As Michigan State's roster continues to change, Matt Allen returns for 6th season
The work on retooling the roster is never-ending for Michigan State coach Mel Tucker.
After finishing 2-5 in his first season leading the Spartans, Tucker has been busy overhauling things inside the program as 15 players have left via the transfer portal, five players have come in following the same path and the new members of the 2021 recruiting class are starting to arrive on campus.
And on Thursday, Tucker confirmed the Spartans would be getting another year out of veteran offensive lineman Matt Allen, who missed all but two games in 2020 because of an injury but will be back for a sixth season.
“He’s always represented this program with great pride and class and respect,” Tucker said during the “AD Lunch Series” broadcast with athletic director Bill Beekman. “Matt was injured this season early and had to sit out, but he was adamant about wanting to come back and use another year of eligibility that was offered to him. He wanted to be a part of this program and obviously we wanted to have him back so we’re very fortunate to have Matt back for another season.”
Allen has started 17 of 31 career games at center dating to 2017, including the season-opener in 2020 against Rutgers. He is the younger brother of former Spartans Jack Allen and Brian Allen. Jack Allen was an All-American and helped MSU reach the College Football Playoff while Brian Allen was a three-year starter and now plays for the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL.
Allen is one of four seniors who intend to take advantage of the extra season eligibility offered by the NCAA and be back in 2021. Defensive end Drew Beesley and kicker Matt Coghlin will return while defensive end Jacub Panasiuk indicated he’d be back, as well.
“Just having that opportunity to compete is a gift in itself,” Allen said, “and I need to treat it like that every single day and that’s what I’ve been trying to focus on lately.”
While Allen is a familiar face, Tucker also is bringing in plenty of new faces ahead of the start of winter conditioning on Monday with an eye toward March 23 and the scheduled start of spring practice. Ten early enrollees arrived this week, including four true freshmen and five transfers, as well as one non-scholarship transfer.
Those midyear additions will allow Tucker to bring in potentially 34 new players if he adds a total of 25 players to the recruiting class, which should be finalized by Feb. 3.
“I believe that because we’re able to count nine (midyear) scholarship guys back,” Tucker said. “We still have 25 initials, so I’m looking to have 34 new scholarship players on our roster by the time we start fall camp.”
The true freshmen include tight end Kam Allen, offensive lineman Ethan Boyd, safety Michael Gravely Jr. and quarterback Hamp Fay.
“All of these guys, these freshmen that came midyear that are here now, we’re telling these guys to come in and be ready to compete to play and start right away,” Tucker said. “That’s the mentality. We’re not looking to redshirt any of these guys.”
The Spartans also are expecting the incoming transfers to make an immediate impact. That group includes quarterback Anthony Russo (Temple), offensive lineman Jarrett Horst (Arkansas State), defensive end Drew Jordan (Duke), running back Kenneth Walker III (Wake Forest) and safety Kendall Brooks (North Greenville). Auburn running back Harold Joiner III has indicated he’ll be transferring to Michigan State, but he has yet to enroll.
Tucker said MSU had to “fight” hard to hang on to Horst.
“It came down to us and Oklahoma,” Tucker said. “He chose us and then Oklahoma came back in on him about two weeks ago and he held steady with us.”
Tucker expects the offense to get a jolt from Russo and Walker. While Russo will have to compete for the job with Payton Thorne, the opportunity will be there for Walker, who ran for 13 touchdowns in seven games for Wake Forest in 2020.
“He was Wake Forest’s best running back,” Tucker said. “He’s a really, really good football player.”
Tucker also said Jordan, a graduate transfer, has a chance to “be a force” for the Spartans at defensive end while the addition of Brooks — perhaps a surprise considering he was playing at the Division II level — was about finding the right players.
“We did a lot of digging trying to find the best players,” Tucker said of Brooks. “We’re not chasing stars, we’re just evaluating the guys to see who the best fits are for us.”
Tressel back to Bearcats
Tucker confirmed on Thursday that safeties coach Mike Tressel has left to become the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati.
“We’ve got one position to fill,” Tucker said. “As you know, Mike Tressel moved on to the University of Cincinnati as a defensive coordinator. So, we’re looking to hire a defensive backs coach to either coach corners or safeties. We’ll probably have that wrapped up by this weekend.”
Tressel spent the past 14 seasons at Michigan State, serving as linebackers coach under Mark Dantonio for the first eight seasons in East Lansing. Tressel was co-defensive coordinator with Harlon Barnett from 2015-17 before becoming the sole defensive coordinator in 2018 when Barnett left for Florida State. In 2019, Tressel added the duties of assistant head coach.
After Dantonio retired in February of 2020, Tressel stayed on at Michigan State and became the safeties coach under Tucker, being reunited with Barnett, who returned to coach cornerbacks. Tressel returns to Cincinnati, where he spent three seasons (2004-06) as the Bearcats’ linebackers coach under Dantonio.