MSU sifting for jewels to complement '17 recruit class

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Donovan Peoples-Jones

East Lansing — Michigan State won’t hit the field for a little more than three months for its 2016 opener against Furman, but that hardly means it’s not busy around the Skandalaris Center.

While early rankings and predictions are being debated, the Spartans coaching staff will be busy trying to put together future rosters. And one of the busiest times of the recruiting season is just getting under way as many of the top camps are set to begin.

Michigan State will hold its camps later in June, but the coaching staff will be taking part in all six Sound Mind Sound Body camps, beginning June 3 in Atlanta.

It’s the time of year the Spartans usually make hay, bringing in some under-the-radar players in the past and looking to do the same once again.

“Michigan State has always valued camp season a little more than everyone else,” said recruiting analyst Allen Trieu. “They always find a few guys, and even though I think they have more offers out and are getting commitments earlier than ever, I think it’s a good bet that you’ll still see a guy or two pop up in camps.”

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State’s program on finding those guys few others have noticed, but going into this camp season, it’s not the only thing the Spartans are counting on. After three straight seasons at ended with them ranked in the top six in the nation and an appearance in the College Football Playoff, Dantonio put together his top-rated class in 2016.

Prospects are noticing and Michigan State continues to be in the mix for some of the top players.

Included on that list are Detroit Cass Tech wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and Kentucky offensive lineman Jedrick Wills. Peoples-Jones is a five-star for and, which ranks him as the sixth-best player overall in the nation.

Wills gets five stars from Rivals and four from 247sports and, and is expected to make it to East Lansing this summer.

“Jedrick Wills is one of the highest-ranked offensive tackles in the country,” Trieu said. “He’s got Michigan State in his final 10 and he’s supposed to take a visit this summer. He’s actually never been to campus so that will be a big opportunity for them to try and make some headway with him. He’s got a lot of offers — Alabama, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Auburn — those are some of the other schools on his list, so he’s a big-time guy. I think it’s huge to even have him come up to campus.”

The list of top players Michigan State will be making a push for doesn’t end there.

Detroit King’s Ambry Thomas and Amir Riep of Cincinnati are two four-star cornerbacks that are high on the Spartans, while tight end Matt Dotson of Cincinnati and wide receiver Jeff Thomas from East St. Louis are another pair of four-star players on the radar.

“Right away you’ve got to look at Ambry Thomas and Amir Riep,” Trieu said. “Two Midwest corners, two top-10 corners in the country on Scout. Two guys where it wouldn’t be a surprise if both of them ended up at Michigan State. I think Michigan State is in the top group for both of those guys. I think Riep is gonna make a decision this summer. Ambry is at least toying with the idea of doing that so we’ll see. I think they’re doing well with both of those guys.

“Jeff Thomas, a really, really highly-ranked receiver … He’s got Michigan State in his final six so they need to try to get him to campus, too.”

Trieu said he thinks Dotson could come down to a Michigan State-Michigan battle, something that might happen more often this year because, Trieu says, Michigan is recruiting the Midwest harder than it did last season.

“It’s already happened a little bit,” Trieu said. “Jedrick Willis has got Michigan in his final 10. Donovan Peoples-Jones is the top prospect in the state, he’s still looking at both schools.”

Even as Michigan State looks to build the 2017 class and beyond, it’s already off to a good start. The Spartans don’t have the amount of commitments they had last season at this point, but they’ve added quality.

And while some of those players haven’t been as highly rated, Trieu believes the camp season will see several players make a jump. In fact, quarterback Rocky Lombardi already has, moving up to No. 28 on the quarterback list at and earning an invitation to the Elite 11 finals after a solid showing at The Opening regional in Chicago last weekend.

“A lot of that had to do with camp last week and getting to see him in person,” Trieu said of Lombardi. “A bigger, stronger kid than he was on film and threw really well there.

“I think you got a couple of guys on that (committed) list who, quite frankly, are more of the sleeper variety. Jack Camper (TE), Matt Carrick (OL), Darien Clemons (RB), Weston Bridges (RB) — none of those guys were considered super high-profile guys at the time of their commitment but I think the more that they have a chance to be seen at some of these camps and compete against top guys, then one of those guys will have a chance to show what they can do.”


Star ratings by

Weston Bridges, RB, Copley (Ohio) High – Three stars

Darien Clemons, LB, Piqua (Ohio) High – Three stars

Matt Carrick, G, Perry High, Massillon, Ohio – Three stars

Rocky Lombardi, QB, Valley High, West Des Moines, Iowa – Three stars

Hunter Rison, WR, Ann Arbor Skyline – Four stars

Kevin Jarvis, G, Maine South High, Park Ridge, Ill. – Four stars

Jack Camper, TE, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. – Two stars

Cody White, WR, Walled Lake Western – Three stars