Michigan State's exposure aids recruiting

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State won't play a football game for a little more than four months, but it's hard to ignore the momentum the Spartans have created heading into the offseason.

The on-field success has been hard to match the past five seasons, and the result was a record 48,000 fans at last weekend's spring game. And heading into this season, expectations will be as high as ever considering the Spartans likely will be a top-10 team with aspirations of winning a Big Ten championship and reaching the College Football Playoff.

But another indicator of Michigan State's success is recruiting, where five players committed to the class of 2016 in five days, including a four-star quarterback and a four-star receiver.

"I think recruiting has sort of taken off a little bit, and that's a positive," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "We're excited about the movement with that."

Quarterback Messiah deWeaver was the first big-name prospect to pledge for Michigan State last week, and receiver Justin Layne announced his intentions last weekend. By the end of the weekend, Michigan State had seven players in its class with the three major recruiting services — Rivals.com, Scout.com and 247sports.com — ranking the Spartans in the top 25.

"I think there is a little bit more momentum that builds each year based on the continued success of the program and the continued success on the recruiting trail," said Allen Trieu, director of Midwest scouting for Scout.com. "I do think that you see more of the highly ranked kids and blue-chip type guys interested in Michigan State this year, and committing to Michigan State in some cases, than you have in years past."

There's obvious reasons that is happening, and 53 victories the last five years helps, as do two Big Ten titles and victories in the Rose and Cotton bowls.

And as important as it has been for the football team to succeed on a national level — the Spartans have won four straight bowls and finished in the top five each of the past two seasons — exposure as a whole helps, too.

The best example was the basketball team's run to the Final Four last season.

"You should have seen the social media feeds for all the recruits," said Curtis Blackwell, Michigan State's director of college advancement and performance. "The value of getting MSU prime-time television ratings three weeks in a row; I couldn't pay for that. ... It helped remind people who we are and what we are doing."

That momentum, Blackwell said, carried into the spring game, and will help coaches the next few weeks on the road meeting with recruits.

But as important as those meetings are, getting players on campus is the big key.

"You look at some of the guys that have turned into top recruits for the 2016 and 2017 class, a lot of those guys visited Michigan State several times in the past," Trieu said. "Even before they had an offer from Michigan State or really had offers from anybody or were high-profile recruits."

Blackwell uses his connections as a former coach in Detroit and the founder of the Sound Mind and Body camp to help get players to Michigan State, but he is quick to point out his role is simply helping what was already a system that identified quality players.

"The coaching staff is excellent at identifying talent, and what I've done is really managing and organizing so we can systematically get those kids on campus every chance that we get," Blackwell said.

Right now, the Spartans are high on the list of several top prospects — Detroit King wide receiver Donnie Corley, Farmington Hills Harrison defensive end Khalid Kareem, Pennsylvania offensive lineman Michal Menet, Indianapolis running back Chris Evans, Darien, Ill., defensive end Josh King, and Fort Wayne, Ind., tight end Auston Robertson.

"These are four-star, nationally ranked guys who have Michigan State very high on their lists," Trieu said.

There seems little doubt Michigan State will land its share, and seeing Trae Waynes become the second straight first-round NFL pick Thursday won't hurt.

Blackwell, however, knows he and the Spartans are in the position they want to be — winning games and recruits.

"It's a good thing a lot of people want to be part of your program," Blackwell said. "Some teams are selling hope but we are selling success."