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Trieu: Top Michigan State recruits driven by common goal

Allen Trieu, Special to The Detroit News
Donovan Winter

Upon retiring from the NFL, Blaise Winter began speaking at clinics and helping schools with defensive line technique. One of the schools he worked with from approximately 2005-08 was Michigan State. In 2005, his son Donovan was only 6, but his father’s stories about working with the Spartans stuck with him. He decided at an early age that he wanted to be a Spartan.

That could be seen as the foundation of the 2017 recruiting class for Michigan State, young Donovan Winter deciding more than 10 years ago he would play in Spartan Stadium one day.

Not too long after that, Hunter Rison began building a closer relationship with his father, Michigan State great Andre Rison. He watched videos of his dad from college and the NFL. He decided he was going to be better than his father and carve his own path. That own path may have led him away from East Lansing.

But on April 9, 2015, he visited Michigan State for the second time and head coach Mark Dantonio offered him a scholarship and something changed. The desire to make his own name was still there, as was the desire to be better than his father, but maybe he could do that at the same school. He liked Coach Dantonio and liked the rest of the staff.

Trieu: Roots of UM’s 2017 class go back long way

Two months later, at the Spartans’ Elite Camp, Rison committed, becoming the first member of the 2017 class.

That same month, a rising junior quarterback named Rocky Lombardi attended camp at Michigan State. He left the Spartans’ camp without an offer. It was early in his recruitment, though. After all, he had yet to even play his junior year. He would have to go out and earn the offer with his play that fall.

In November of that year, fearing he committed too early, Rison re-opened his recruitment.

A few days before that happened, the Spartan assistants were pulling up film of top juniors for Dantonio to watch. After three plays of Matt Dotson’s film, Dantonio told his staff that was a national prospect they were watching and they needed to offer him.

Hailing from a Cincinnati Moeller program that had sent the Spartans Greg Jones and Monty Madaris, Dotson had not been to Michigan State, but quickly looked for home games he could potentially get to before the season ended.  Dantonio’s words about Dotson’s national-level talent proved to be prophetic as eight months later he was chosen for Nike’s The Opening Finals, where a select group of the best recruits in America competed. It was there that he announced his verbal commitment to Michigan State. Detroit Cass Tech offensive lineman Jordan Reid did the same.

After the 2016 class signed in February of that year, the 2017 class began to move more quickly. At the end of February, MSU offered a mauler of an offensive lineman named Kevin Jarvis. A week later, they extended an offer to an in-state wide receiver named Cody White, whose recruitment was just beginning to take off with Big Ten offers.

Lombardi continued to call the staff, in particular, Brad Salem, every week. At the end of March, the conversation went a little differently than past conversations had. Salem wanted Lombardi to speak with Dantonio. He passed the phone to another coach while he went to find Dantonio. By the time Salem tracked down Dantonio in the middle of a workout, Lombardi had spoken to five other coaches on staff. After catching his breath, Dantonio told Lombardi he had an offer from the Spartans.

Despite having recently added an in-state offer from Iowa, Lombardi remembered what he had experienced at camp with the Spartans, he remembered what Spartan Stadium was like when he visited and saw the team defeat visiting Oregon. With that in mind and the relationship he had built with the coaching staff, Lombardi took only four days to contemplate the offer before accepting it.

It did not hurt either that he would have two excellent receivers in the same class. White had committed two weeks before and Rison re-committed only two days before Lombardi jumped on board.

As the Spartans prepared for their annual spring game, they received a commitment from physical Ohio offensive lineman Matt Carrick. Two more Ohioans followed after the game, linebacker Darien Tipps-Clemons and running back Weston Bridges.

In June, defensive lineman Jacub Panasiuk committed, following his brother Mike, who was just beginning summer work as a freshman on the team.

At the Spartan Elite Camp, Lombardi, White and other commits worked together as Spartans for the first time. An offensive lineman named Mustafa Khaleefah was attending his second camp in a row at Michigan State. An Iraqi refugee who was relatively new to football, the hulking 6-foot-6 Khaleefah impressed the staff with his willingness to camp twice to earn an offer. He was tough, he listened and was coachable, and those qualities were what they wanted. He would commit to a Spartan offer just days later.

Speaking of going to great lengths to earn an offer, one of Khaleefah’s toughest tests during camp came from a defensive end who came all the way up from Florida looking for an offer. He ran circles around the competition. That kid was Donovan Winter, the young man who had listened to his father’s stories and had the dream of being a Spartan. Apparently he has listened to his father’s coaching, as well, as he had now developed into a 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior with excellent technique and explosiveness. Michigan had offered him a scholarship earlier in the summer, but this was the one he wanted.

The camp left no doubt he was a Spartan-caliber player and he accepted the offer quickly after receiving it.

A recruiting class 12 years in the making, and one with a group of kids who had their dreams fulfilled.

Florida defensive end visiting

Bartow (Fla.) defensive end L.J Cummings will take an official to Michigan State this weekend. Cummings (6-4, 210 pounds) has offers from Cincinnati, Iowa State, Louisville, Marshall, Western Kentucky and more.

Blue chip 2019 offensive lineman offered

Chatham (Ill.) Glenwood sophomore William Putnam was offered by the Spartans on Wednesday. Putnam (6-4, 265 pounds) camped with Michigan State last summer. He has additional offers from Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Arkansas, Georgia and more.

More information

Donovan Winter profile 

Hunter Rison profile 

Rocky Lombardi profile 

Allen Trieu began covering the state of Michigan for Scout.com in 2005 and began managing the entire Midwest in 2009. He has been featured on the Big Ten Network on its annual Signing Day Show. His Michigan and Michigan State recruiting columns appear weekly at detroitnews.com.