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Recruiting trouble: Inside the sex assault scandal that threw MSU football for a loss

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Recruiting trouble

Inside LJ Scott’s on-campus apartment was a virtual who’s-who of Michigan State University athletes.

Scott was a star running back, and the party at his University Village apartment on Jan. 15, 2017, attracted teammates, men’s and women’s basketball players and friends who could party knowing they were off Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Before 2 a.m., freshman lineman Josh King, who at 6-foot-6 was a big guy even in that company, was talking with a girl he had met previously and asked if she wanted to “speak somewhere quiet.”

He pulled her toward an available bathroom.

Minutes later, she was found on the floor, disheveled and distraught, by the most unlikely of rescuers — a player with a litany of sex allegations so long some felt he should never have been allowed on campus.

What happened inside that bathroom has never been completely clear, but the story of what led up to it — and what followed — illuminates a rising football program reaching for even better recruits. It was a drama that played out as the Larry Nassar scandal enveloped the university and eventually toppled its leadership.

READ MORE:

 MSU reviewed Auston Robertson's sex assault record, then admitted him anyway

 Robertson's previous offenses

 Curtis Blackwell's deposition

Ex-MSU staffer Curtis Blackwell: 'This is me standing up for myself'

Detective Chad Davis' deposition

Robertson charging document

Interviews, correspondence, police records, court documents and deposition testimony provide an inside look at six months that threatened the legacy of head coach Mark Dantonio and changed the course of MSU football.

Dantonio was deposed for six hours Friday in the wrongful termination lawsuit and $5.5-million wrongful arrest lawsuit filed by Curtis Blackwell, the former MSU recruiting guru who was dismissed in the party's aftermath. Dantonio will collect a contractual $4.3 million retention bonus for remaining coach on Wednesday.

"My father always taught me to complete circles," Dantonio told reporters Nov. 19, in the midst of another tough season, announcing he had no plans to step down. "And that's what I'm trying to do."

Unquestioned success

An Ohio native, Dantonio returned to Michigan State in late 2006 after starting his head-coaching career with an 18-17 mark at the University of Cincinnati.

He took over an MSU program that had recorded just two winning seasons in the previous seven and hadn't won 10 games since Dantonio was an assistant under Nick Saban in 1999. In just four years, the coach brought MSU a share of the Big Ten championship in 2010 and a division title in 2011. 

Those achievements, however, did not translate into widespread recruiting success.

Curtis Blackwell

While Dantonio was launching his head coaching career in Cincinnati, a Detroit King graduate was starting his own venture 250 miles to the north.

Blackwell co-founded the Sound Mind Sound Body football camps with a goal of getting inner-city Detroit youth more exposure to college football programs. By June 2013, it was a national success, attracting some 150 top athletes from Georgia, California and other states and adding Adidas as a sponsor.

At a 2013 camp at Southfield High School, Dantonio pulled Blackwell aside.

“I want to talk to you about coming to Michigan State,” he said.

“To do what?'" Blackwell asked, in a conversation he recounted later.

Dantonio offered Blackwell, then 35, $80,000 a year to assume a newly created role of director of college advancement and performance and camps. It was part of a growing trend of non-coaching positions in major college football. Blackwell would help attract players, then mentor and counsel them on campus.

"Everything was centered around the relationships I had," Blackwell told The News in an interview. "The relationships I had at Sound Mind Sound Body, and in the community, would now be used to help Michigan State in terms of on the recruiting front."

Just six days after he was hired, MSU began to reap commitments from players who knew and trusted Blackwell. Dantonio called him a “game changer.”

That season, the Spartans beat Stanford University, 24-20, to win their first Rose Bowl in 26 years. They finished ranked third nationally. Even before the faithful had returned home from Pasadena, expectations for the program had changed.

"The Rose Bowl, once we achieved playing in that game, it came with caution from me," then-athletic director Mark Hollis told The News in November. "Even before we played the game, the questions on — and they're fair questions — on compensation and what's next, those weren't necessarily what you wanted the focus that week to be on, but they were."

MSU followed with an 11-2 campaign and, the following year, won the Big Ten championship. It was selected to appear in the second College Football Playoff against Saban-coached juggernaut Alabama.

For the third consecutive year, MSU would finish ranked among the top six in the country — the first time it had accomplished that since Biggie Munn's teams did it from 1951-53.

The playoff invitation highlighted Dantonio’s unquestioned success, but the result laid bare his program's biggest weakness: a lack of top-flight talent.

MSU coach Mark Dantonio and Alabama coach Nick Saban meet at the center of the field after the Tide beat the Spartans 38-0.

MSU was beaten, 38-0, by a team that had the top-ranked recruiting class in each of the four previous years, according to national rankings. Michigan State fared better than 32nd only once.

That was about to change.

"Clearly, the program had reached heights it hadn't been to, at least in my lifetime," said Allen Trieu, a Midwest recruiting expert who writes for 247Sports. "So, yeah, it made sense at that point to be like, 'Let's at least get some of these guys on campus.’"

"These guys," of course, meant the top echelon of high school talent, the four- and five-star recruits who had historically been courted but often had eluded Michigan State.

Pursuing some of that talent, however, would come at a high cost.

It was ‘no limit’

Blackwell already had been working to help amass MSU's best recruiting class to date. When the 2015 season dawned in September, he had orchestrated a soiree of some 200 recruits to attend the hyped Michigan State-Oregon football game, an effort dubbed "Spartan 300."

Auston Robertson

The growing class of highly ranked 2016 Michigan State recruits took to calling itself "The Dream Team," even reserving a handle on Twitter.

Coaches inside the football building seemed to be brimming with confidence. MSU, usually content with signing and building up two- and three-star talent, was suddenly winning recruiting battles against powerhouses such as Ohio State and Notre Dame, not to mention Michigan, which had just hired head coach Jim Harbaugh to return it to prominence.

"That becomes a difference maker," Blackwell said. "I think you get caught up in the competitiveness of it."

Receiver Donnie Corley, the prize of the class from Michigan, committed to MSU six days after the loss to Alabama. A fellow Detroiter, he and his family had a long-standing relationship with Blackwell, whose camps Corley attended.

"We definitely thought it was no limit," Corley, who chose MSU over 54 other offers, Alabama among them, said of the potential of the 2016 recruiting class.

But on the other side of the ball, a problem was looming. Built on a foundation of defense, Michigan State was about to lose seven of its top nine defensive linemen — three to the NFL, another to graduation, two allegedly for marijuana use and one who would transfer.

Two of the highest-ranked recruits in the class, who would help shore up that weakness, committed within three days of each other in June 2015.

King, from outside Chicago, was a tall, strong 246-pound two-sport star, an Illinois state-champion wrestler and defensive end. 

Auston Robertson was a 6-5, 260-pound defensive end from Fort Wayne, Ind., who also had the size and speed to compete as a freshman.

Robertson, however, soon was in trouble.

Four months after he committed, on Oct. 22, 2015, he allegedly groped a classmate in the high school office. When she pushed his hand away and attempted to walk out, he stopped her and molested her again, according to court records obtained by The News.

The girl said the incidents marked the fourth and fifth times Robertson had assaulted her in the preceding four months. 

With his future uncertain, MSU considered last-minute alternatives. Blackwell said he pushed a pair of Detroit prospects that weren't quite as highly rated — East English Prep lineman Cedrick Lattimore and Detroit Renaissance lineman Alaric Jackson — but were big guys without baggage. Both had committed to Iowa and would not be swayed; one should play in the NFL.

Robertson was arrested in January and later tweeted that, “Michigan State is still my number one, but I’m … re-opening my options.”

That same day, Dantonio unveiled his highest-ranked recruiting class ever. Robertson was not mentioned — at least not directly.

Asked if his 2016 class might still grow by one, Dantonio smiled faintly.

“You know, there’s always that possibility,” he said.

Cause for alarm

In early 2016, Dantonio gathered his coaching staff in his office at the Skandalaris Football Center to discuss recruiting. Eventually, Dantonio asked most of the staff to leave — with the exception of Blackwell, defensive line coach Ron Burton and then-offensive coordinator Dave Warner, whose recruiting responsibilities included Indiana and Fort Wayne.

Dantonio asked each of them their thoughts on Robertson. 

"I have a daughter on that campus, and I wouldn't feel comfortable with Auston Robertson being on campus with my daughter," said Burton, according to Blackwell’s sworn deposition.

There was cause for alarm.

Robertson had originally committed to Michigan State at the RAS Camp run by Mike Ledo, co-founder of the area's Athletes with Purpose. The program has a religious bent, and many of its campers have been labeled “choir boys.” Robertson did not share that reputation.

Ledo had made Dantonio and others aware that Robertson had a checkered history, according to Blackwell's testimony. Ledo did not return multiple messages from The News.

Then, there was the latest trouble. Weeks after he initially committed, he was kicked off his high school football team. By Signing Day, he had been kicked out of high school entirely. MSU was aware of these measures and the reasons behind them, Fort Wayne Community Schools spokeswoman Krista J. Stockman confirmed to The News. 

In fact, sexually disturbing behavior by Robertson had been documented by police as early as 2009. When Robertson was just 11 years old, a neighborhood woman told police Robertson threatened to rape her daughter, according to court records obtained by The Detroit News.

From July 2009 through October 2015, Robertson was accused of at least 11 instances of sexually assaulting, threatening, grabbing, dragging, tackling or disrobing five girls or women, according to police and court records obtained by The News.

At the Skandalaris Center, each of the three coaches remaining with Dantonio that day objected to bringing Robertson to Michigan State, according to Blackwell's testimony.

Mark Dantonio and Jim Harbaugh

Meanwhile, Michigan State’s recruiting success was gaining attention, even at Schembechler Hall at the University of Michigan, 60 miles away. 

Shortly after Signing Day in February, Blackwell was contacted by Harbaugh, whose team had just finished what recruiting specialists ranked among the top 10 classes in the country.

Come to Michigan and we’ll double your pay, Harbaugh told him, according to Blackwell's account.

“(Harbaugh) was hot to trot to get him," said Tom Warnicke, a lawyer for Blackwell.

Dantonio and then-athletic director Hollis quickly authorized raising his salary to $129,000 — an annual contract with a yearly bonus of 10%.

"I made a commitment to those kids that I recruited, that I said I wanted to help develop,” Blackwell told The News, explaining why he stayed. “So I would not sell out and just take a pay raise to go to the University of Michigan."

►READEx-MSU football staffer Curtis Blackwell: 'This is me standing up for myself'

An unusual meeting 

How Robertson eventually became a Spartan is a matter of some dispute.

In an office at MSU sometime in 2016, an esteemed group of senior executives assembled for a meeting with admissions director Jim Cotter,according to an account provided to The News.

Cotter led MSU admissions for a decade,and is a former MSU baseball player who frequently serves as master of ceremonies for football events, including the year-end banquet.

He was joined that day by at least six others: Bill Beekman, secretary of the MSU Board of Trustees; MSU police chief James Dunlap; deputy athletic director Jennifer Smith; vice president of student services Denise Maybank; Dantonio and Hollis.

The question: Would Robertson's behavior bar him from MSU?

Dantonio wanted him on the team. Hollis, the athletic director, did not.

The de facto jury averaged more than 20 years at MSU, led by Dunlap’s 47 years.

Beekman, who majored in justice, morality and democracy at MSU's James Madison College, had held a variety of MSU roles since 1995, in the alumni association, medical college and the provost’s office. He has law and business degrees and was president Lou Anna K. Simon's top liaison to trustees.

None of the participants agreed to be interviewed by The News about the meeting.

Beekman initially denied participating. He later amended his response, saying via a spokesman, “As best he can remember, he was not a part of any conversations or meetings involving Auston Robertson prior to his admission.”

Bill Beekman

The assembled group split, according to the account. Cotter, Beekman and Dunlap sided with the football coach. Maybank and Smith sided with Hollis.

Hollis said only that Robertson's “admission was not determined by the athletic department.”

Asked about the meeting that permitted Robertson on campus, MSU spokeswoman Emily Guerrant was not able to determine on what date or where it occurred, or who participated.

Although MSU has a committee to consider criminal applicants, and Cotter and Maybank were members, the described meeting in that account “did not take place,” she said. She said she spoke to both Cotter and Maybank.

It's also not clear what exactly MSU knew about Robertson’s past. What is clear, however, is that he was admitted to attend Michigan State.

On March 30, 2016, Dantonio announced Robertson's signing in a statement that read: “While utilizing all resources available to us to thoroughly review his situation … given all the information available to us, we believe Auston should be provided with an opportunity to begin his education and playing career at Michigan State.”

Robertson told a reporter he relished the second chance.

“It's a lesson learned,” the recruit told 247Sports.

Once Robertson arrived, Dantonio set out to make sure he stayed clean. He took the unusual step of setting up weekly one-on-one appointments, usually on Mondays.

With that, the last piece was signed — vaulting Dantonio’s 2016 recruiting class into the nation’s top 20 for the first time in the era of recruiting-service rankings, dating back to the early 2000s.

That fall, the Dream Team started paying dividends almost immediately.

Corley caught four passes for 88 yards and a touchdown to lead MSU to a Sept. 17 win over No. 18 Notre Dame, moving MSU to No. 8 in the national polls. The Spartans have not been ranked so highly since.

Three days later, Michigan State announced it had fired Dr. Larry Nassar from its faculty following an Indianapolis Star report that he sexually abused women during pain treatments in Michigan and on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

Over the next three months, Nassar would be arrested and charged and the university would face its first civil suits from victims.

The burgeoning scandal quickly overshadowed the football team, which lost all but one of its remaining games.

Robertson played in seven games and King played in nine. Corley set an MSU freshman record for receiving yards and was named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.

But the Dream Team’s most significant impact had yet to be felt.

‘I had to get her out’

A week after Clemson beat Alabama in the 2017 college football championship, King, Corley and Robertson were among those at the MLK-eve bash at Scott’s apartment.

After King asked his female acquaintance if she wanted to talk privately and entered the bathroom, police said he forced the woman to perform oral sex and then removed her pants and raped her.

He then invited in two other freshman football players, Corley and Demetric Vance, and she separately was made to perform a sex act on them, police said in pre-trial testimony. Corley, the only player to comment to The News, said events did not occur as described, but would not elaborate.

After they left the bathroom, Robertson found his friend upset and bedraggled.

Less than 12 hours later, he was in Dantonio's office for his weekly meeting, where Robertson became emotional recounting the story.

“I had to get her out of there,” he told his coach. “She is my friend.”

Robertson never mentioned sexual misconduct, Dantonio told investigators, but the coach stopped the meeting and asked an aide for the number to MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity, which investigates sex complaints. At Dantonio’s request, his staff had just days earlier undergone a refresher training course on reporting such incidents, in the wake of allegations made against the University of Minnesota football team.

Already reeling from the Nassar affair, the last thing Michigan State needed was another scandal. By late January, at least 18 of Nassar’s victims had joined civil lawsuits against the university — lawsuits that would cost the university $500 million in payouts, and, perhaps even more costly, much of its reputation.

Dantonio reported Robertson's account to the equity office and Hollis, but not MSU Police, which is required by university policy. He told investigators that he understood that the equity office would reach out to MSUPD.

Robertson, meanwhile, walked to Blackwell’s office and reported that he had just spoken with Dantonio, who he believed was reaching out to the Office of Institutional Equity about the incident. 

Blackwell also heard from Corley’s father, who had heard about the party, according to the police investigation.

“Is it bad, Coach? Did you talk to him?” Corley’s father inquired via text message. 

“Hard to tell at this point,” Blackwell responded. “Haven’t heard anything.”

Blackwell later spoke with Corley and urged him to steer clear, police said.

“You don’t want to have your name associated with anything like this. You don’t, in the media or whatsoever,” Blackwell told him, according to the deposition of an investigating police officer.

Like Dantonio, Blackwell did not call police. He also did not call the equity office, which he understood was already informed. Calling both offices, which investigate separately, is required by MSU policy.

The female victim reported the incident to MSU Police, identifying King as the only suspect. On Jan. 26, King’s North Case Hall dorm room was searched, his phone seized, his DNA swabbed and he was arrested.

Former Michigan State football players, from left, Demetric Vance, Donnie Corley and Josh King appear for their sentencing in June 2018 at Ingham County 30th Circuit Court in Lansing.

It wasn’t until forensic results on King's phone came back Jan. 31 that Corley also was a suspect, police said. Police discovered a text thread between King and other players talking about the incident, including Corley and Vance.

“I can’t believe you guys did that. That was really stupid,” one texted.

“Yes, you know, that was dumb, I can't believe we did that,” another texted.

Vance rebuked the group.

“We don't need no information in text. All calls.”

On the morning of Feb. 7, MSU Police searched the North Case Hall rooms of Corley and Vance, swabbed their DNA, and seized clothes and electronics.

Corley and Vance were arrested, led out to separate police cars as fellow students watched.

In interviews with police, all three players initially denied having any sexual contact with the woman; later, all acknowledged it. When police asked if he had discussed the case with anyone, Corley mentioned Blackwell and recounted the coach’s advice. The players did not accuse Blackwell of suggesting that they deny involvement, according to testimony.

The next day, the officers interviewed coaches at the Skandalaris Center.

Blackwell answered questions and allowed officers to review his phones and text messages, where they saw his contact with Corley’s father.

“He began to become deceptive in nature,” said MSU Police Detective Chad Davis, who noted Blackwell’s relationship with Corley and Vance.

The officers viewed Blackwell as a traditional coach. They did not know his job was to mentor and counsel athletes, according to Davis’ sworn deposition, which has since been sealed by a judge.

►READ: Detective Chad Davis' deposition

Blackwell acknowledged having spoken with all three players involved, as well as up to 12 others — which he saw as consistent with his job description, mentoring.

The police saw it differently. Blackwell’s conversations with the players, with Corley’s dad, his advice to steer clear, the players’ initial denials, Blackwell's failure to call either police or the equity office — led Davis to a conclusion.

He called police chief Dunlap to say Blackwell hindered, interfered or obstructed their investigation by conducting his own.

“Arrest him,” Dunlap said.

Blackwell was escorted to the parking lot, where he was handcuffed and taken to the MSU Police station. Police said that had Blackwell told them whatever he knew earlier, there wouldn’t have been a lag between the arrest of King and that of Corley and Vance. That lag, police said, allowed time for evidence, particularly on cellphones, to be destroyed.

Blackwell would never be charged.

Interference not tolerated

If Michigan State was being accused of a languid response to the Nassar scandal, no similar argument would be made regarding the football situation.

On Feb. 9, the day after Blackwell’s arrest, MSU announced it had suspended three unnamed players and one staff member from the team. A day later, the university hired the Jones Day law firm to independently investigate whether the program had appropriately responded to the complaint.

Three years later, it has yet to request a similar independent investigation of the Nassar scandal.

It wasn’t until a week later, in fact, that MSU acknowledged it had hired the firm of former U.S. prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to provide guidance on conducting a “factual review” of the Nassar assaults.

If it sounded like MSU was authorizing an independent review of Nassar, however, it was not. Fitzgerald's firm had been hired in October to prepare the university’s defense.

►EXCLUSIVE REPORT: What MSU knew — 14 were warned of Nassar abuse 

At the February 2017 meeting of MSU Board of Trustees, then-president Simon defended Hollis and Dantonio and trustees approved an extension of Dantonio’s $4.3-million-per-year contract.

“MSU is currently dealing with several unrelated issues of sexual assault or harassment that people might associate together,” Simon declared. “Each case is different, each is taken seriously, and each is subject to separate investigative processes that deserve to be respected.

“Any interference ... will not be tolerated.”

The three suspended players had to leave their dorms and provide their own food, usually cheap noodles; they got an apartment together in Lansing, living off occasional checks sent from their parents.

Dantonio started three weeks of spring practice without the usual fanfare, anticipating the legal system would quickly determine the fate of his three players.

More than five weeks later, they remained in limbo. On March 28, Dantonio held a press conference at which he said he would not address football, which seemed trivial, only the pending legal matters.

“We’ve got high standards of conduct here. We always have. We've gone to great lengths to maintain that," he said. “Obviously, these are difficult times. But I also think this is an opportunity to reset ourselves.” 

Meanwhile, MSU extended Blackwell’s contract by a month, through the end of April, while he remained suspended.

On April Fool’s Day, in the spring football game, a former walk-on from NorthPointe Christian, Kenny Willekes, started at one defensive end and Robertson, the four-star recruit with a record, started at the other. Dantonio, once again, allowed the focus to turn to football.

It would last barely a week.

On April 9, Dantonio received a call from one of his players: Robertson had raped someone again.

Another victim

Robertson had been out with a buddy around 11 p.m. the night before when he met the girlfriend of a teammate.

The three had pizza, according to police testimony, before Robertson’s girlfriend picked them up and gave the woman a ride home.

Robertson "wanted to make sure she got there safely," according to Meridian Township Police, so he offered to walk her up to her second-floor apartment.

There, he followed her to the bedroom and raped her while his girlfriend waited outside, according to police.

Robertson fled to Indiana, but less than two weeks later he was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct and was kicked off the team.

Robertson "broke our trust,” Dantonio told reporters.

“Obviously, we took a risk,” he added. “We vetted the young man.”

►READ: Robertson charging document

The investigation into the other three players dragged on as MSU Police tracked down and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, including Dantonio and each member of the football staff.

At the end of April, MSU extended Blackwell’s contract for another month.

In December 2018, Auston Robertson was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

Already arrested and facing possible charges, neither Blackwell nor the three players agreed to an interview with Jones Day, which now also was investigating the response to the Robertson allegations.

On May 13, 2017, however, Blackwell met with Ingham County prosecutors, who “appreciated” his cooperation, according to an email from a prosecutor to Blackwell’s attorneys. He was given immunity and told he wouldn't be called as a witness. Blackwell was cleared criminally.

Any joy was short-lived. On May 24, Dantonio informed Blackwell he would not be retained, attributing his departure to “philosophical” differences.

Blackwell, however, has said he was made the scapegoat by a university feeling the heat from the Nassar fallout. It’s the basis behind his federal lawsuit against Michigan State, Dantonio, Hollis and Simon.

MSU trustees met privately June 5 for a daylong “work session,” in which they heard the results of the Jones Day report. At a cost of nearly $200,000, it cleared Dantonio and everybody in the football program of wrongdoing, with one exception: Blackwell.

It said evidence “strongly suggests” he failed to follow university protocols for reporting suspected sexual misconduct.

In a remarkable confluence of timing, about 40 minutes after the report’s release, the Ingham County prosecutor’s office announced that all three suspended players would be charged with criminal sexual conduct.

The next day, King, Corley and Vance learned they were kicked off the team through a press conference held by Dantonio, Corley said.

“I’m angry,” Dantonio said. “I feel like the education was there. I feel like I’ve talked about the sense of responsibility that our players have — not to be a good football player, but to be a good person, to do their very best.”

'Not sending a message'

The prosecution of the players was neither swift nor smooth. Exactly one year to the day after they were dismissed, King, Corley and Vance pleaded guilty to charges that they did “seduce and debauch” an unmarried woman — an obscure law that dates to 1846 — to avoid jail time.

Each was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to undergo sex-offender treatment and therapy. Under the Holmes Youthful Training Act, the police report was sealed. By the law, they are not sex offenders.

The plea was made to avoid a trial, which was the victim’s preference. Still, she wasn’t happy with the punishment.

►READ: Police report for King, Corley and Vance

“The family was not OK with that,” said Karen Truszkowski, the Lansing lawyer for the victim. “They’re a good family, good people ... they were fair and they were reasonable, but they did not think that sentence was adequate. ... The feeling was, this is not sending a message to other people that you should not do this.

“They didn’t think it was a deterrent. And I agree. I thought it was a bunch of crap.”

MSU has yet to order an independent investigation into Nassar, a scandal that cost Simon her job of 15 years. She awaits trial on charges that she lied to police about what she knew about previous Nassar complaints.

Days after she resigned under pressure in January 2018, Hollis, Michigan State's athletic director since 2008, announced his retirement, saying he and his family believed that stepping away might help the university heal from the hurt Nassar caused.

Later that year, Robertson pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit a sexual penetration and was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. 

He is serving his sentence at Newberry Correctional Facility in the Upper Peninsula. A warden approved a request from The News to interview Robertson, but he declined.

Made to survive

Late last year, Corley finished his first year at Texas Southern, a Football Championship Subdivision program in Houston with whom he had a monster season, even though his new team didn’t. He earned his conference’s Newcomer of the Year award after averaging 103.9 receiving yards per game and leading the conference in receptions.

It was his second stop after MSU. Corley, along with Vance and King, initially transferred to Coahoma Community College in Mississippi to play football.

After one season, Vance transferred to Jackson State, where he was a reserve last season. King is in school in the Chicago area, but no longer playing football.

The “Dream Team” turned out to be a nightmare, with just one of the four-star recruits left.

Of the 20 players in the class, only six remained on the active roster last year.

Among the other MSU officials, Cotter lost his job as $180,000-a-year admissions director in 2018 without explanation, but landed in the athletic department and serves as Varsity S Club director.

Beekman, who helped lead the university during the Nassar crisis, succeeded Hollis as athletic director. Dunlap retired in a long-planned move.

Dantonio became the winningest coach in Michigan State football history in 2019, and led the team to its 12th bowl game in 13 seasons.

“I don’t think I’m finished,” he told reporters in the fall.

Meanwhile, the effects of that January 2017 party still are being felt. 

Truszkowski had until this month to file a lawsuit on behalf of the victims family against MSU, but the victim’s family opted against that.

“She’s not closely following this,” Truszkowski said of the victim's interest in following events surrounding Blackwell's lawsuit. “You keep ripping the Band-Aid off over and over.”

Truszkowski said police did an “exemplary” job investigating, but she has problems with Michigan State’s conduct. She has another pending suit against MSU, in the same court as Blackwell’s case, for its handling of an alleged sexual assault by members of the basketball team.

Curtis Blackwell's latest lawsuit names former MSU football coach Mark Dantonio, attorney Thomas Kienbaum, the law firm Jones Day, and the firm's attorney Louis Gabel as defendants.

►READ: Curtis Blackwell's lawsuit complaint

Blackwell, meanwhile, said he would like to return to work at the collegiate level, but the MSU situation has left him unable to catch on despite interest from other top coaches.

At his new home base at The Mack Athletic Complex in East Detroit, a large picture of Dantonio still hangs on a basement classroom wall.

“Sometimes perception, as you know, is bigger than reality,” he told The News. “Perceptions can taint other people's view toward you. 

“I’m still the same guy. I just know that God’s will shall prevail, and I’m going to make the most of wherever I am.

“I’m from Detroit. We're tough here. We're made to survive.”

The victim in Robertson’s assault declined, through prosecutors, to be interviewed for this report. At Robertson’s sentencing, she provided a written statement directed toward her friend-turned-attacker in which she talked of the pain and desolation she felt.

“Little did I know that you would be the one to hurt me,” she wrote. “However, I was not aware that this had happened before. You put yourself in this situation.

“You ruined your life.”

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

►READMSU reviewed Auston Robertson's sex assault record, then admitted him anyway

►READEx-MSU football staffer Curtis Blackwell: 'This is me standing up for myself'

►GALLERYMSU's 'Dream Team' 2016 recruiting class: Where are they now?

►GALLERYFrom Blackwell's hiring to Robertson's sentencing

►VIDEOFired MSU staffer Curtis Blackwell speaks out

►VIDEOMSU's Auston Robertson jailed for his crimes off the field

►DOCUMENTS:

Detective Chad Davis deposition

Curtis Blackwell deposition

Curtis Blackwell complaint 

Police report on King, Corley and Vance 

Auston Robertson charging document

Auston Robertson previous offenses