What Recruits Saw: Or Why it's Working

Recruiting is an art, but like all great art, there is method behind the construction. Improving recruiting requires a program to be on the right track, and it seems abundantly clear that is where coach Mark Dantonio has MSU. So how does the exposure from a successful season and playing in a New Year's Day game against one of the SEC's finest impact the image of a program? GSN counts the ways ...

Something is different in East Lansing.

Under head coach Mark Dantonio, bowl games are fast becoming expected every season. Fans' focus is almost completely devoted to what happens on the field. And recruiting, well, it's hard to see it going much better.

It's easy to dissect a program in tough times, when the warts are exposed and the ship is sinking. We're all rubberneckers for that kind of thing. So in the spirit of equal time, GSN takes a moment to analyze why there's momentum building at Michigan State.

In the past few weeks, we heard repeatedly from recruits that said they'd be watching MSU in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day. Undoubtedly, many more tuned in to the action to get a glimpse of the upstart Spartans.

The same Spartans who had been getting plenty of attention throughout the season, thanks in part to Javon Ringer's torrid start, a 6-1 record halfway through the schedule and chance to share a Big Ten title in the final week of the season.

What they've watched in the final game and the past two years is a system that's gaining steam. They've seen a methodical laying of groundwork, rebuilding on and off the field, from the top to the bottom, so that all the parts in the machine are running at their optimum level.

Faith

They've seen a coaching staff that believes in its players.

There is no greater example than Brian Hoyer. All last season and this, through the bowl games, the ups and downs, Dantonio never wavered in his support of Hoyer, who, in his worst moments, looked, and played, rattled. Where other men in charge might have switched gears, Dantonio stayed the course.

Hoyer mirrored his coach's confidence, in the huddle and in the toughest of postgame interviews, where, after a subpar performance, the television cameras cast a harsh glare and dozens of microphones and voice recorders crowd in to immortalize every single breath.

In those moments, Hoyer was always at his best, never threw an errant pass or made a bad read. He always demanded more of himself, never skirted blame, always manned up.

There are many more talented quarterbacks than Brian Hoyer, but belief from above molded him into a sharp, focused, observant football player who always represented his school well. Recruits, and perhaps even more so their parents, notice that kind of thing.

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They've seen a coaching staff that gives players opportunities — vitally important to a culture of competition as well as high on many prospects' wish list.

Kirk Cousins, if he wins the starting job from Keith Nichol next season, will not be a virgin in important games. His feet are wet, both from time against Ohio State in one of the biggest MSU games of the last decade and against Georgia in a tight bowl game.

And numerous young players have found early playing time and developed into key contributors. Two young defensive tackles, Oren Wilson and Antonio Jeremiah, played as true freshman. Mark Dell made an impact as a frosh last year. And true sophomore Greg Jones has arguably been the defensive MVP the last two seasons.

Growth

They've seen a coaching staff that develops every level of player. Doesn't matter the attention others give student-athletes, everyone is competing and growing in MSU's program.

An apt example could be Blair White and the aforementioned Jeremiah.

White built himself up from being a walk-on to an essential scholarship player who has made big plays in big games, most notably in a victory over Michigan on the road. They've seen a coaching staff develop a natural leader, an inspirational player who Ringer calls the most underrated on the team.

Jeremiah came in last year as a 4-star recruit, a headliner for the class. He got passed on the depth chart by Wilson, the less the heralded freshman. He gained too much weight then failed a conditioning test at the start of fall practice.

But Jeremiah bounced back and became an important contributor to a four-man defensive tackle rotation that, at times, played outstanding football in the trenches.

Ferocity

Earlier in the season they saw a righteously angry head coach dress down a reporter for running with rumors about an innocent player.

Players were under threat of arrest for an alleged off-campus fight. Dantonio issued the appropriate statements and requested speculation be moored until after the facts were known. But names were flying, on message boards and through the airwaves.

When a player he knew to be innocent was implicated, Dantonio's response was raw and he held nothing back. At one level, people saw a coach defend a player. On another level, a level Dantonio often explicitly verbalizes, people saw a protective father, defending the innocence of one of his children.

Family

They've seen a coaching staff that builds lasting relationships with players.

Past heroes are honored regularly. And whether it's Jehuu Caulcrick or Kaleb Thornhill, Pete Clifford or Drew Stanton, recent players are a constant sight around the program. Arthur Ray, who has battled through cancer, is on the sidelines every week, fully a member of the team.

They've seen a player like Mike Bell, who graduated last season and lost his scholarship, return to the team to contribute, eventually earning back a partial scholarship for his hard work and devotion.

Guts

They've seen a team with no quit. In the Mark Dantonio dictionary, under "quit", it simply says don't.

Whether it was the final effort this season, leading a more talented Georgia team into the third quarter, or fighting through the final minutes against Penn State, or staging the improbable comeback against Wisconsin, the Green & White play for 60 minutes.

They punch, fight, scratch, claw, tackle and sprint every moment of the game. They do it through the three-deeps and into the walk-ons. It's systemic.

And it's why fans, recruits and the rest of the country are taking notice of what's happening in Spartan Land.


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