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A college sports blog from The Oakland Press, dedicated to covering Michigan and Michigan State athletics as well as former Oakland County athletes at other schools.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Spartans strike early, hold on

In his heart of hearts, Mark Dantonio’s preferred style is to get a lead, then take the air out of the ball, and play keep-away.
It’s his modus operandi, on the field and off.

You can see that from the way the Michigan State coaching staff attacked recruiting this year— they gathered in a bunch of early commitments from big-time players, then slowed everything down to a crawl, and held on to those recruits for dear life.

It’s how the Spartans have scored classes in the upper echelon of the Big Ten each of the past two recruiting cycles.

And it’s why — despite all the speculation that losing ace recruiter Dan Enos to the head coaching job at Central Michigan — there was barely a hiccup in the Spartans’ recruiting efforts: Two-thirds of MSU’s 21-member class were already committed weeks before last season’s fall camp even started, and months before Enos’ January hiring at CMU.

In a two-week span in June alone, the Spartans picked up commitments from four players — led by five-star stud DE/LB William Gholston — who’d make or break a recruiting class for any Big Ten team.

From there on out, it was just addition without subtraction.

“None of them decommitted, and none of them went on visits to other schools. In a day and age where you see people flip-flopping a lot, that’s a statement in itself,” Dantonio said at Wednesday’s National Signing Day news conference at MSU’s Skandalaris Center. “William and Max (Bullough) committed last summer, and I think it showed a certain amount of maturity to stay a Spartan.”

Of specific importance was holding onto Gholston, the consensus best player in the state, and one of the most coveted prizes in the nation. For his part, the 6-foot-7, 235-pound Julian Peterson clone committed to the Spartans on June 16 — a day after four-star corner Mylan Hicks — and never wavered.

“He had opportunities, for sure. But I think he looked at the impact he could have on this state in general, as a young man, not just as a football player, and I think he always returned to where he started. What I do with all recruits — why we don’t have a lot of decommits — I let them look into their hearts, and if you have something in your heart, it grows,” Dantonio said.

“When he did make the decision, it was without pressure and without coercion. When you sell yourself on something, he began to sell other people. Every time he’d be here, he’d be talking to other recruits about coming to Michigan State, and he’d be answering his own questions there.”

Grabbing Gholston and Hicks, along with the state’s best drop-back quarterback for the second year in a row — this time Saline’s Joe Boisture, on the heels of Midland’s Andrew Maxwell a year ago — combined with Bullough, the legacy linebacker, and Chelsea scoring machine Nick Hill, allowed the Spartans to win the offseason in-state battle for Michigan again in 2010.
Couple that with back-to-back wins over Michigan on the field for the first time more than 40 years, and everything should be coming up roses for the Spartans, right?

Well, there was that messy little fight the day after the season-ending banquet, one that’s seen charges or inquiries into 14 different MSU players, and forced several of them to leave the program.

Couple that with a 6-7 season that included an embarrassing loss to a Mid-American Conference team, and a continual inability to carry out Dantonio’s game-plan of running the ball and playing stout defense — it’s no surprise that the Spartans’ recruits were inordinately slanted toward certain areas. No one could have been unhappier with last year’s pass-happy offense and porous defense than Dantonio.

By recruiting four defensive backs (to replace five graduated DBs), three linebackers, two defensive ends and a defensive tackle, the Spartans brought in almost an entire starting defensive unit to fix the latter of those flaws.

Don’t be surprised if a lot of those defenders see the field early and often.

“There’s a learning curve, but looking at the film, watching them play, I can tell you they have an opportunity to play at this level,” Dantonio admitted. “Every class, we’ve had six or seven players play as true freshmen.”

The Spartans also addressed the running game, adding three powerful offensive linemen from Dantonio’s native land of Ohio, a 230-pound power running back (Le’Veon Bell), a true fullback (Novi Detroit Catholic Central’s Niko Palazeti) and a slew of other athletes who can — and will — run the ball.

“There are opportunities. We have young freshmen (Larry Caper and Oak Park’s Edwin Baker) there right now. I really don’t care who we hand the ball to, as long as they hold onto it, and move forward,” Dantonio admitted.

Recruiting season over, it remains to be seen if the Spartans will take the momentum from back to back solid recruiting classes, and back-to-back wins over rival Michigan, and continue to move forward.

Or if they fail to hold onto the ball.

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