Matured from mistakes, Ex-Michigan State receiver Hunter Rison chases next opportunity

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Hunter Rison was back on the road this week, making a trip to a college campus, trying to determine his next step in life and as a football player.

It’s the sort of trip Rison has been on before, only this time he wasn’t headed to Alabama or Ohio State or Michigan State or Oklahoma. This time, Rison was checking things out on a smaller scale, visiting Division II Grand Valley State in Allendale.

Hunter Rison caught 18 passes for 223 yards as a freshman at Michigan State in 2017.

“Right now we’re just in the decision-making process,” Rison told The News. “I’m just talking to my mom and just being smart about it, being patient about it. We haven't rushed anything. So after this visit, it will definitely tell a lot. Then I'll be ready to make my decision, no doubt.”

Standard recruiting stuff, the same type of approach most players make as they determine where they’ll play college football.

It all feels and sounds fairly ordinary if you forget the fact Rison has done this before as one of the top wide receiver recruits in the country. That, however, was four years ago. Since then, things have hardly gone as planned for Rison. He’s been a part of two Power Five programs and played a season at the junior college level, and while at Kansas State, he pleaded guilty to one count of battery, an event that led to him never playing a down for the Wildcats.

But now, with an associate degree in hand from Fullerton (Calif.) College, Rison is ready to take the next step in his life. He’s still chasing that NFL dream, but he’s doing it now, he insists, as a different person, not the same kid who was being recruited out of Ann Arbor Skyline.

He’s more mature, certainly humbled.

“I've definitely grown over these past years just going through trials and tribulations,” he said. “I’ve matured from it. I'm definitely locked in mentally, and I'm just ready to show people what I can do and just be a positive impact wherever I land. That's what I'm ready for.”

Hunter Rison played just one season at Michigan State.

Short stay with Spartans

Rison seemed ready back when he was earning All-State honors in back-to-back seasons at Skyline. He had the nation’s top programs after him, as the likes of Nick Saban at Alabama and Urban Meyer at Ohio State were in hot pursuit, trying to lure the son of a five-time Pro Bowler to come to their school.

But Rison, of course, is the son of Andre Rison, a living legend at Michigan State, and Mark Dantonio’s staff was after Hunter, as well. They were busy fighting off the game’s best and it paid off with a commitment from Rison, at the time the first member of the 2017 class. Rison briefly decommitted, but soon circled back to the Spartans and was enrolled by January of ’17.

Following a miserable three-win season in 2016, one that came on the heels of an appearance in the College Football Playoff, Michigan State was suddenly surging again the next year, thanks in large part to the contributions of a handful of freshmen, Rison included. Michigan State won 10 games that season and Rison played in 12 games, catching 19 passes for 224 yards.

Along with fellow freshman Cody White and sophomore Trishton Jackson, the Spartans had the makings of a talented young core of playmakers

Everything was on track. Or so it seemed.

Roughly two weeks after Rison caught one pass in Michigan State’s Holiday Bowl victory over Washington State, he announced he was transferring from the program. His father, Andre, said at the time that his son did not fit in the offense and that he should have been playing more.

Hunter wasn’t nearly as divisive, publicly thanking the coaching staff and his teammates when he announced he was leaving. Less than two weeks later, Hunter Rison said he was transferring to Kansas State and sat out the 2018 season.

By the spring of 2019, Rison was drawing rave reviews from Wildcats coach Chris Klieman.

“He has a world of ability,” Klieman said.

But, in mid-April, Rison was arrested after striking a female acquaintance with an open hand. He was suspended and by June 2019 had transferred to Fullerton College. In July of 2019, he pleaded guilty to the battery charge.

Rison didn’t dispute the charges then and does not now. He understands what he did was wrong, but he’s doing his best to make sure the mistakes were not made in vain.

“When I found myself in that situation, it really brought me back down to earth,” Rison said. “I had a lesson that I needed to learn. I had made a mistake and consequences needed to be paid, regardless of how you want to shape the situation. When you go through that, you lose friends, you lose people, you lose a lot. I thought I was going to lose my career.

“But I found myself, and I really focused on my relationship with God. I had a lot of conversations, just me and Him, and just telling myself that, you know, it's not over, that I can do this. And I had a great support system around me — coaches, teammates, family that just helped me get back on my feet. And I couldn't do it by myself, no doubt, and they helped me out tremendously. Just going through that process, I learned who was really there for me, the people that really love me, the people that care for me and want to see me succeed.”

At the top of that list was Rison’s mother, Racquel Banks.

“She's always been there for me financially, emotionally, mentally, every aspect of my life she's been there for me in my corner,” Rison said. “She’s always supported me through thick and thin and just knowing that I have a mother like that … I know some people don't have their mothers anymore and I’m very, very, very appreciative I have a mother like her in my life that I can count on.

“Just going through everything and figuring it out, it wasn’t easy. So having her there to talk to and calming me down and telling me everything was going to be fine — sometimes you need that and she was definitely there to give it to me.”

Hunter Rison collected seven touchdown catches last season for Fullerton (Calif.) College.

'Everything happens for a reason'

Things have started to calm down for Rison. In seven games at Fullerton last season, Rison had 36 receptions for 604 yards and seven touchdowns. The same game-breaking ability was there, including in back-to-back games in October when he seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns at Ventura, then followed that with six receptions for 142 yards and two more touchdowns at Cerritos.

Now, it’s back in the recruiting world. In addition to this week’s visit to Grand Valley, Rison says he’s drawing interest from Division I and II teams. He hopes to have a final decision made in the next couple of weeks, and wherever he lands, he’ll have two years of eligibility remaining as he keeps pushing to make it to the NFL.

Whether the path would have varied if he stayed at Michigan State will never be known. The offense struggled the next two years, and the Spartans certainly could have used a player like Rison on the roster.

But Rison insists there are no regrets about leaving MSU. He still talks regularly with Terrence Samuel, his receivers coach at Michigan State who now coaches at UNLV. And he’s spoken more than once with Dantonio.

“Everything happens for a reason,” said Rison, who added he keeps in regular contact with many of his former Michigan State teammates. “You have to go through things and learn things. You have to be uncomfortable when you learn, and that was a very uncomfortable situation. There was a lot of unknown during that situation. But at the end of the day, when it comes down to it relationship-wise and everything, no bridges were burned or anything like that.

“I’m still here. I've learned a lot of things growing up. I don't think that maybe I would have learned those lessons if maybe I just kept it smooth (at MSU). You never know. But there’s definitely no regret because the love over there was so strong with me and my teammates that the relationships never even ended up falling off.”

Since schools were shut down in March, Rison has been back in Chandler, Arizona, with his mom, living in the same area he did before moving to Michigan to spend his last two years of high school with his father.

He finished his courses online and has spent his time working out on a regular basis, connecting with fellow college players in the area. He and former MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke, who signed with the New England Patriots, tried to connect last week to throw together, but couldn’t make the schedules work. None of it has deterred Rison.

“I know hard work pays off,” Rison said. “I'm just staying diligent, I'm staying patient and staying ready because I know the opportunity is gonna come, so I want to be ready when it presents itself.”

He’s vowing to be ready this time not just as a football player, but as a man.

Rison understands he’s getting another shot, and he says he’s determined not to let it slide.

“I’m in a position to where I can accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish in the beginning,” he said. “I’m grateful that I'm in that spot. And knowing all the people that have helped me and gotten me to this spot, I just want to make them proud. I want to make myself proud.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau