Dismissals, departures riddle MSU’s ‘Dream Team’ class
East Lansing — In the spring of 2015, there was something big happening around Michigan State football.
Coming off a Cotton Bowl victory over Baylor and just a year removed from a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl victory, coach Mark Dantonio was validating all the success he’d brought to the Spartans by rolling up commitments from one four-star recruit after another.
By the time that class signed in early February 2016, it had 20 commitments and 11 with four-star ratings from Rivals.com. It ranked 18th best in the nation and arguably was the best of Dantonio’s tenure at Michigan State.
The players in the class had taken to calling themselves the Dream Team, even creating a Twitter handle, @DreamTeam2016.
However, almost 16 months after that group signed their letters of intent to play for the Spartans, the dream is far from a reality. The news Tuesday that Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance had been dismissed from the team after being charged with criminal sexual conduct was the biggest blow to the class, but not the first.
“I’m angry,” coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday. “I don’t want to say betrayed. I’m angry. I feel like the education was there. I feel like I’ve talked about the sense of responsibility that our players have — not to be a good football player, but to be a good person, to do their very best.”
That clearly wasn’t enough, and the news Tuesday was just the latest for a class that is quickly coming apart.
Defensive end Auston Robertson was dismissed from the team in April after being charged with criminal sexual conduct, while just last week defensive back Kenney Lyke said he was transferring after coming up a credit short of being eligible last semester.
Add in the departure of offensive lineman Thiyo Lukusa in February — he left school, saying he no longer wanted to play football — and that’s five players that were four-star members of the 2016 class who are no longer with the team.
All would have been expected to play major roles for Michigan State this fall, none bigger than Corley, who earned Freshman All-American honors by the Football Writers Association of America as a wide receiver while being named to the All-Big Ten Freshman teams by BTN.com and ESPN.com. A state champion at Detroit King as a senior in 2015, Corley had 33 catches for 453 yards and three touchdowns in 2016. The 453 receiving yards were the most by a true freshman in Michigan State history and his 33 catches were second-most by a true freshman. Corley also had five tackles while seeing action in four games at cornerback.
King and Robertson were the best bet to start at each defensive end, as King started twice as a freshman and Robertson was active in the spring game.
Lukusa saw action in eight games as a true freshman in 2016 and would have competed for a starting spot this fall, while Lyke played in three games last season at safety and special teams. Vance redshirted, but his chances of contributing seemed high in a secondary that appears wide open heading into the fall.
“There is no question that at this point in time, our situation impedes progress,” Dantonio said in May. “It makes it difficult to go day to day without dealing with some problem or dealing with some sort of issue that has to do with the whole. … But there’s no question we’ve come together as a football team and come together as a group of people.”
Coming together will be vital this fall and while the 2016 class has taken a hit, the Spartans will be counting on several from that group to step into larger roles.
Wide receiver Trishton Jackson had an outstanding spring while Cam Chambers is coming off a redshirt year and will get a shot to catch plenty of passes. Up front, redshirt freshman Luke Campbell likely will start at right guard while the likes of Matt Allen and A.J. Arcuri could crack the offensive line rotation.
On the other side of the ball, Justin Layne will be counted on at cornerback after starting five games last season, and still could see some time at wide receiver while linebacker Joe Bachie likely will start in the middle with Brandon Randle set to chip in on the outside. Mike Panasiuk likely will start at tackle after a solid freshman season, while Naquan Jones had a solid spring after redshirting, as did defensive back Austin Andrews.
Needless to say, the Dream Team has taken a hit, but if Michigan State gets back on track, that class still likely will play a key role.
“We needed to re-center ourselves, even before this happened just relative to football,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “We need to go come back with a sense of direction, a sense of purpose and those types of things. And I need to challenge myself as the new coach and look at things in different ways and do some different things. That’s going to happen. When you have a tough year that’s going to happen.”