Spartans look regionally for 2020 class, but not from own backyard

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Wednesday that recruiting has moved more regionally in recent years, and players are staying close to home.

Although, based on the number of in-state recruits the Spartans inked as the early signing period opened Wednesday, they aren’t coming in from MSU’s own backyard.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio welcomed 19 recruits who signed with the Spartans on Wednesday.

Dantonio secured 13 of his 19 signees from the Midwest, but only three from Michigan, tying for the fewest in the coach’s 14 MSU classes.

The coach said Michigan State had less in-state targets this year, and “there’s numbers issues at times in each place.”

“We're going to recruit Michigan hard,” Dantonio said. “We're going to be in every high school and work at it. It is sort of what it is sometimes.”

More: Recap: Early Signing Day

More: 'A typical class': MSU's 2020 recruiting efforts haven't been flashy, but there's potential there

More locals could sign in February, and there’s no way to know now how the 19 players who signed Wednesday will turn out — recruiting services rank this MSU class near their typical levels.

But the amount of players from the Great Lakes State — as only offensive lineman Dallas Fincher of East Kentwood, tight end Tommy Guajardo of Dearborn and wide receiver Ian Stewart of Gibraltar Carlson signed — is down from previous years.

Dantonio signed 106 in-state recruits in his first 13 MSU classes, an average of more than eight per season. Only the 2013 class of three in-state recruits is similar, with six on two occasions being the next lowest.

The Spartans landed the top player on the Detroit News Blue Chip list in three of the last four seasons, and typically grabs more than one Top 10 prospect. This year, No. 12 Fincher is the highest on that list.

There’s a bit of in-state turmoil around the program these days, as former MSU staffer Curtis Blackwell, a former key Metro Detroit recruiter, is suing current and former university officials over unfair termination and unlawful arrest.

The Spartans got their 19 of 20 expected signings by 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. Only Jordon Simmons, a running back from Powder Springs, Ga., did not sign as expected. He told The Detroit News that he will sign in February.

“We will continue to recruit into February, a couple guys sitting on the fence,” Dantonio said, noting he expects current commits to stay committed, though he can’t talk publicly about unsigned prospects like Simmons. “We will try to address the running back situation going forward.”

Another option at running back is the transfer portal, which Dantonio said the team could explore at several positions, including running back. The coach declined to speculate on the number of potential total signees in this class after February's traditional signing day.

For now, it’s a typical collection of 3-star talents for Dantonio, who has proven to coach up many similar-statured prospects into solid performers and many pros over the years.

But there’s more angst these days as the program enters the Pinstripe Bowl next week against Wake Forest with a 13-12 record over the past two seasons.

This year’s class provides the usual glimmers of hope that things could turn back into a positive direction like earlier in the decade, when Dantonio led the Spartans to five double-digit win seasons over six years.

On Wednesday, Michigan State’s class was ranked 42nd nationally and 11th in the Big Ten by 247Sports. had the Spartans at No. 35 in the country and 10th in the Big Ten.

According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, every MSU player in the class is rated as a three-star prospect. Those rankings vary slightly by each site, as 247Sports lists safety Darius Snow and cornerback Angelo Grose as four-star prospects while has wide receiver Terry Lockett as a four-star.

Dantonio said Grose could see some time in the return game, and Lockett could ultimately switch to defense, though he will start at receiver.

As for quarterback, Dantonio said Noah Kim of Centreville, Va. is slight at 180 pounds, but has been eyed by Michigan State since he came to a camp there as a sophomore.

He’s the first quarterback Dantonio has come across with a black belt in karate.

“Hopefully he doesn't get too much criticism,” Dantonio deadpanned.

Snow is the son of former Michigan State point guard Eric Snow and nephew of All-America linebacker Percy Snow. Dantonio said his weight has dropped from about 215 pounds to 196, impressing with his football knowledge and striking ability.

One of seven early enrollees, Dantonio said Snow should be a factor in fall camp. With Snow’s MSU lineage, it might be natural for him to be a leader in East Lansing.

On Tuesday night, he served as a bit of a spokesperson for his class on social media, downplaying the importance of the star system in recruiting.

“We work hard, and compete,” Snow posted on Twitter. “No matter what. We taking over, best believe it.”

Michigan State had some misses on Wednesday, as the two-year saga of Chicago wide receiver Alante Brown, who was once committed last year to Michigan State, ended with his signing with Nebraska out of his Connecticut prep school.

Five-star offensive lineman Justin Rogers of Oak Park, who the Spartans were trying to flip late, ultimately stayed with his Kentucky commitment. Rogers was No. 1 on the Detroit News Blue Chip list.

Offensive lineman Billie Roberts of Muskegon, ranked No. 25 by The Detroit News, is considering signing with the Spartans in February.

Dantonio used many former and current Spartans as comps for the players: Snow as Khari Willis, defensive end Jeff Pietrowski as Kenny Willekes, defensive end Avery Dunn as Shilique Calhoun, and linebacker Cole DeMarzo as Matt Morrissey and Grayson Miller — even linebacker Cal Haladay as former Ohio State great Chris Spielman.

With four wide receivers signing, in addition to Western Michigan transfer Jayden Reed becoming eligible, Dantonio said Julian Barnett could be moved back to cornerback, where he was recruited to play out of Belleville.

Another Belleville recruit from last season, defensive lineman Jalen Hunt, could make his MSU debut in the Pinstripe Bowl, Dantonio said.

Overall, the stoic coach seems pleased at the lot, and now must work to make sure the prospects deliver on that promise.

“It was a good, solid day,” Dantonio said. “One of the things I think as much as anything I appreciate throughout the years really has been the lack of de-commitments we've had.

“I appreciate their trust in us as people."

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer. Matt Charboneau contributed to this report.