A year after Mark Dantonio scored with the highest-rated Michigan State recruiting class in a decade, he followed up with a fringe top-25 class of 21 -- highlighted by a few high-level signees who could help right away.
Any discussion of the 2010 Michigan State haul has to start with William Gholston. The 6-foot-7, 237-pound defensive end/linebacker from Detroit is the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit according to Rivals.com, and a guy who shunned offers from Alabama and USC, among many others, to play for Dantonio.
Gholston, running back Nick Hill, linebacker Max Bullough, cornerback Mylan Hicks and safety Isaiah Lewis all have the potential to contribute early for a team that finished 6-7 last season and struggled mightily on defense. Hill and Bullough are already enrolled in class, so they will have the advantage of taking part in spring ball.
The Spartans also added four-star prospects in offensive lineman Skyler Schofner and quarterback Joe Boisture. Rivals ranked the class No. 29 nationally and fourth in the Big Ten, while Scout.com placed it No. 31 in the nation and fourth in the conference.
Overall, at least 10 of the 21 recruits project to play on defense, with three defensive ends and four defensive backs -- the areas of most obvious weakness on the field in 2009. MSU also added two linebackers, a defensive tackle and three "athletes" who could play wide receiver or defensive back. The other eight signees consist of a quarterback, fullback, punter, three offensive linemen and two running backs.
Offseason workouts have begun and the legal process continues for 11 players -- four of whom are no longer with the team -- who were involved in a Nov. 22 on-campus fight. The Spartans will try to move forward from that embarrassment and start working on a woeful defense when spring ball begins in late March.
--The Spartans got a rare positive headline in January when junior MLB Greg Jones announced he would return for his senior season rather than leave early for the NFL draft.
Jones, a first team All-American and the Big Ten's defensive player of the year, said all along that he would only go with a first-round assurance, and he was projected more in the second-round range.
--Michigan State is searching for a new running backs coach after Dan Enos accepted the head coaching job at nearby Central Michigan. Enos will be missed sorely on the recruiting trail, after greatly increasing MSU's presence in Detroit in the past three years. Mark Dantonio has been mum so far on potential candidates.
--DE/LB William Gholston, Detroit -- Mark Dantonio raised some eyebrows on signing day when he said he expects Gholston to play outside linebacker. That raises speculation that the Spartans will play more 3-4 defense moving forward, because Gholston appears to be more of an edge rusher at 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds. He had 27 sacks as a senior at Detroit Southeastern High. Dantonio said he wants Gholston to be a player similar to former MSU star Julian Peterson, who was effective as a LB and an edge rusher.
--LB Max Bullough, Traverse City, Mich. -- The blood lines don't get much stronger than this.
Bullough's grandfather is Hank Bullough, a former MSU tackle, defensive coordinator and NFL head coach. Father Shane was a star LB at MSU, as was his uncle Chuck -- a UCLA assistant who tried to lure Max to the coast. Notre Dame also wanted him badly, but there was no doubt that he'd end up in East Lansing. Bullough may be too good to keep off the field in 2010.
--QB Joe Boisture, Saline, Mich. -- Boisture gives the Spartans three Elite 11 quarterbacks on the roster -- not counting starter Kirk Cousins. Keith Nichol and Andrew Maxwell are the others. All the depth means Boisture will have time to develop, but down the line he and Maxwell will have a battle royale to replace Cousins as the starter.
--RB Nick Hill, Chelsea, Mich. -- A friend of former Michigan RB Mike Hart, Hill has drawn comparisons to Hart as a player. He's small at 5-foot-6, 182 pounds, but explosive and relentless as a runner. He ran for more than 4,000 yards in his final two years of high school, and he'll have a chance to help right away. Mark Dantonio likes Hill a lot as a returner as well.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "None of our guys decommitted. None of our guys who had originally made a commitment went on another visit. And that speaks to the character of not just them but of their families and the people back home, their coaches or whomever. This day and age, when you see people flip-flopping a lot, that's a statement in itself." -- Coach Mark Dantonio.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 LOOK AHEAD: Assuming suspended starters Chris L. Rucker, Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham and are back as expected, Michigan State will have 16 of 24 starters back for a team that should be good enough to finish in the Big Ten's upper division in 2010. The Big Ten's best passing offense returns most of its firepower, while the Big Ten's worst pass defense needs a dramatic makeover.
SPRING SNAPSHOT: Practice begins March 23 through April 24. The spring game is set for 1:30 p.m. April 24.
Offensive line will be the most interesting part of spring ball, with several young players battling for three starting spots vacated by departing fifth-year seniors. During practices last season, much buzz accompanied 6-foot-6, 306-pound freshman Henry Conway, who is expected to compete seriously for the starting RT spot as a redshirt freshman.
One of the biggest questions of the spring will be the status of Keith Nichol. MSU was forced to move the QB to WR for the Alamo Bowl, and the Spartans need his athleticism on the field. Will he continue to chase Kirk Cousins at QB, or make a permanent switch to WR?
Mark Dantonio isn't saying yet.
Defensively, several young players will audition for the spot vacated by DE Trevor Anderson. Redshirt freshman Denzel Drone looks like a future player, as does Corey Freeman, who was academically ineligible in 2009. The Spartans also must replace departed DBs Danny Fortener, Jeremy Ware, Ross Weaver and Kendell Davis-Clark.
PRO POTENTIAL: Michigan State has two players with solid-or-better chances of being drafted and making an NFL roster.
--PK Brett Swenson -- Michigan State's all-time leading scorer and field goal kicker, had seven points including a 43-yard field goal in the Senior Bowl. Swenson is deadly accurate from inside 50 yards, and he drilled three game-winning field goals at MSU.
The only knock on Swenson is the fact that he struggles to kick off into the end zone.
--WR Blair White -- The former walk-on led the Spartans with 70 catches for 990 yards as a senior in a deep receiving corps, and he stood out in the East-West Shrine Game with seven catches for 93 yards. White has size, speed (4.5 in the 40), great hands and crisp route-running ability.
--DE Trevor Anderson -- Anderson's senior season was disappointing from a statistical perspective, with just four sacks after collecting eight as a junior. A big part of that was the fact that defenses could double-team him more without Brandon Long on the other side. Anderson is a solid all-around end who will have a chance to make an NFL camp.
--The Nov. 22 fight at Rather Hall that has immersed the program in controversy added a chapter in late January, when police identified two more players (making 15 total) who were allegedly involved. And one of them -- junior DT Oren Wilson -- started in the Alamo Bowl. Wilson and WR Myles White both face misdemeanor assault and conspiracy charges and are suspended indefinitely.
--Starting WRs Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham both accepted plea deals in the Rather Hall fight. Both admitted to striking people, pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault in exchange for a misdemeanor conspiracy to commit assault charge being dropped. They will be sentenced in March and should emerge with no jail time and clean records as part of a youthful trainee program.
--Several players are hoping to heal from injuries in the offseason, including TE Brian Linthicum (knee), OL David Barrent (back), DT Jerel Worthy (shoulder) and receiver Mark Dell (shoulder). All of the injured players are expected to be healed by spring ball.
2010 Recruiting Wrap: MSU Set For Upward Move
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