Jalen Watts-Jackson, left, was offered a scholarship by Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan and Idaho before choosing Michigan State. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Throughout Mark Dantonio’s tenure in East Lansing, Michigan State has regularly taken under-the-radar players – not highly ranked or highly recruited -- and turned them into All-Big Ten performers and sent them to the NFL.
This year’s prime example is Darqueze Dennard, rated a two-star recruit at his Georgia high school as a senior in 2009. Dennard had only two other offers – from non-BCS schools Middle Tennessee State and Utah State. Now, Dennard is projected as a first-round selection in the NFL draft after winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in the nation.
With that in mind, here are five Michigan State players in the 2014 recruiting class that could follow in that same lineage of success in East Lansing.
OT Nick Padla, Berrien Springs, Mich. -- Padla earned his MSU offer. He came to junior days, visits, camped with the Spartans, and ended the summer without an offer. Rather than commit elsewhere or give up on his dream, he made sure he dominated early-season scrimmages and sent that film to MSU. It intrigued MSU enough to attend one of his early-season games, where his performance was strong enough to seal the deal and earn an offer. That story says it all about the 6-foot-6, 270-pound Padla. He’s a tough, hard-working kid who plays with a nasty disposition.
CB Jalen Watts-Jackson, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s -- When he arrived at Michigan State’s summer camp in June, Watts-Jackson only had offers from three other programs, none from the BCS schools. By the middle of the camp, his quickness and playmaking skills had taken over and he was raising eyebrows with spectacular interceptions and pass breakups. He quickly vaulted ahead of others who were expected to earn offers, and walked away with a Spartan opportunity that he accepted soon after. Now he looks to become the next under-the-radar cover corner the Spartans turn into an All-Big Ten performer.
DT David Beedle, Clarkston -- There is a theme here of having to earn offers, and Beedle did just that. He came to camp and showed attributes the Spartan defense values, namely a high motor and toughness. Now up to 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, he moves better than most kids his size and plays with a lot of tenacity. After helping his team to a state title as a senior by starting on both lines, look for him to battle, claw and push his way onto the field before too long at MSU.
S Matt Morrissey, Lincolnshire, Ill. -- A legacy recruit, Morrissey’s father Jim Morrissey played for the Spartans and in the NFL as a linebacker. At 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, moving to linebacker is not out of the question for the younger Morrissey. But the same instincts, smarts and ball skills that made him an all-state performer as a safety should allow him to stay there in college. While he may not have blazing 4.3 speed, what he has between his ears and his feel for the game has regularly allowed him to be in the right places at the right times.
LB Deon Drake, Detroit Cass Tech -- After starring as a sophomore for Cass Tech as a running back and linebacker, Drake hurt his knee as a junior and missed a good portion of his senior year. He returned at the end and will be healthy and ready by the time he hits campus. Yet, because he was injured, he does not always get the attention he deserves. He is a good athlete who had the speed to play tailback for one of the state’s top teams, and that ability to run to the football is something the Spartans will take full advantage of.