'The new norm': MSU's Mark Dantonio learning to accept realities of transfer portal
East Lansing — Mark Dantonio made it clear Tuesday, he’s not about to bad-mouth players who enter the NCAA’s transfer portal.
It’s a relevant point considering Michigan State has had six players enter the portal with three — wide receivers Weston Bridges and Cam Chambers as well as tight end Noah Davis — making the choice last week during the Spartans’ bye to transfer.
“First of all, I'm going to take the high road in terms of the transfer portal,” Dantonio said Tuesday as Michigan State gets set to host No. 6 Penn State on Saturday. “There's a lot of young men in the transfer portal right now and if you can break it up by schools, you can break it up by position, you can break it up by year, and it all sort of sorts itself out. It goes in a lot of different directions.
“But I think it's the new norm, sad to say. I think it's the new norm that we'll see in college football. I think it's a little bit — there's a different reason for everybody making these decisions, but I think in the end, it's about an opportunity to play in a lot of ways. It's about patience at times for younger players or for older players. It's about trying to move forward with their careers.”
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That’s the case, it seems, for Michigan State’s players who have now entered the portal.
Junior Connor Heyward and sophomore La’Darius Jefferson, both running backs, had seen their roles diminish significantly with the emergence of redshirt freshman Elijah Collins. Heyward started the opener but had been relegated to a third-down back, opting to skip the Indiana game on Sept. 28 before making his decision two days later.
Jefferson saw limited action through the Ohio State game on Oct. 5 before entering the portal while Chambers had appeared in only two games and Davis was fourth on the depth chart. Bridges had been moved from running back to wide receiver and had yet to play this season while junior linebacker Brandon Bouyer-Randle, the first to enter the portal, had started to lose some playing time as sophomore Noah Harvey began to earn more snaps.
Dantonio said he spoke individually to each player and understood where they were coming from.
“When a scholarship opens up, you try and make yourself better,” Dantonio said. “You try and improve your quality of play. Some guys have played for us and looked for bigger roles. Some guys, quite frankly, haven't played for us and are looking for an opportunity to play elsewhere, and that's the way it's gone. That's probably the way it goes for everybody in America right now.”
This is the second football season the transfer portal has existed. There wasn’t as much action last season and hard numbers are hard to nail down, but Dantonio said he looked at the portal on Tuesday and said there were 344 players listed.
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It’s something that likely isn’t changing and one teams will need to adapt to, both in terms of losing players and seeing who might be available.
“It's one of those things that I think is probably here to stay, and you have to deal with it as a head football coach and as a staff,” Dantonio said. “You really have to look at recruiting and say, ‘OK, you have a guy that's responsible for the portal. I think that when I looked at it, there were 344 names in there. So that's a lot of people. Now where are all those people going to go? I'm not quite sure.”
The new redshirt rules factor in, as well.
Players can now play in up to four games without losing a season of eligibility. The result is players who are unsure of their future with a team start to make decisions around the four-game mark.
Dantonio said he likes the redshirt rule, but like the transfer portal, he and the MSU staff will simply have to adapt.
“I'm just going to try and take the high road with everything and say, ‘OK, this is a decision that young people make and got to deal with it and move forward,’” Dantonio said.
A couple of true freshmen have appeared on this week’s depth chart as defensive end Michael Fletcher is listed No. 3 behind Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley while Adam Berghorst is listed at defensive end and tight end.
Fletcher missed the first part of the season with a foot injury while Berghorst, who also intends to play baseball, has steadily been improving since preseason camp.
“Fletcher has been out, so he's back in pads now,” Dantonio said. “He was back last week. He was a guy that looked exciting initially in camp, so he's back now. How much he'll play will depend on how well he practices this week and that type of things, depth issues, things of that nature. I think he'll be active on the sidelines and he'll travel.
“Adam Berghorst was a tight end in high school. He's a big 6-7, 262-pound guy. … He's a dual guy. He's played defensive end. He'll be a dual guy, so he'll get opportunities to look at both ends of the spectrum, but we'll list him in both areas right now."
Dantonio said sophomore wide receiver Jalen Nailor, who played in the opener before suffering a foot injury, is close to getting back on the field.
“We're looking for Jalen's return this season yet, and I think he will make it,” Dantonio said. “We'll see where he's at, because he could be redshirted.”
… Junior left tackle AJ Arcuri is back on the depth chart and Dantonio said he could return this week.