’ve all been on campus so many times. I think parks kiss singer has been here three or four times all the way from California.
Xavier, state champion, really the star of their football team in a lot of ways.
Chris Jackson, 6 foot, tremendous ball skills, excellent tackler, can really run and jump. Plays a very high level of football down in Georgia at Lassiter. Both parents went to Michigan State. It was a dream of his to come to Michigan State for a long period of time. When he came up in the spring, we were riding around, we offered him, talking to him that this would be a long process. He turned to me and said, I want to come to Michigan State.
I said, You are.
That was it. Just like this morning, really no drama. It’s where he wanted to be. This is the time period of his life he wanted to be at Michigan State. He’s an outstanding player. He can play front side safety, he can also play corner. He’s an extremely skilled player. Been playing against excellent competition.
Q. Chris, if I remember right, is a guy who played basketball a lot longer than football. Did you check out his basketball film at all? Did you see anything in that that interested you?
MARK DANTONIO: I saw a windmill dunk, okay? He’s got great jumping ability. High school coach said they got him out in the last day of spring practice the last day of his ninth grade year for one day. Somehow they managed to convince him his future was in football. He played football as a younger age. Then he just started moving forward. I think he’s a great tackler. He can do a lot of things exceptionally. Big jumper. Can really run. These guys have run track as well.
Davion Williams, Belleville High School. Gifted athlete. Smooth. Great jumper as well. Displayed excellent ball skills, hand-eye coordination in camp, outstanding job in camp running routes with people, right on their hips, accelerating, making picks, things of that nature. Stood out, had a dominant performance. All-state basketball player. Watched him performing in camp, basketball camp as well a little bit, just walking over there. Really as much as anything, you know, basketball coach sort of pointed us in that direction because he was another guy that was sort of coming on as of late in maybe his junior year, sophomore or junior year, then transitioned. (Indiscernible) has done an outstanding job with him. Since leaving Cass Tech, he’s gone on to be the head coach at Belleville. Does a great job in the secondary as well.
Another guy that can really jump. People had great things to say about him.
Q. Davion, he has so many special characteristics. Can you look back over your career maybe a guy he reminds you of?
MARK DANTONIO: Maybe Keshawn Martin. There’s some people that say they were teasing us walking in the door, my visit to the school, home visit, about playing wide receiver as well. He has a great skill set. He runs very, very well. He jumps, great ball skills, can tackle, he’s big, long. Should be exciting to watch these guys.
Just in closing with our class, I think the class in general, no drama today. The early enrollee aspect for us, for Michigan State, was a good thing because our guys had been committed for so long, gave us the chance to reaffirm that commitment from our standpoint, then for them on their standpoint.
There’s no drama in it. We got 20 guys signed. We’ll see what we do with our remaining opportunities. It was a good thing for us.
Q. When you look back, Davion, some of the other guys, picking up football late, would you say the raw athleticism is a real highlight of this class? Is it better or more so than you’ve seen in recent years?
MARK DANTONIO: Like I mentioned to somebody in an interview, they’re all going to come now to a football team that’s got good players. We don’t lose a lot. We got good players. They’re all going to have to compete with those players. Everybody here as the same accolades that they have. Sometimes I don’t think people understand. They’re going to places that we’ve got some players, every place else has good players. It’s up to them now intangibly, how do they handle work, how do they handle problems, how do they handle disappointment, how is their effort, what’s their ability to learn a system, can they stay healthy, all these different things, some tangible, some intangible that they’re going to have to do to raise their level of play.
I think it’s exciting, a good opportunity for them. I will say this. Extremely athletic class, skilled in a lot of ways whether you’re looking at offensive linemen or every position. Very skilled. I think we have a quarterback. I think we have our guys who can play a multitude of positions. I think we’ve addressed our halfback, tailback position to strengthen it. Only able to recruit one last year, then we had to move a guy in there.
Really much like will Darius, very successful thus far. All these things are in order. It’s up to them to get to work, for us to get to work to find a place for them to play.
Again, I go back to what I said. A lot of times you don’t see the fruits of your labor until a year, year and a half into their program. You see them come as redshirt freshmen or starting at sophomores even. That’s when you figure out this is who this guy us.
Q. Expectations, in your first 11 years, this was the outlier where so many true freshmen played. As we continued to talk to these guys, they kept mentioning 13 guys have played. Do you have to temper that a little bit. Last year was the exception, not the rule?
MARK DANTONIO: I don’t want to temper that because we’re going to provide competition. I can tell you athletically, when you look at them, again what I just said, they measure up pretty well. Now, that’s when they’re playing against their guys. They come in here, have to measure up athletically to these guys here, then they have to be able to do the things, learning, stay healthy, pushing through issues. That’s all a part of it, too. I think we can get them there.
Q. You said you had a number of players that you had to turn away in order to hold spots. What does that say about the interest of players in this program as well as the program’s prestige especially after a year like 3-9?
MARK DANTONIO: As the season progressed, we weren’t a 3-9 team any more. We were a 9-3 team, or 7-2, as we hit November, when so many of the different things started happening on the recruiting landscape. We were 8-2, something like that. There was a lot of interest. We climbed back into the top 20, which is where we should be. A lot of good things have happened.
When you ask why these things have happened, great leadership administratively. Mark Hollis has done a great job. Just staying the course, just being steady. Our coaches, what they’ve been able to accomplish, gone through, to be able to correct situations. All these things, it’s all involved and interwoven to be successful.
Q. Do you like the early signing? Do you like this? Hay is in the barn, you go into the off-season?
MARK DANTONIO: I do like it. I like it because it gives you an opportunity to say that we’re committed to this individual. If you’re not, you better pull out early so they have opportunities. You don’t pull out late. It also does that for the player. If they don’t sign, they’re not committed or they have an issue. They may have an issue. They may not have their mind made up. Maybe they’re committed but their mind isn’t made up. There’s a lot that goes into this.
From my standpoint, from our standpoint here at Michigan State it works. It works this year. Does it work every year? Depends on the individual you’re recruiting and the timeframe. Maybe the timeframe changes because the recruiting clock is going to change from this year. The way the commitments went down in the summer, which has traditionally happened here probably in the last five or six years, it worked for us. It works for this class. I’m really excited about it. Work is never done. We’ll start focusing on 2019, finishing out this class. But I feel like we have the basis and the foundation of the class, it’s pretty much all squared away.
Q. Basketball and football are different animals. Tom’s theory has been, I want people that are dying to be here.
MARK DANTONIO: We’re in Florida, Georgia a little bit. Texas some. Predominantly we’re in the Midwest, in Chicago, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania some. You’re recruiting players that you’ve seen in camp. You’re recruiting players that you’ve seen play personally that have been on campus, you’ve gotten to know a little bit. I think there’s an advantage to doing that. There’s also an advantage for them having their families relatively close here because they have support, can see them play. That’s what we’ve traditionally done.
You get the best player in Michigan or the best player in Ohio by somebody’s standards, you’re getting good players. Now what we have to do is develop them. That’s now. We’ve done a nice job developing our players here. We’re represented in the NFL, Big Ten championships. It’s not just because we’re good coaches, but because we’ve had good players here. Recruiting is the basis of that. The difference between a three-four, four-star, five-star, there’s a little extra, a little bit more development. You can’t say that (indiscernible) wasn’t a five-star player, came here as a two-star. Or Le’Veon Bell isn’t a five-star player. You can’t say that. Or Kirk Cousins. It’s up to them what they do when they get here. That’s what’s exciting about today.
I talked to our players on the phone, our committed guys. I think I said one thing to every one of them: It’s the end of one process and the beginning of another. What they do with that new process is really up to them.
Q. The new process for you guys as coaches, do you have to sell these guys on signing early? Does that aspect change with the early signing date? How much of it is on them and how much on you guys?
MARK DANTONIO: I think it’s on both of us. I didn’t have to sell anybody on that. I knew if they were committed, they were signing. It was sort of a foregone conclusion. They were going to sign on the 20th if they were committed. If they weren’t committed, they wouldn’t sign on the 20th. If we weren’t committed to them, we wouldn’t sign them on the 20th. It was sort of a two-way street. I think the expectations are pretty clear, to try to sweep everything away, clean recruiting up, to take it from a sense of people dropping players in January or December, from a sense of players decommitting from universities two days beforehand when they’ve so-called been committed. I think they were just trying to clean it up, just accelerate the process a little bit. That’s what probably happened.
For Michigan State, it was a good thing. I can’t speak for other perhaps. For Michigan State it was a good thing this year. It allows us to sort of refocus on our needs, our current needs, our future needs, our future team. It allows us to focus not just on those recruiting aspects, but our current team as well.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK DANTONIO: No, I don’t. I think it’s a longer process now. The guys that are still left out there will sign in February. We’ll recruit those as such.
Q. The rule change allowing earlier official visits in the spring, do you think that’s a good thing? Does that speed up the recruiting process a little too much?
MARK DANTONIO: I don’t have an answer for that one right now. I have to experience that as we go through it. It does allow people to come up on campus. I just don’t know how that’s all going to sort out. I don’t really see that as a way to make an earlier commitment. I think people have to get on campus once or twice.
Who knows, that’s a new one on me. We’ve just experienced this. Right now this was a positive for us, at least this year. We’ll see how it shakes out next year.
Q. The 13 true freshmen you played this year, how much of that is a selling point, you’re going to get a chance to play?
MARK DANTONIO: I think Coach Barnett has it in his meeting room written on the board, other coaches, too. Best players play. I’ll say this, we’re always trying to get better. You’re always trying to take one step further. If you win nine games, you want to win 10, as evidenced by this year. If we won 12, we wish we would have won 13. You’re always trying to do that. I think that starts within your program.
We’re always going to try to recruit to a higher level, try to keep taking steps. I think this class did that. But their challenges await them as they come here.
Q. You mentioned the photo, seventh grade. Some of these guys remember you for so long, especially the guys in state. Do you sense that as an advantage to you?
MARK DANTONIO: Michigan State has been pretty good over the last 10 years. We’ve been in the top 20 quite often. We played in big bowl games, played on a national stage, championships, been in the playoffs. I think a lot of young people in the Midwest, in Michigan in particular, they see that. They’re making decisions at that point in time. I say it all the time, which direction you going. You got choices to make early on in your life in this state, there’s no question.
Q. (No microphone.)
MARK DANTONIO: Decided to go on the trip on Friday. Majority of our football team is traveling with us. Looking for a great game. Washington State is an outstanding football team. You watch or see why they’ve been so successful. Their season really parallels pretty much like our season in a lot of ways. One of these teams are going to have an opportunity to win 10 games, so why not us?
Q. Pressure, in the three games they lost, it was because they were able to move their quarterback off of high center. You’re a guy that likes to apply pressure. How much of a unique characteristic is that?
MARK DANTONIO: I think any time you can pressure the quarterback in any game, bad things are going to happen to the opposing team. I think it’s paramount we’re able to get pressure on the quarterback, stop the run initially, force them into turnovers. Really they’ve come up with a lot of turnovers, 27 this year. They’ve given up 29.
When they’ve not had success it’s because of pressure, sacks, then it relates to turnovers. If we can get the turnovers, good things usually happen.
Q. I heard you mention the majority of the team, Robert Bowers is no longer on the roster. Any other guys for academics or other reasons who will not make the trip?
MARK DANTONIO: Robert Bowers no longer on the team following the Ohio State game. Separated from the team. Then two other players will not make the trip. It’s not related to academics. Lashawn Paulino-Bell, nor will Austin Andrews. Suspended (indiscernible). Hopefully that’s not the lead story.
Q. You’ve been a part of a lot of wins and losses in bowl games. After the Alabama game, sort of a therapy session you had for yourself up there. The impact of winning and losing this game coming up as it pertains to the feeling in the program in January and February?
MARK DANTONIO: I think any time you win a bowl game, you’re always going like that. It’s like I told our players, if you do nothing but win that bowl game, you’re a bowl game champion. You can stick champions on the end of your résumé for that particular year. That’s big. It sends everybody spinning in the right direction. If you lose it, you have to regroup a little bit. You regroup, you take in the consequences of your total season, look at it as a whole. You have to change things, mix things up, whatever you have to do, critique it. We do that anyway. Then you move forward.
I think you have an opportunity to prepare for about a month. There’s a lot of work that goes into that, player and coaches. You want to win. We’re going out there with an idea to win. I think maybe the playoff game, if you think back, if I had to sit there and say with the playoff game that occurred, we worked extremely hard to get there, won the game, but when we got to the game, didn’t play our best football. Alabama was a very good football team. Didn’t play our best football. You wonder, look back, say, Could we do better, could we have been a little bit more prepared, done better in terms of preparing that week we were actually out there, whether it’s rest or whatever it is. We all have to look at that. Can’t change what happened. Still very proud of that football team.
Q. As you step on that plane Friday, I’m thinking the long car ride you took a little over a year ago, how different will it be? How neat will that be to take a team to California after the last 12 months?
MARK DANTONIO: It’s rewarding. That’s an understatement probably. We’ve been through a lot. Again, I go back to our administration, everybody involved, coaches staying the course, whoever it would be. Some of you tapped me on the shoulder to say, Hang in there. A lot of people, our players, just wanted us to forge forward. That’s important. That’s important that we did this all together. It wasn’t one person. It wasn’t me. It’s everybody together. We all moved forward in that direction, got things done. There was a belief system that still remained in place. Like I said during the season, we just kept scratching, fighting, came out on the back end and won. We had tough games, played good opponents. There’s nothing easy about playing football. When we step on that plane, it’s another step forward, and that’s what is exciting.
Q. From a defensive standpoint, we’ve talked about their offense. The linebackers, discussed the coverage. Is this a final exam to learn from the other games the lessons they miss stepped along the way?
MARK DANTONIO: Final exam would be a good way to put it, bowl game, air raid offense, things they do. You got to be on top of things. You cannot leave one guy uncovered. You got to stay in certain areas, certain strikes as we’d call it, certain sets, you have to match patterns effectively, lock them down in man coverage, get there in pressure situations. There’s a lot of different reasons why a play succeeds or doesn’t succeed. Play calling structure of that relative to the execution of that. They’re all designed to work, believe me.
Q. Whether it’s fans, media, doesn’t really matter. It’s the people in that building. I know you like to defer comments about yourself. I’m going to put you on the spot. Every one of your kids have talked about this bowl game, what it meant for them to give this to you. Chris Frey said he was more proud of doing this for you than his senior year. To have that respect, reverence from them, what does that mean? I know you don’t take it lightly.
MARK DANTONIO: No, I don’t take it lightly. That’s why you coach. That’s why you continue to coach. You have an obligation to your players. It comes back to you. I keep talking about that first goal, that relationship goal. I think if you have that, then you give to them and it comes back to you. There’s nothing more rewarding than your players coming back, seeing you, our coaches, stopping in. Max Bullough was there, Price was in. Those guys come back and be a part of your life. To hear Chris say that is very rewarding.
We try to do things right here in our program, we build into our players. We consistently build into our players every single day, tell them they can do this, they’re the best. Yeah, they’ve proven it time and time again on the field. It’s an opportunity. My obligation is let’s get 10 for our seniors, so it’s right back to them. Let’s get 10 for all the players, all the things that have gone through this past year, put an exclamation point on the end of this season. That’s what we’re going to attempt to do.
Q. Is this a time when you start experimenting a little with moving players around or you put that off till spring?
MARK DANTONIO: We’ve done that a little bit with some younger players, maybe slide them over to a different position to see how they perform a little bit. Hey, can this guy play this position, can that guy play that position. Nothing really relative to the bowl game itself. We’re back to business. We’ve done that a little bit, but more in terms of individual drills, not so many in team settings.
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