MSU coach Mark Dantonio talks about the 2018 recruiting class. Matt Charboneau
La’Darius Jefferson walked into the cafeteria at Muskegon High School as if it were any other school day. Upon arriving, however, he was presented with the Hungry Howies State Champs! Mr. Football Award, an ambush everyone was in on except the senior quarterback.
It had capped a span of several weeks where he had earned new scholarship offers from Michigan State and Indiana, de-committed from Central Florida, won a state championship, and then earned major awards recognition.
Indiana had coaches present in the school that day. The Hoosiers had put a full-court press on Jefferson, who they offered as a quarterback. Michigan State offered as an athlete (he says running back is where he is most likely to begin his career). After some back and forth on when his visits would be, Jefferson locked in an official visit to East Lansing for the weekend of Dec. 8. He committed to the Spartans while on that visit and signed with them Wednesday.
“I think it was visiting the school, being around the players and the coaching staff,” Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield said. “and his mom and grandma going with him and only having to travel an hour and 30 minutes, they could see how close he would be.”
Jefferson moved around some in his youth, and spent time in Mississippi before coming back to Muskegon.
“I think after being so far away from him for so many years, rekindling that relationship and having him back close and thinking he was going to be 1,000 miles away again for college, they got to Michigan State and he got around the players and recruits and saw the joy and happiness in his mom and I think that nailed it,” Fairfield said.
Just a year before, Jefferson had moved back to Muskegon and he was throwing in a gym with his teammates. Kalil Pimpleton was a returning senior at quarterback and a Division-1 recruit (he signed with Virginia Tech and recently transferred to Central Michigan).
Fairfield, offensive coordinator Brent White, and the rest of the Big Red staff devised ways to get both on the field.
Jefferson also moonlighted on defense. That was when Fairfield first noticed the toughness and intensity with which he played. It was tough to detect prior to that because Jefferson is also known as one of the nicest kids in the school.
“He’s a great young man with a machine-type mentality, a Terminator-type mentality when he plays,” Fairfield said. “I’ve never seen a kid be able to turn a switch and be somebody else on the field, but I’m telling you, he puts a helmet on, gets this look on his face and this calm about him and goes about his business.
“It’s crazy to see the La’Darius everybody loves and is so nice and caring turn to this beast of a football player. He does it within the rules, does it with class, and is just very unique.”
It seemed to some on the surface as though Michigan State had come in only at the end, but the truth is, Jefferson and the Big Reds had participated in the Spartans’ 7-on-7 tournament in the summer and he impressed enough, even in that setting, for the coaching staff to ask him back for another camp. He was committed to Scott Frost and UCF at that time, so the process stalled.
In the midst of a special senior season, MSU decided he was a must-have.
The offers, the awards, the sudden attention, were all aspects of the process which Jefferson handled well, as he had everything else during his time at Muskegon.
“It was humbling, honoring for him, and he’s been flattered,” Fairfield said. “He was appreciative because he didn’t get a whole lot of love in the beginning. He had the UCF offer and a couple MAC schools, and he was very thankful for that, but we kept talking about team goals and the individual would take care of itself. He knew the team needed to win it all for him to have a fair shot at winning the individual awards.”
As a junior in the state title game, with Muskegon needing a score at the end of the game, Jefferson interrupted the team huddle. He explained that he meant no disrespect to the seniors, but if they ran the same quarterback run that was stopped on third down, he was getting into the end zone. The Big Reds listened and he scored.
Muskegon would end up losing that game in heartbreaking fashion.
As a senior, he had another opportunity at Ford Field and before the title game against Farmington Hills Harrison, Jefferson told Fairfield he would not let them lose. He was right again.
“When he said something, it happened,” Fairfield said. “When he said, ‘this is it,’ it was it.”
So when Jefferson says his next plans are to recruit four-star wide receiver Tommy Bush to Michigan State and compete for Big Ten titles and national championships in East Lansing, Spartan fans should feel good about his track record.
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.