There was some heavy hitting by Michigan State during the Spartans' first day in pads on Friday. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
East Lansing — It’s a comparison Mark Dantonio has made more than once since last spring — freshman cornerback Josiah Scott reminds the Michigan State coach a lot of former Spartan Darqueze Dennard.
It’s lofty praise, to be sure. After all, Dennard was part of one of Michigan State’s most dominating defenses as it led the Spartans to a Big Ten title and a victory in the Rose Bowl in 2013. He followed that up by winning the Jim Thorpe Award, given each season to the top defensive back in the nation, before being selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Back in the spring when Scott was an early enrollee, the comparison seemed like positive coach-speak about a three-star recruit from Fairfield, Ohio. Now that preseason camp has opened and Scott seems on a clear path to being a starter as a true freshman it’s about proving the coach right.
“It’s a blessing, really, to be able to make that impact on a program,” Scott said Friday after the Spartans completed their first practice in full pads. “To be able to be compared to him (Dennard), it’s a blessing but at the same time I’m not going to be complacent and try to get better every single day.
“I think about (the comparison) but not really. That’s not my main focus. I’m just trying to put forth my best foot every single day and see where that gets me.”
Where that gets him appears to be the starting lineup at a position critical to the success of the Michigan State defense. The Spartans have had a history of solid cornerback play under Dantonio, but heading into 2017 it’s a big question mark.
Experience is lacking for several reasons, including the departure of Vayante Copeland in the offseason and the uncertain future of Tyson Smith, a player with starting experience who missed the last four games of the 2016 season and spring practice after suffering from a stroke.
Smith is back on the practice field, but the door is open for someone to step in and Scott has the inside track along with sophomore Justin Layne, who switched over from receiver and started five games at corner last season.
I think Josiah is playing well and I think Justin Layne has had a good first five days,” Dantonio said. “But again, first day in pads out here so we’re trying to put them in situations where they have to make plays on the ball with their back to the ball some and things of that nature. So we’re just trying to put them in adverse situations as much as we can.”
If Scott continues to respond and ends up in the starting lineup, he’ll be the first true freshman to start at corner for Michigan State since Dennard started twice in 2010.
Dantonio believes Scott has the right makeup for the job.
“He’s very mature, going to work extremely hard and is very sure of himself and confident,” Dantonio said. “He has a skill set like that. Plus, he’s been here for six months already and he’s sort of a guy that at least has gone through spring practice and has adjusted.”
Building that confidence has been easy for Scott, the youngest of four brothers who have all had success in college football. Isaiah and Joshua won a Division III national championship in 2012 at Mount Union while his other brother, Elijah, is a sophomore at Mount Union and helped the Purple Raiders to the 2016 Division III semifinals.
Josiah Scott capped his career at Fairfield as the No. 42-ranked cornerback in the nation, according to Scout.com, and turned that into a Division I scholarship. He said he intends to use it to make his brothers proud, but knows it won’t come with confidence and swagger alone.
“I think all of it is (important), to be honest,” Scott said. “You can come in and play with swagger saying, ‘I can play just as good as you.’ But technique also, they go hand in hand. If you have really good technique and really good swagger I don’t think you can be really stopped.”
Michigan State is counting on Scott having both.