While Michigan State’s players have begun to start practicing for the Redbox Bowl matchup with Oregon on New Year’s Eve, the coaching staff has been busy hitting the road.
With the early signing period starting next week — players can sign from Dec. 19-21 — Mark Dantonio and his assistants have been busy trying to add a few more members to the 2019 class while sealing the deal with the 18 players who already have verbally committed.
It’s the second year teams have been able to sign players during December, and Dantonio expects to be busy next week on the first day of the period, much like the Spartans were last season when all 20 committed players at the time signed on the first day.
“I expect for all of them to sign on the 19th,” Dantonio said late last week during a press conference promoting the Redbox Bowl. “It's been a good thing for us and allows them to move on to the next phase of their life.”
Last year’s class added two more players — wide receiver Jalen Nailor and defensive lineman Dashaun Mallory — in early 2018.
Whether that happens this year remains to be seen, but the Spartans are pushing hard to add some talent to the class while also fitting in time to prepare for Oregon. It’s made the month of December a busier one than it used to be.
“It puts an emphasis on this time of year, that's for sure. There's no question about that,” Dantonio said. “It was very smooth for us last year, and I expect the same to be true this year. Recruiting has become very accelerated, so most of our players have been committed for a very long time.”
Michigan State, which just capped a disappointing 7-5 season, has its sights set on a few more players, including three-star quarterback Payton Thorne. The product of Naperville (Ill.) Central is committed to Western Michigan, but recently received an offer from the Spartans.
There likely will also be a push to add another defensive lineman or two.
Keith Randolph, a three-star defensive end from Belleville (Ill.) West has added several late offers, including one from Michigan State. He could wait until February to sign, as several other Big Ten teams are in the mix for the 6-5, 270-pounder, including Iowa and Purdue.
Michigan State’s class currently ranks No. 26 in the composite rankings from 247Sports.com, led by five-star offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs of Belleville. He’s joined by high school teammate Julian Barnett, a four-star cornerback. Offensive lineman Spencer Brown of Walled Lake Western is rated a four-star prospect from Rivals.com.
Michigan State junior defensive end Kenny Willekes had a breakout season for the Spartans and has been busy pulling in the postseason awards.
On Tuesday, Willekes was named second-team All-American by The Sporting News, a day after he earned the same recognition from the Football Writers Association of America. Last week, Willekes was named second-team All-American by the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
The Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the year has 20.5 tackles for loss, ranking first in the conference and second all-time in Michigan State history. It ranks sixth in the nation as the 6-foot-4, 260-pound native of Rockford also leads the Spartans with 8.5 sacks, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten. The former walk-on has registered a career-high 76 tackles to rank first among all defensive lineman in the nation, including a career-high 13 against Ohio State on Nov. 3.
Scott to Senior Bowl
Just a few days after declaring he would enter the NFL Draft instead of returning to Michigan State for a fifth season, running back LJ Scott accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, joining Spartans safety Khari Willis, who already had taken a spot.
The Senior Bowl will be played at 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 26 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Scott and Willis playing in the game marks the first time a Spartan has played in the game since 2016 when offensive lineman Jack Allen, wide receiver Aaron Burbridge and defensive lineman Lawrence Thomas played. Defensive lineman Shilique Calhoun accepted an invitation, but had to later pull out of the event because of a wrist injury.