John L. Smith is making inroads in Michigan

I have always felt that if you want to win in the Big Ten in either football or basketball, you must successfully recruit your home state players. Over the last few seasons, the MSU program has taken plenty of heat from fans and alumni alike who felt that not enough attention had been given to solid in-state recruits. After the recent wave of Spartan in-state verbal commits, many hope that trend is changing.

I have always felt that if you want to win in the Big Ten in either football or basketball, you must successfully recruit your home state players. Over the last few seasons, the MSU program has taken plenty of heat from fans and alumni alike who felt that not enough attention had been given to solid in-state recruits like Garrett Bushong (Ionia HS/Purdue), Evan Sharpley (Marshall HS, Notre Dame) Lamarr Woodley and Jerome Jackson (Saginaw HS/Michigan) and Antonio Bass (Jackson HS/Michigan).

Tom Izzo has been doing the in-state thing for a decade now over at the Breslin Center, and now it looks like John L. Smith's Spartan football program may be starting to turn the corner in that area as well.

Over the last month, Michigan State has gotten four verbal commitments from Michigan prep players, three from the Class of 2006, and one from the Class of 2007.

The 2006 verbals are, Eric Gordon, a LB from Traverse City West; Charlie Gantt, a 6-4, 233 pound TE/DT from Birmingham Brother Rice; and Patrick Rigan, a 6-6, 235 pound DE/TE from Traverse City St. Francis.

The 2007 verbal is 6-4, 185 pound QB Keith Nichol, who led Lowell HS to the Division III State Championship as a sophomore last season.

Four in-state kids – four players from established programs that have had long track records of success and – most importantly – four players who wanted to become Spartans long before offers were even extended.

Gordon had offers from Indiana, Missouri and Central Michigan before committing to the Spartans. Gantt had offers from Central, Eastern and Western Michigan, as well as from Duke, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Bowling Green. Rigan had offers from Indiana and Central Michigan, and had a strong interest from Notre Dame, but when John L. Smith called by phone to extend an offer Tuesday, Patrick said yes right on the spot.

The biggest commit thus far though has to be Nichol, who already had offers on the table from Big Ten programs Purdue and Wisconsin, as well as an offer from Cincinnati. Yet like those before him, he didn't hesitate when the Spartans offer came in.

The appeal of the Spartans' spread offense was a strong selling point for Nichol, as he calls signals in a similar system for the Red Arrows. Any type of early commitment from a player is a good one, but when a talent like Nichol makes an early move, it is a sign that the program they chose is making the right impressions.

It will be a number of years before anyone knows the impact these four players will have on the fortunes of the Spartan football program, of if they will ever even suit up at Spartan Stadium. Nevertheless, credit must be given to John L. Smith for getting them to take that verbal first step.

Now the Spartans have the opportunity to seize that momentum and land some more in-state standouts.

Some Michigan standouts, among others, still uncommitted include: Neli A'asa, a 6-2, 300 pound DT/OG from Big Rapids; Ian Conyers, a 6-0, 182 pound S/LB prospect from Detroit Jesuit; Jerrell Herring, a 6-1, 245 pound ILB/DE from Detroit King; John Goebel; a 6-1, 186 pound RB/S from Birmingham Brother Rice; L.J. Robertson, a 6-0, 198 pound RB from Sterling Heights Stevenson; Adrian Cannon, a 6-2, 189 pound WR from Auburn Hills Avondale; Jeff Maddux, a 6-4, 297 pound OL prospect from Monroe; and Deshon Dedrick, a 6-2, 370 OL prospect from Lansing Sexton.

The 2006 recruiting season has gotten off to a good start for the Michigan State Spartans, Green and White rooters everywhere hope now that the train keeps rolling.

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