East Lansing — It might be easy to look past Donnie Corley off the football field.
Quiet and unassuming, the former Detroit King High standout is busy adjusting to college life at Michigan State, taking a full academic schedule while learning the playbook and contemplating returning to King for his senior prom.
Not average for most college freshmen, but when you enroll early, as Corley and six teammates did, that’s how it goes.
But that quiet demeanor disappears on the field.
“He’s almost shy off field,” fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor said. “Then he gets on field and is doing everything and not shying away from anything.”
It’s been that way since Corley set foot on campus.
The top player in the state last fall, Corley led King to the state championship, catching the winning touchdown pass on the final play. He finished the season with 59 receptions for 1,403 yards and 16 touchdowns, and recoded 90 tackles and 10 interceptions as a defensive back.
Corley was a finalist for U.S. Army national player of the year, and played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. It was at that game he announced he would play at Michigan State.
A week later, he enrolled and was taking his first steps toward helping the Spartans replenish a receiver corps that lost Big Ten receiver of the year Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings.
By the end of his first spring, teammates were buying in, making Corley the first receiver picked in the spring game draft Tuesday.
“I think everyone would be impressed with Donnie Corley,” O’Connor said. “He is so fluid when he gets the ball. You can throw ball up to him and he’ll go up and the way he snatches it, it looks like he’s been doing it his whole life. It’s very impressive to see a high school senior doing what he’s done.”
Felton Davis, a sophomore receiver who expects to factor heavily into the passing game, called his teammate a freak.
O’Connor had a bit of a different description.
“‘Smooth’ is the word I have,” O’Connor said. “He just does everything so easily, and it’s like it’s the most natural thing in the world for him. To already be doing the releases that he’s doing — the hardest thing they struggle with when they get to college is releasing off a press corner, especially with what we do here at Michigan State with press corners. But he does it so easily and finds ways to get open and catch it like it’s nothing. It’s pretty awesome to watch.
“I wish I had more years with him.”
It’s not the sort of thing you often hear about a freshman, but it’s clear Corley is a different breed.
Last week, receivers coach Terrence Samuel praised the way King coach Dale Harvel and his staff prepared Corley for the next level. It’s something that has become obvious in just a few weeks, and being on campus before camp in August puts Corley ahead of the game.
“You really think of the length of time it takes,” Michigan State quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. “You look at Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings, guys that left us this year after going through a four-year process and what they went through as freshmen. They showed up in August and it goes so fast, where this spring has brought great value (for Corley).
“He is a guy that is ahead of his age with understanding the nuances of football. He’s doing some things you see third-year guys … I’m just saying the adjustment stuff. Obviously, physically he’s gifted and stuff like that. But adjustment-wise, he’s learning and has done a great job.”
Fans get their first chance to see Corley on Saturday, and as Samuel said last week, get used to seeing plenty of him on the field.
That likely will include some time on defense in the future, but for now, Corley appears on his way to being the next Spartans standout receiver.
“He’s very motivated and not afraid to put his foot in there and step in that ring and play at a high level,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “He was an early draft choice so he’s making it known to the players, as well. He’s just confident and, I think, a pretty mature player and mature person. So he’s taking those steps.”
Green-White spring game
Kickoff: 3:06 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Gates open: 1:30 p.m.
Parking: Free in lots 63E/W, 67, 39/40, 41; Ramps 2, 5 and 7; Lot 62W has been reserved for disabled parking. Lots open at 10 a.m.
Youth clinic: Children ages 8-12 (no registration required) from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.