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Michigan State suffers big losses in recruiting too

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Ambry Thomas

East Lansing – Michigan State took its lumps on the football field this season, and now the Spartans are taking their share of shots on the recruiting trail.

With National Signing Day still roughly six weeks away, Michigan State has been fairly quiet in terms of landing commitments while its rivals have been pulling multiple players into the fold, including the top players within the state.

The commitment of Flint Southwestern defensive end Deron Irving-Bey to Michigan on Monday was the latest recruiting blow for the Spartans, who the week before missed out on Detroit King defensive back / wide receiver Ambry Thomas, who also opted for Michigan over Michigan State.

Both were four-star prospects who at one time were expected to be leaning toward the Spartans. According to the rankings at, the top six players in the state have chosen Michigan. The last time Mark Dantonio didn’t get at least one from the top six of the 247Sports rankings was his first class in 2007, when seventh-ranked receiver Mark Dell was his top recruit from the state.

Rankings vary by recruiting site and has two Michigan State commits – receiver Hunter Rison at No. 5 and offensive lineman Jordan Reid at No. 6 – in its state rankings. But the fact remains, Michigan State is lagging behind.


Trieu: Chuck Filiaga a ‘huge priority’ for Michigan

The 247Sports rankings are a composite of the top sites, and Rison and Reid are Nos. 10 and 11, respectively, while receiver Cody White is No. 12. Seven of the top nine have committed to Michigan while one has chosen Penn State (cornerback Donovan Johnson) and linebacker Antjuan Simmons is still undecided with Michigan State pursuing.

It’s left the Spartans lacking recruiting momentum, analyst Josh Helmholdt says.

“It was surprising to see things turn so quickly for Michigan State,” Helmholdt said. “Now it certainly was kind of a perfect storm. The success that Ohio State has been having, that definitely affects Michigan State because they recruit the state of Ohio extensively and Ohio State has shown some success in the Detroit area, which is a main recruiting ground for Michigan State. That hurts them.

“On top of that, now James Franklin all the sudden is having great success (at Penn State) and is pulling a guy like KJ Hamler, pulling a guy like Donovan Johnson, although Michigan State didn’t offer him. Still, it gives them a foot in the door in the Detroit area, so that’s gonna be a hurdle they have to clear.

“Then obviously you have (Jim) Harbaugh making a lot of news, a lot of headlines in Ann Arbor, coupled with success on the field and honestly, they’ve made a renewed focus in southeast Michigan and in-state because for the first year of recruiting, under Harbaugh, Michigan did not have much success in-state.”


Donovan Johnson

While competing on the recruiting trail with its top rivals in the Big Ten East will continue to be a challenge, avoiding another drop on the field is crucial, as well.

Going from the College Football Playoff to a 3-9 season with no bowl game doesn’t help, making a rebound in 2017 crucial for the Spartans. How much that mark has hurt recruiting this season is hard to gauge. Michigan State hasn’t had any commits change their minds; however, it’s clear it’s made at least some difference.

“I think it’s definitely affected some kids,” said Allen Trieu, Midwest Recruiting Manager at “You talk to the kids that are committed and they are firmly on board and no one has left the class because of it, and I think that’s what happens when you recruit the type of kid that they try to recruit. But I would definitely say it’s had an effect.”

Overcoming that effect and building momentum for the 2017 class will be tough, Helmholdt said, especially in the state of Michigan. The Spartans still have a shot at Simmons, but signs are pointing more toward Notre Dame at this point for the former Ohio State commit from Ann Arbor Pioneer.

There are still impact targets up for grabs out of state, including New Jersey linebacker Drew Singleton, Ohio athlete Lynn Bowden, receiver Jaylen Harris from Cleveland and linebacker Jaquan Henderson, a Tennessee commit. There are others, as well, that are a bit more off the radar, and rising linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a Virginia commit, falls in that category.



Flint Southwestern’s Deron Irving-Bey picks Michigan


If Michigan State lands some of those players it will help a class that currently stands 29th overall in the 247Sports composite rankings, a mark that would still be the fifth-best under Dantonio.

But getting back in the mix in the state will be just as crucial, and that goes beyond this class. It’s something Helmholdt believes Michigan State is capable of doing.

“Is this a one-year aberration? Can Dantonio and his group turn things around or is this a sign of things to come?” Helmholdt said. “My guess would be it’s more of a one-year aberration. They have a guy running their recruiting show over there in Curtis Blackwell who has an unparalleled reputation in the Detroit area. He does an extremely good job. A lot of those kids, parents and coaches know him, trust him. That’s a big advantage for Michigan State as they recruit Detroit and southeast Michigan.

“So I think they have the pieces in place to rebound but it’s definitely been a couple body shots here for the Spartans losing out on some in-state guys they targeted when they really had been kind of the team to beat for a number of years in Detroit and southeast Michigan.”

Twitter @mattcharboneau