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Michigan State lands transfer Anthony Russo; he'll compete immediately for QB job

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said on Wednesday the Spartans would be active in the transfer portal, and later that day, that proved to be true.

As the Spartans were wrapping up the first day of the early signing period by receiving National Letters of Intent from 16 players, Temple graduate transfer quarterback Anthony Russo announced on Twitter that he was headed to Michigan State.

Anthony Russo

“The portal’s here and it’s not going away,” Tucker said. “So, we’re gonna embrace it. I’ve gotten players out of the portal, and I’ve seen guys go into the portal. That’s just part of college football now.”

The Spartans have already seen four players enter the portal this season, and there will surely be more once the season ends after Saturday’s game at Maryland. Until then, though, landing Russo gives Michigan State an experienced quarterback.

When he left Temple this fall, Russo held the school record in passing yards (6,287), completions (536), attempts (899) and touchdowns (44). A negative for Russo is the fact he’s completed only 59.6% of his passes and has thrown 32 interceptions in his career.

More: Michigan State football flips 4-star linebacker Ma'a Gaoteote from USC commitment

This season, Russo played in only three games after hurting his shoulder then being forced to enter COVID-19 protocols after a positive test. He was 92-for-135 passing for 868 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions while also running for two touchdowns.

A fifth-year senior, Russo will be taking advantage of the waiver given by the NCAA to all players granting an extra season of eligibility and he’ll be able to play immediately for Michigan State.

What the quarterback room looks like once Russo is on campus is difficult to predict. Currently, there are four quarterbacks on scholarship — redshirt junior Rocky Lombardi, redshirt sophomore Theo Day, redshirt freshman Payton Thorne and freshman Noah Kim. Michigan State also signed Hampton Fay on Wednesday, meaning there’s a chance the Spartans could have six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.

However, that seems unlikely. Who stays and who goes is up for debate.

Lombardi started the first six games this season and has the most experience, but Thorne started last week and threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns and will start at Maryland. Day hasn’t played this season and has only thrown three career passes while Kim has not played while taking a redshirt season.

Fay's rated

While the quarterback room is getting crowded, the Spartans feel like they’re getting a steal in Fay, a three-star prospect from Hudson Oaks, Texas. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, Fay totaled more than 3,000 all-purpose yards (2,473 passing, 414 receiving, 293 rushing) in just 23 career high school games and threw for 25 touchdowns.

Rated as the No. 30 pro-style quarterback in the country by ESPN, Tucker believes there’s plenty to work with, and Fay will get an early start as one of four players enrolling next semester.

“Jay Johnson, our offensive coordinator, played the position,” Tucker said. “He knows quarterback play. He knows arm talent and mechanics and there are certain things that he's looking for in a guy. He's looking for these traits, as well as the mental, being able to evaluate a guy's ability to process information and run an offense and lead.

“There's a lot that goes into that and we trust our evaluation. We’re really happy to have him. He was a top target for us.”

Four years for Baldwin 

Offensive lineman Brandon Baldwin, who played in high school at Southfield A&T and then enrolled at Independence Community College in Kansas will have four years of eligibility, Tucker confirmed.

Baldwin, the No. 4 junior college recruit in the country, did not play this fall because his team’s season was canceled because of COVID-19.

Still, Tucker likes the potential of the 6-foot-7, 315-pounder.

“Brandon Baldwin played basketball in high school (and has) very good footwork,” Tucker said. “Unfortunately, he didn't get an opportunity to play this fall with the season being canceled, but he has tremendous upside. He's ranked one of the top-50 Juco prospects in the nation.”

Tucker praise

Tucker didn’t hold back when describing some of the players that signed on Wednesday.

On 6-6, 350-pound defensive lineman Derrick Harmon from Detroit Loyola: “A large human being. … He’s massive in the middle and he’s a dancing bear as a pass rusher. A two-time first-team all-state selection and started all four years in high school on offense and defensive lines.”

On 6-1, 190-pound safety AJ Kirk from Archbishop Hoban in Ohio: “He won a state championship with Archbishop Hoban High School as a senior, and he was named all-state in Ohio as a senior. He is a big-time hitter. He will knock you back.”

…  Tucker confirmed Fay, Kirk, offensive lineman Ethan Boyd and defensive back Michael Gravely Jr. will enroll early.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau