MSU head football coach Mark Dantonio got back to what made Spartan football great with much of the 2017 class; some tough and blue collar football players.
Dantonio said it best in 2015, “When we came here back in 2007, the reality of the situation was that we were selling hope. Our facilities needed to be adjusted. We had not been to a Bowl game in a couple years. It's to a point now where we are selling results and that's a big difference.”
Well, selling results got Michigan State some more highly rated players while not all, many came with big headaches and led the program astray. This year he is getting back to what made the program.
Each year when I compile ratings for the incoming recruiting class it is an exhaustive effort, and this year is no different. I try very hard to call coaches who coached for or against, and to do as much research as possible including speaking to multiple different (non-MSU) division one coaches to help me analyze each player.
Why so much emphasis on recruiting? One NFL coach, when talking about his time as a college coach, expressed it better than anyone I’ve ever heard when he said, “It’s like getting 25 first round draft picks each year.” What a great analysis! Now MSU doesn’t sign 25 a year, but you get the point.
A recruit’s true value is based upon need of the program, his ability to fill that need, his character, and finally what other schools offered him. For example, Jim Tressel told me that he has never been around a coach that can evaluate talent like Mark Dantonio. Dantonio’s track record at OSU, UC, and here at MSU proves that.
How hard are the rankings? When LeVeon Bell arrived, many bemoaned Dantonio taking a no-star kid. No one knew how big LeVeon’s heart was. As you know he departed early for the NFL. Because of how Spartan Nation rates players, we had him more highly valued than ANY ranking services, and we were right!
Character and academics are of major importance with this staff now that they are refocused on what got them to a Rose Bowl. Will they get it wrong sometimes? Without a doubt, but unlike in the past, they won’t take kids KNOWING they are rolling the dice.
Lastly, what other programs have offered the kid? Does a kid come from a school with a proven track record of developing talent? Do they take unheralded players, make them stars, and put them in the NFL as high draft picks? When I see a kid that is an OL or an RB and has an offer from a school that is proven there, he gets great points in my system.
So, after hours of work and effort, we here at Spartan Nation excitedly present to you the 2017 MSU football recruiting class breakdown. Today is part one from the offensive standpoint. They are in no order. I will present to you the second part of the offense tomorrow.
1) Cody White ATH 6’3” 175# Walled Lake, MI White very well could be the best player in this class. He can do things with his body that scream NFL CB. He has a super high football IQ and while coming in as a WR look for him on the other side. More on that when we hear from another head coach in a moment. A coach’s take: “We loved Cody, but there was no doubt he was going to MSU. He has a body and uses it in a way that we would have put him at CB and pray he stayed four years before going to the NFL. We thought if he wasn’t the best player in Michigan, that he was 1A.” WEAKNESS: White has such a high football IQ that he tries to do too much. At MSU he will be surrounded by so many other good players, that he will quickly shed that weakness. Dantonio says: “Cody White was our first guy that decided to commit way back in I think in August. And Sheldon White (Cody’s father), who worked for the Lions for the past 19 years. But Cody was Mr. Football in the state of Michigan. He played not only wide receiver, which we recruited him at, but also played quarterback, punted, returned kicks, played corner. He was a guy that established himself throughout this state in so many different capacities. He'll be an outstanding player here. Playing him at wide receiver. He's grown over almost four inches, six four, 205. He spent a lot of time at the Lions’ summer camps and doing things of that nature. So he's got a very, very high football IQ. He's been up on campus, I asked him the other day, probably 20 times, this is a school he always pointed to. And the direction he wanted to come and be a Spartan. The recruiting did an outstanding job. Cody came up numerous times throughout the recruiting process. Unofficial visits to help us recruit other players. And want to thank him for that and thank his entire family for their trust in us as people.”
2) Hunter Rison WR 6’0” 200# Ann Arbor, MI There is so much to love about Hunter. A great player and a high character youngster he is the real deal. It was fascinating listening to the older players this spring talk about him. After a few years of getting burned by highly touted but drama queen recruits, they all praised Hunter. He will make an immediate impact and I can tell you his teammates already want him back on kickoff and punt return. A coach’s take: “What separated Hunter in our opinion was his commitment to be perfect. He is tactical beyond his age. When you add talent with commitment it is dangerous and he is dangerous.” Weakness: Hunter does so much right that he can at times take his skill for granted. He is a superior player and when he slacks off that can hurt him. He isn’t lazy, but there were a couple of times when he got away from his talent and it cost him this spring. He is now on a field with a lot of great players. No player this spring other than Brian Lewerke was raved about more. He is a star. Dantonio says, “Hunter Rison, from Skyline. Hunter was Division I, II, All-Michigan First Team athlete, 1700 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns in just two seasons at Skyline. Great body control. He's often one of the first guys to be offered coming out of our camp two years ago. So obviously he has legacy here. He's obviously a legacy here with his father having played here. But you make your own way. You make your own way as a young person. He came here. Has great hands, very, very, I guess I use the word crisp. Crisp route runner. He's a guy that has a great motor, very enthusiastic. Played defense, as well. A great body control, ability to catch the ball down the field in traffic. When you watch the highlight film there's catch after catch. And when you watch him at camp you see a great football player that can get vertical very quickly. He'll play Z, slot receiver, as well. He's impressed us from day one in his abilities in what he will bring to this program.”
3) C.J. Hayes WR 6’3” 200# Bowling Green, KY MSU stole Hayes late in the process, but he was a great steal. High motor and a blue collar work ethic, what he lacks in some of the God given measurable, he makes up for with blue collar work ethic. Hayes is exactly the player Mark Dantonio used to build MSU with when he got here. A coach’s take: “It was our opinion that C.J. could play anywhere he wanted. We were in on him really early and hoped he may fall through the cracks because of the state he came from. Obviously he didn’t and while I do not know all that you have at wide in your class, I would bet a bunch of donuts he ends up your best wide in this class.” Weakness: Hayes is a competitor and has had to work for everything he has got. Sometimes he gets down on himself after a mistake. I love that because he cares, but he can’t let it impact the next play. Super competitor, but has to relax and enjoy the game more. Dantonio says, “C.J. Hayes out of Bowling Green, Kentucky. He's a late add, came up the last weekend, this was his dream school. This is a process that's been ongoing over the course of a year, year and a half. We were extremely excited when C.J. became a Spartan. Won the state championship as a junior. Had 51 receptions last year for 805 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. Big body wide receiver, does a great job catching the ball in traffic, outstanding defensive player, as well. He has power in terms of hitting people. Does not shy away from contact. We've seen him catch bubbles, catch the ball in traffic, catch the ball up and down the field. He'll be a great addition to our receiver corps, and look for him to play early in his career here.”
4) Laress Nelson WR 5’10” 170# Ft. Lauderdale, FL Nelson was a late add for the Spartans, but he is a smaller WR that has guts. He won’t be afraid to catch a pass across the middle and if they can get him in the slot look out. A coach’s take: “I know you said that Coach Dantonio compared him to M. Kings, but I am well aware of both and that ain’t fair to Nelson. He is a lot more tough and he has a lot of passion that is steered in the right direction in my book. He will be a real good player for ya’ll.” Weakness: You can’t teach size. MSU reports Nelson as 5’10”, but those close to him say closer to 5’9” and I want to see how he does against that size that is going to be coming at him. The young man would have been a HIGH four or possibly a five star in my opinion had he been 6’3” but he isn’t so we will have to see how he deals with it. Dantonio says, “Laress Nelson. American Heritage High School. Guy that probably didn't get as much ink as some of these other guys coming out. But won 28 out of 29 games. He's a smaller guy and very electric guy watching film in terms of actual work out films. Punt returner. Reminds me of Macgarrett Kings in terms of how he plays and his abilities. Has a great ability to catch the football. Great eye/hand coordination. And we're looking forward to seeing him play many different positions, whether it's jet sweeps or bubble screens or down the field routes or punt returns.”
5) Rocky Lombardi QB 6’4” 220# Clive, IA A pure athlete with a cannon of an arm, Rocky is the real deal. He can do it all. He has the leadership qualities of Kirk Cousins, the accuracy of Brian Hoyer, and the running talent of Drew Stanton. Lombardi is the absolute real deal. A coach’s take: “When Mark (Dantonio) had himself Connor Cook you knew he wanted him to run. He won’t worry about that with this kid. He can play football with anybody and he is a helluva player. He is all the good that Cook was without the other stuff and he is tougher. Now he will take off and get you ten yards running and cut some linebacker in half. Turn on the tape and watch him get downfield blocking. He is tough.” Weakness: Lombardi is so tough that at this level he can’t do some of the things he did in high school. Deadly accurate, there are some throws that will get picked at this level and when he runs, he better slide because he loves to attack defenders. Dantonio says, “Rocky Lombardi. Quarterback out of Valley, Iowa. Valley High School in Des Moines, Iowa. And Rocky is just an outstanding athlete. He's been on campus many, many times throughout the process. Again, a young man that really helped us recruit quite a few players. Don't have a hat for him. But the guy is 29-1 in wrestling, weighing in at 220 mark. He's an outstanding baseball player, quarterback, threw 5,000 yards, 36th record as a starting quarterback, just a winner type guy. Very, very tough minded individual. We've watched him in person. Had him in camp two years. The position coach and recruiter as well did an outstanding job with Rocky. Football family. His dad is a long time high school and college coach. And again, I think he's a guy that has extremely high football IQ. And he's going to bring a lot of toughness and leadership to our football program. He's a scratch golfer, and I assume that's correct. But looking forward to him here. And again, another outstanding athlete. 26 pins, I think he's got the fastest pin, three seconds in the history of high school wrestling.”
6) Connor Heyward RB 6’1” 190# Suwanee, GA Heyward is a Swiss Army knife. He will start out at RB, but no one knows where he will end up. I can think of as many as eight legitimate places that he could play. He is an old school high IQ football player. If we could go back in a time machine, Heyward could play in the old leather helmet era. Just a solid team first guy. A coach’s take: “We really liked the versatility of Heyward. Really sucked that Mark (Dantonio) got him from us, but we wanted him and thought of a bunch of ways to use him.” Weakness: Heyward has had to do so much, that he is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Once they settle where they want him he will take off. Unfortunately for him, his team first mentality has hurt him mastering one spot, but it couldn’t have done too much damage as he made it. Dantonio says, “Connor Heyward, and we recruited Connor, as an athlete. And I tell you, one thing about him, is I think you can put him in five different positions in the football field and he could excel. Outside backer, safety, possibly, I really think he's an outstanding offensive player, so he'll start on the offensive side of the ball. Started for his basketball team, Peachtree Ridge, big school in Georgia, as a 9th grader there on the basketball team, and extremely explosive athlete, very explosive. We've seen him play tailback, wide receiver, linebacker, safety, he's all over the field. You make a highlight film, it's almost a hundred plays or more. We will play him -- begin playing him at the tailback position. He's about six one, 218 pounds. Very, very explosive. And I think he runs behind his pads, gives you the opportunity to use him in wild cat situations and put him in slot positions and not have to change personnel. A gifted athlete. Obviously the family is very athletic family. His brother plays for the Steelers, as well, another brother playing for Vanderbilt basketball. Great leadership skills. Outstanding student, as well. And when you meet Connor, just like a lot of our guys, I think you come in contact with people, you see why they excel. It's not just their athletic ability, it's their whole way of doing things and their whole mindset. And I think he'll rub off on a lot of people, and be in a leadership position in the future. Connor is from Peachtree Ridge.”