East Lansing – Last April, as Michigan State was preparing for its spring game, it was in the midst of watching quite a bit of transition at the wide receiver positon.
Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery were just days away from being selected in the NFL draft, and Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr. were about to play in their last spring game heading into their senior seasons.
Needless to say, wide receiver was becoming a position of need for Michigan State, but by the end of the day on April 25, the Spartans had already taken a couple of big steps.
It was on that day Justin Layne of Cleveland Benedictine said he would play at Michigan State. That added to Michigan State’s first commit – four-star receiver Cam Chambers of Sicklerville (N.J.) Timber Creek. Later came a commitment from West Bloomfield’s Trishton Jackson and the class of impressive receivers was rounded out in early January when Detroit King star Donnie Corley committed.
Corley and Chambers are already on campus as early enrollees and will have a shot to contribute right away. The same can be said for Layne, and even though he won’t be on campus until early this summer, he’s eager to get started.
“I can’t wait,” Layne told The Detroit News this week, just days ahead of Wednesday’s National Signing Day. “Of course it will be one of the biggest days of my life, so I can’t wait.”
Layne had 46 catches for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior at Benedictine and in a state playoff game had school-record 12 catches for 187 yards and two touchdowns.
The four-star prospect is ranked the No. 1 receiver in Ohio, according to Scout.com, and he is ranked the No. 22 receiver in the nation by 247Sports.com.
“He has size (6-3, 180), deep speed and can really make things happen after the catch as well,” said Allen Trieu, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. “It’s funny to call a four-star kid a sleeper but at this point, he's one of the kids in the class that I think can be a real surprise because you didn't hear much about him after he committed.”
Much of that was due to the amount of highly-rated receivers in the class and the drawn-out recruitment of Corley that went into early this year.
“Really, he's become a little bit of the forgotten man at the wide receiver position because Donnie Corley and Trishton Jackson are both in-state and both had outstanding senior seasons, and then Cam Chambers was an All American,” Trieu said. “So Justin maybe didn't get the pub that those guys got this year but he still is an outstanding prospect.”
And at a position the Spartans are looking for depth – only senior R.J. Shelton returns with extensive game experience – Layne will have a shot to get on the field right away. However, he’s not putting any expectations on himself other than working hard.
“I’m not looking at it like that,” Layne said. “My first year I want to soak it all in and then try and somehow get on the field however I can. That can be special teams, wide receiver – any way.”
There’s little doubt Corley and Chambers have a leg up considering they’re already on campus, but the Spartans have shown they have no problem playing freshman receivers. Felton Davis played in 2015 and is just the latest example.
That means the door is open for any of the freshmen to step in.
“They have an advantage because they come now,” coach Mark Dantonio said of Chambers and Corley. “They will have an advantage of six or seven months of conditioning and weight training, working on their mentality of just being in college. Secondly they have spring practice and all the time leading up to spring practice and all the time after spring practice to be able to learn things conceptually, so when they get to summer camp they're going to be seeing this for the second time.
“We had freshmen play here. Burbridge played a lot, probably our go-to guy as a freshman in 2012. Macgarrett Kings played some as a true freshman, Keshawn Martin had a big year as a true freshman in 2008; played all four years. B.J. Cunningham played as a redshirt freshman. Tony as a redshirt freshman. We've have had guys come and play early, but the difference is we have always had guys -- the cycle is turning.”
That cycle continues this season and Layne might just be the next in line.
MICHIGAN STATE FOOTBALL COMMITMENTS 2016
Matt Allen, C, Hinsdale (Ill.) Central High (6-3, 270)
Austin Andrews, CB, St. Francis DeSales High, Columbus, Ohio (6-0, 180)
A.J. Arcuri, OT, Olentangy Liberty High, Powell, Ohio (6-6, 260)
Joe Bachie, OLB, Berea (Ohio) High (6-2, 225)
Luke Campbell, G, Olentangy High, Lewis Center, Ohio (6-4, 275)
Cameron Chambers, WR, Timber Creek High, Sicklerville, N.J. (6-3, 200)
Matthew Coghlin, K, Cincinnati Moeller, Cincinnati (5-10, 180)
Donnie Corley, WR / DB, Detroit King (6-2, 187)
Noah Davis, TE, Cincinnati St. Xavier High (6-5, 230)
Messiah deWeaver, QB, Wayne High, Huber Heights, Ohio (6-3, 215)
Trishton Jackson, WR, West Bloomfield High (6-3, 190)
Naquan Jones, DT, Evanston (Ill.) Township High (6-3, 327)
Josh King, DE, Hinsdale South High, Darien, Ill. (6-6, 233)
Justin Layne, WR, Cleveland Benedictine High (6-3, 180)
Thiyo Lukusa, G, De Paul Catholic High, Wayne, N.J. (6-5, 300)
Kenney Lyke, S, William Fremd High, Palatine, Ill. (6-2, 185)
Mike Panasiuk, DT, Lake Park High, Roselle, Ill. (6-3, 280)
Brandon Randle, OLB, Battle Creek Central High (6-2, 215)
Auston Robertson, DE, Wayne High, Fort Wayne, Ind. (6-4, 262)
Demetric Vance, S, Detroit Cass Tech High (6-2, 195)