Stars brighten Michigan State's familiar blue-collar recruiting class
East Lansing — When Michigan State signs the bulk of its 2019 recruiting class on Wednesday, it will have a familiar look.
The Spartans and coach Mark Dantonio have built the program over the past 12 years by bringing tough, hard-nosed players from the Midwest, many who think they’ve been overlooked by some of the bigger powers in the region like Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame.
What makes this group a bit different from at least the last couple of seasons is there happens to be a little more star power at the top.
“When you look at maybe 90 percent of the class it’s a very classic Michigan State: Midwestern kids, tough football players from good high school programs, and some guys that maybe rose up as seniors,” said Allen Trieu, Midwest recruiting analyst for 247Sports. “I think where maybe this class gets pushed a little bit to where I think it’s a little bit better than the last couple of classes is you have a couple legitimate bell cows.
“You have a five-star in Devontae Dobbs. You’ve got Julian Barnett, who is a four-star, All-American that a lot of schools came in after. So maybe a little more star power at the top of the class than you’ve had in some of the other recent classes.’
Dobbs and Barnett were teammates at Belleville, which reached the Division 1 state semifinals. Barnett was the second player to commit to the class, giving his pledge nearly a year ago. One of the top cornerbacks in the nation, Barnett could play on both sides of the ball. He’ll play in the Under Armour All-American game in January.
He’ll be joined by Dobbs, the five-star offensive tackle from Belleville and No. 1 Detroit News Blue Chip recruit who turned down offers from nearly every major program in the country to choose Michigan State.
According to the 247Sports composite rankings, the last five-star to sign with Michigan State was defensive lineman Malik McDowell in 2014. The only other time Dantonio has landed a five-star was in 2010 when defensive end William Gholston came to East Lansing. Both Gholston and McDowell left after their junior seasons for the NFL.
But Michigan State has made its name on turning the middle-of-the-pack recruits into household names. Trieu believes there’s several possibilities for the same result in this class.
“Luke Fulton,” Trieu said quickly. “Michigan State has always done well with linebackers out of Ohio. I can go back and name a bunch of them — Joe Bachie, currently. And Luke comes from a great high school program. We bumped him up to a four-star after his senior year, and I think when you watch him play, the way he plays just screams Michigan State linebacker.
“Nick Samac and J.D. Duplain along the offensive line are two more guys from Ohio, kind of tough, Midwestern offensive linemen. And then Brandon Wright. Michigan State has always had some success with some bigger running backs. Le’Veon (Bell) was a guy from Ohio who was kind of a big kid who didn’t maybe have a huge recruiting profile, and Brandon kind of fits along with that mold as well.”
Wright, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound back from Euclid, Ohio, would certainly qualify as a player who is under the radar. Trieu added Alante Brown, a quarterback from Chicago Simeon who will come to Michigan State as a wide receiver, and quarterback Payton Thorne in that group.
Brown was elevated to a four-star by 247Sports while Thorne was flipped last week from Western Michigan.
“You flip a guy from Western Michigan, that maybe doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but you read about the kid’s pedigree and see what he did the last couple of years,” Trieu said. “He could end up being a really nice late find. You know, Kirk Cousins was a similar kind of guy. Probably headed to the MAC until Michigan State came in a week or so before signing day. So, Payton kind of maybe sneaks in here under the radar a little bit, but he’s a really good football player.”
There shouldn’t be much drama on Wednesday for the Spartans, at least in terms of losing any committed players. Dantonio said during the Redbox Bowl press conference that he expects all of Michigan State’s commitments to sign Wednesday.
Ohio State has taken a run at some of Michigan State’s recruits, but it appears no flips are imminent.
“I think any worry has been alleviated,” Trieu said. “They took care of that. J.D. Duplain was looking at Ohio State. Ohio State came in on Samac, but he never really, truly seemed like he was interested so I think they’ve kind of gotten J.D. closed down. He was the one true worry. You never rule anything out the last couple of days before signing day, but based on what we’re seeing and hearing in think everything seems to be pretty settled in as to who will sign on Wednesday.”
The Spartans are still looking to add a few more players, either this week or in February during the traditional signing period.
Defensive tackle Cavon Butler of Toledo Whitmer said he’ll sign Wednesday. He’s committed to Kentucky, but Michigan State has been making a push and Ohio State has shown some interest. MSU is also after defensive end Keith Randolph of Belleville, Ill., who said will be making his decision Wednesday as well.
Three-star athlete Jordan Huff of Madison, Ga., who was once a Michigan State commit, made an official visit last weekend and is currently committed to Georgia Tech. There’s a chance he could flip back. Michigan State is also after tight end Brett Seither of Clearwater, Fla., and wide receiver Tre’Von Morgan of Massillon, Ohio, though both likely won’t sign until February.
As for Michigan State’s offensive struggles this season, Trieu said he hasn’t seen it negatively affect recruiting.
“I think when you look at this class and the offensive kids that they have, most were committed before the season started,” Trieu said. “Payton Thorne is one of the few that I think committed afterward so I have not noticed too much of an effect. I have not heard any recruits bring it up, to be honest. I’m sure some other schools would try and use that as maybe negative recruiting, but the bulk of the offensive class was sewn up before the season.”