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Michigan State not afraid to take swings at two-sport recruits

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Adam Berghorst

Chicago — Recruiting is hardly an exact science, so when it comes to landing the best football players, making sure you bring in athletic guys is never a bad thing.

That’s what Michigan State did when it signed wide receiver Jase Bowen and defensive end Adam Berghorst to the 2019 class. Both were three-star football prospects and highly rated baseball prospects.

As the Spartans get set to report for preseason camp on July 31, one of those players will be on campus while the other is playing minor league baseball.

Berghorst, a 14th-round selection of the Texas Rangers, opted to wait on his professional baseball career while Bowen, who was taken in the 11th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, decided to chase his dream of playing baseball for a living.

“We had two guys drafted in Major League Baseball,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Thursday at Big Ten media days, “and to me that tells me you’ve recruited good athletes. They’re not just football players, they are athletes, in general. Adam Berghorst decided to make the college trip and Jase Bowen decided to go play for the Pirates.”

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Bowen, a receiver from Toledo Catholic Central, first committed to play baseball at Notre Dame before interest grew in football. It wasn’t long after he decommitted from the Fighting Irish that he pledged to play both sports at Michigan State.

“Jase chose baseball at this point in time, but we left on good terms and I think that’s the important thing,” Dantonio said. “It’s their life. I’m just here to help them toward their dreams.”

As for Berghorst, the Zeeland native still intends to play two sports at Michigan State.

However, Dantonio is confident he has the chance to be a star on the gridiron.

“He wanted to be in college and play baseball and football,” Dantonio said. “Watching Adam it’s hard for me to say this, but he’s a legitimate 6-7, 255 pounds. When you watch his explosiveness in drills out there and how he goes about his business, he will be an outstanding football player.”

Willekes 'ready to go'

Kenny Willekes knew before the Redbox Bowl had ended that he was coming back for his senior season.

The Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year broke his leg in the first half, and when he came out in the second half, he told linebacker Joe Bachie, “Guess I’m coming back next year.”

OK, so Willekes at least contemplated a jump to the NFL, but it didn’t take long for him to decide he’d be back for one last season. And now that he has, he’s working hard to prove he hasn’t missed a beat even with the injury.

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“The speed is starting to come back more and more, each and every week, each and every workout,” Willekes said. “My leg is fully healed, 100 percent. It still bothers me from time to time, but I’ve been able to go through all the summer workouts with the team. Week one against Tulsa, I’ll be ready to go.”

Willekes said he was good to go by May and even took part in Von Miller’s pass rush summit in June.

Brotherly duo

There’s more than one Willekes on the roster this season.

Joining Kenny is his younger brother, Charles. He’s a walk-on from Northpointe Christian, just like his brother. Kenny even said Charles might be more athletic.

“Just don’t tell him I said that,” Kenny Willekes said.

Whether Charles follows the same path as Kenny from walk-on to All-American will be tough, but it didn’t take much for Dantonio to offer Charles a spot.

“Kenny told me ‘He’s just like me,’” Dantonio said with a smile. “I said, ‘Oh, we better take a look at that guy.’”

Extra points

Dantonio said Michigan State is relatively healthy heading into the start of preseason camp on July 31. Only fifth-year senior offensive lineman Tyler Higby will be limited but should be good to go by the time the season starts on Aug. 30.

“Tyler Higby won’t start camp,” Dantonio said. “He’s adjusting to his surgery but should be ready by the end of August, I think.”

… Michigan State saw limited attrition from last season’s roster and even added a player in Western Michigan receiver Jayden Reed. He led the Broncos with 56 catches for 797 yards and eight touchdowns last season and was named to the All-MAC second team.

He’ll likely have to sit out this season, though Michigan State will take a shot at a waiver from the NCAA.

“We’ve applied but I don’t think it’s gonna happen,” Dantonio said. “It’s unfortunate because there is so much inconsistency in that.”

… Dantonio was asked if he’d had any contact with former Spartan Malik McDowell, who is dealing with legal troubles after being charged with assaulting a police officer as well as being tied to an investigation surrounding stolen trucks.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about that,” Dantonio said. “Wish him the best. Those problems were not here.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau