MSU receiver Corley intends to live up to hype

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Freshman wide receiver Donnie Corley talks with the media after practice.

East Lansing – Ever since Donnie Corley arrived on campus at Michigan State, he’s been impressing his coaches and teammates.

First it was in spring practice, and now just five days into his first preseason camp, Corley is proving that the hype that followed him from Detroit King seems to be far more than that. Instead of hopes he’ll be a contributor to the Spartans offense in 2016, it’s now expected.

And while much of that is because of his natural ability, the 6-foot-2, 186-pounder benefitted from playing in a King program that prepared him for the next level.

“He was taught well in high school,” Michigan State wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel said. “I have been around him since he was a freshman, from camps and things of that nature, and he is really above the average in terms of what he knows football wise.”

That’s why the death of King coach Dale Harvel last month affected Corley so deeply. The 57-year-old Harvel died of a heart attack while overseeing 7-on-7 workouts. It didn’t take long for Corley to hear the news.

“As soon as it happened, somebody texted me,” Corley said Wednesday after Michigan State went through its first practice in full pads. “Then my dad told me.

“It was very shocking to me. I was there the week before talking to him. They were telling me he was fine on the field, standing there chillin. But I guess he just passed out, out of nowhere.”

It was a devastating loss for King and high school football in Michigan. Harvel was coming off leading King to a state championship last fall and hopes were high once again.

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But just like that, players like Corley were coming to grips with the loss of a man that meant so much.

“At the funeral a lot of people showed up,” Corley said. “That just showed how great of a guy he was and I’m just so proud of my coach and all he did for us.”

It’s why Corley has no intention of letting his old coach down now that he’s at Michigan State. There is opportunity at the wide receiver position for the Spartans, and Corley expects to be right in the mix.

Only senior R.J. Shelton returns with any significant experience, and Corley has shown from his first day on campus that he looks like he’s up for the challenge of playing right away.

“He is really above the average in terms of what he knows football-wise because he played defense,” Samuel said. “If you took a guy that played defense and then he is playing wide receiver, then he has a better feel of what the defense is trying to do. He is playing faster, earlier, than most freshmen would be coming into a college offense.

“He can go get the ball. His rhythm, his timing, his speed and burst off the line of scrimmage and then his hands. He catches with his fingers and he has great body control. I could see him catching alley oops and dunking it with ease. He has that athletic component that you covet at the wide receiver position.”

Corley, who caught 59 passes for 1,403 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at King, does his best to brush off any talk about how impressive he’s been in practice. He knows there are expectations, but he insists he’s taking things slowly.

“I’m really just working hard every day,” Corley said. “Like when I came up here in January I had to learn the plays, learn the concepts. I was doing fine but I wasn’t playing at full speed. Now I’m getting the playbook down and playing faster and it’s helping me out on the field.”

Playing time won’t be handed to Corley, he’ll have to earn it.

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Sophomore Felton Davis expects to expand his role from last season and fifth-year senior Monty Madaris, once a highly recruited receiver, is finally healthy and ready to compete. Add in the three other four-star freshmen – Cam Chambers, Justin Layne and Trishton Jackson – and there are plenty of options for the Spartans coaches.

The four freshmen are pushing each other. Both Corley and Chambers insist it’s a brotherhood and that competition gives way to pushing each other.

“We’re trying to build each other up,” Corley said.

Corley is focusing most of his time at receiver early in camp, though he is working on kick and punt returns and is also part of several other special teams, a pretty good sign a true freshman will play.

He’s also spent some time at cornerback, though any extended time on defense might not come this year. Until then, Corley intends to focus on catching the ball.

In that, he intends to live up to the hype and do his best to make his high school coach proud.

“He wanted to see us be successful,” Corley said of Harvel. “See us go through college and get our degree. (I will be) carrying that on and going back down there and talking to the kids and making sure their minds are right. That’s the main thing.

“Life is really short. It just makes you appreciate everything a lot more.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau