"Ryan Allison," he said immediately.
Allison, who checks in at 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, looks to have finally found a home as a weak side linebacker. And what a circuitous path it was to that home.
Coming out of Lake Orion High School, Allison was one of the mot productive wide receivers in Michigan. The all-stater racked up 926 yards on 54 receptions with eight touchdowns his senior season. He also showcased his speed as a prep hurdler, making the110-meter state finals.
Running pass routes seemed to be in his future, even though he was also a great safety in high school. For three seasons, he found spot duty as a receiver and even started a pair of games as a sophomore. But regular playing time was elusive, so for his senior season, Dantonio thought a position change might benefit Allison, and the team.
"He put himself in a position where he's going to play," Dantonio said. "He can run like a deer, he's active. I think he may put himself in a position—he may be a starter," Dantonio said.
The germ for the idea came during the extra practices Michigan State got as a result of earning an invitation to the Champs Sports Bowl. That, and Allison played his heart out every time he got on the field.
"He was a great special teams player for us last year, that's why I thought this guy—he's okay at wide receiver, but he's not a feature guy. But he's a contact player so let's try him at safety," Dantonio said.
Moving him to the defense turned out to be a great idea. But the position was not quite right.
"So we had him at safety in bowl practice, but we made the decision to try him at linebacker where there might not be quite as much to learn—he has just one year left," Dantonio said. "So we did that, he's transitioned it, and he's done a great job."
The move isn't just good for Allison's potential playing time, it's great for the team, too.
"We came out of the spring as sort of like—we needed a third or fourth guy (at linebacker)," Dantonio said.
But with the emergence of Allison, the depth chart has undergone some restructuring. Greg Jones has moved from the strong side to middle linebacker and Allison is now in a heated battle for the WILL position.
"He and Brandon Denson are right there together," for the weak side starting slot, Dantonio said.
Dantonio pointed to a player like Greg Jones, who learned the duties of a Big Ten linebacker as a true freshman last season and led the team in tackles, as evidence of how a player can achieve great things in a short period of time.
"He can learn it, he can play it," Dantonio said of Allison, "if your taking your time coaching him and teaching him the progression—it's about teaching him the progression."
Starter or not, Allison has brought a healthy dose of competition to a position that had a question mark hovering over it, and that's always good stuff for a football program. Can he become an impact player, or even a solid linebacker in one of the nation's toughest conferences?
"He's only had one spring there and he's a senior," Dantonio said. "But crazier things have happened."