EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio introduced the Spartans' 2017 recruiting class Wednesday afternoon at a press conference inside the Izzo Family Media Center at Spartan Stadium.
For a complete look at MSU's 2017 recruiting class, including bios, quotes and highlights, please visit MSU's Signing Day Central.
The following is a complete transcript from Wednesday's press conference:
COACH DANTONIO: Welcome to Spartan Signing Day, 2017. We're very, very excited about this. Probably the bulk of this class was 17 guys and they stayed with us throughout the entire process, so they form up a large part of the class. The remaining five guys have been added late in the recruiting process or in these last couple months.
I think it's a class that represents our needs, and it represents great football players and great people. We have guys that have won state championships, we have very high academic oriented guys, we have guys with extreme athletic ability and explosiveness and guys that play multiple positions. I think that's key, as well. Guys that not only play linebacker, but elite tailback and recruited type tailback. Some of these things are evident as we go.
So I thought what I would today, as I talked about each group, I asked each guy to send me a hat, so I'll stick a hat and talk about each individual guy a little bit as we go through this, and give their school a little bit or recognition as we went through this, and make this a little unique. So I've got my props up here a little bit.
I want to thank our coaches for all they did through this process. Recruiting to me is a group process. It's not just our assistant coaches, it's when they come onto campus, all the people that interact with our recruits, our players, everybody that's involved with them. Our facilities, the people that run our facilities, our administration, President Simon and (MSU Athletics Director) Mark Hollis took time out of their busy schedules to be involved in this as well. Many of our professors, whether it be Dean of Students or our academic people would come in on weekends and be a part of this. It is truly a group effort, and I want to thank everybody involved in that. Our coaches have done an outstanding job targeting these guys and recruiting operations people. And also in that same vein, it starts there. And this is a process. And I think that's what everybody needs to understand, as you go through this. A lot of these young men have been on campus ten times, five times, some 15, 20 times. In the course of the last year and a half or so.
This begins not just today. It began a year and a half ago for some of these young men. The exciting thing is this is the end point for part of their career, and it's the beginning point for another aspect of where they're at, and then they're going come from scratch, here, now, and they're going to have a chance to do extraordinary things here at Michigan State.
With that we'll start with the offensive side of the ball, the wide receiver group. Our wide receivers, a position in need, based on our numbers, and based on the skill set that was available. Cody White was our first guy that decided to commit way back in I think in August. And Sheldon White, who worked for the Lions for the past 19 years. Cody was Mr. Football in the state of Michigan. He played not only wide receiver, which we recruited him at, but also played quarterback, punted, returned kicks, played corner. He was a guy that really established himself throughout this state in so many different capacities. He'll be an outstanding player here. Playing him at wide receiver. He's grown over almost four inches, he's almost 6-4, 205. He spent a lot of time at the Lions summer camps and doing things of that nature. So he's got a very, very high football IQ. He's been up on campus, I asked him the other day, probably 20 times, this is a school he always pointed to, and the direction he wanted to come and be a Spartan. Mark Staten was involved in the process, along with having known Sheldon White, along with Brad Salem and Terrance Samuel as well, very very involved in that recruiting process and they did an outstanding job. Cody came up numerous times throughout the recruiting process, on unofficial visits to help us recruit other players, and I want to thank him for that and thank his entire family for their trust in us as people. So Cody White is up and down. So one hat up, one hat down.
Our next wide receiver, Hunter Rison, from Skyline. Hunter was Division 1-2, All-Michigan First Team athlete, 1,700 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns in just two seasons at Skyline. Great body control. He was one of the first guys to be offered coming out of our camp two years ago. So obviously he has legacy here. He's obviously a legacy here with his father having played here, but you make your own way. You make your own way as a young person. He came here. Has great hands, very, very, I guess I use the word crisp. Crisp route runner. He's a guy that has a great motor, very enthusiastic. Played defense, as well. He has great body control, ability to catch the ball down the field in traffic. When you watch the highlight film there's catch after catch. And when you watch him at camp you see a great football player, that can get vertical very quickly. He'll play Z, slot receiver, as well. He's impressed us from day one in his abilities in what he will bring to this program.
Third wide receiver is C.J. Hayes out of Bowling Green, Kentucky. C.J. is a late add, came up the last weekend, this was his dream school. This is a process that's been ongoing over the course of a year, year and a half. We were extremely excited when C.J. became a Spartan. He won the state championship as a junior. Had 51 receptions last year for 805 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. Big body wide receiver, does a great job catching the ball in traffic, outstanding defensive player, as well. He has power in terms of hitting people, does not shy away from contact. We've seen him catch bubbles, catch the ball in traffic, catch the ball up and down the field. He'll be a great addition to our receiver corps, and look for him to play early in his career here.
The fourth wide receiver, we acquired him today, Laress Nelson, he's from Fort Lauderdale, American Heritage High School. Guy that probably didn't get as much ink as some of these other guys coming out, but won 28 out of 29 games and the Patriots were ranked No. 11 in the country by MaxPreps. He's a smaller guy and very quick-body guy, a very electric guy watching film in terms of actual work out films. Punt returner. Reminds me a lot of Macgarrett Kings in terms of how he plays and his abilities. Has a great ability to catch the football with great eye/hand coordination. And we're looking forward to seeing him play many different positions, whether it's jet sweeps or bubble screens or down the field routes or punt returns.
And that sort of winds up the wide receiver group. We wanted to take four this year, last year having taken four great receivers. We felt like we needed to take four. I think we answered a lot, we got some versatility in that group in terms of the type of wide receivers we were able to bring with us.
Next guy up, Rocky Lombardi, a quarterback out of Valley, Iowa. Valley High School in Des Moines, Iowa. And Rocky is just an outstanding athlete. He's been on campus many, many times throughout the process. Again, a young man that really helped us recruit quite a few players. Don't have a hat for him, but the guy is 29-1 in wrestling, weighing in at the 220 mark. He power cleans 315. He's an outstanding baseball player, quarterback, threw over 5,000 yards, 30-6 record as a starting quarterback, just a winner type guy. Very, very tough minded individual. We've watched him play in person, had him in camp two years. Brad Salem, the position coach and recruiter as well did an outstanding job with Rocky. It's a football family, his dad is a long time high school and college coach. And again, I think he's a guy that has extremely high football IQ. And he's going to bring a lot of toughness and leadership to our football program. He's a scratch golfer, and I assume that's correct. But looking forward to him here. And again, another outstanding athlete. 26 pins, I think he's got the fastest pin, three seconds in the history of high school wrestling.
Connor Heyward, and we recruited Connor, as an athlete, and I tell you, one thing about him, is I think you can put him in five different positions in the football field and he could excel. Whether it's outside backer, safety, possibly, I really think he's an outstanding offensive player, so he'll start on the offensive side of the ball. Started for his basketball team, Peachtree Ridge, big school in Georgia, as a ninth grader there on the basketball team, and extremely explosive athlete, very explosive. We've seen him play tailback, wide receiver, linebacker, safety, he's all over the field. You make a highlight film, it's almost a hundred plays or more. We will play him, begin playing him at the tailback position. He's about 6-2, 218 pounds. Very, very explosive. And I think he runs behind his pads, gives you the opportunity to use him in wildcat situations and put him in slot positions and not have to change personnel. A gifted athlete. Obviously the family is very athletic family, son of Craig "Ironhead" Heyward. His brother plays for the Steelers, as well, has another brother playing for Vanderbilt basketball. Great leadership skills, outstanding student, as well. And when you meet Conner, just like a lot of our guys, I think you come in contact with people, you see why they excel. It's not just their athletic ability, it's their whole way of doing things and their whole mindset. And I think he'll rub off on a lot of people, and be a leader for this football team in the future. Conner is from Peachtree Ridge, and was coached by Mark Fleetwood.
Tight end, Matt Dotson, from Cincinnati Moeller. Matt was one of our higher recruited players in the field, probably could have went to school anywhere in America. Outstanding tight end, I've watched him in person catch a ball, in practice and workouts and things of that nature. Very dynamic pass catcher. Great ability for a guy that's six-foot-five and 235 pounds to come under control and make that difficult catches. You see that on highlight film. He's a guy who could have probably gotten a lot of other offers. Makes plays down the field. He's the sixth guy from Cincinnati Moeller since we've been here. That program is very, very good to us. We appreciate all that they do. Coach Rodenberg is an outstanding coach. Extremely successful program. And Matt is in the top 250 in the country. You've obviously seen the different things on him. Participated in the Opening Camp, I'm trying to think who else did. We've had a number of players go through that since we've been here, but I think that Matt is a guy that's going to play very early in his career. He'll be up to 250 pounds very, very quickly. He's got toughness. Can run, can catch, a big target and has a great deal of enthusiasm that goes along with it.
Jack Camper from Virginia Beach. Jack enrolled in Michigan State this semester. He's a Virginia Beach tight end, went to IMG (Academy), which is a unique place to finish his high school football career. He played junior and senior year there, he played tight end and defensive end, as well. We actually saw him playing tight end in practice, and when they were still using the traditional tight end, we were attracted to him. He later played defensive end and played very, very well for them. He played in very highly competitive situations, whether it's game or whether it's practice. But he's been a guy that as much as I said -- like I said about Connor Heyward, very explosive. I think he just touched the top of the square on the basketball backboard. Jack, 6-5, 240 pounds, to jump 10-8 long jump is extraordinary. But he's been exciting to watch in workouts, and will have an opportunity to participate immediately, and have an opportunity to impact this program very, very quickly.
Weston Bridges, running back out of Copley High School in Ohio. Two time all Ohio First Team selection for Copley. Rushed for 3,500, almost 3,600 yards and 60 touchdowns, 474 carries in his 23 game high school career, 63 total touchdowns, also compiled over 4,200 all-purpose yards in his career. He recruited early in the process but he went down with a knee injury late in the season, but we felt like he's a guy that we really took our time evaluating tailbacks, but he's got great vision, great feet. He's powerful. He'll be about 205 pounds as he was in the season, once he gets back to his playing weight or more. Reminds you a little bit of a Jeremy Langford type guy, the way he runs behind his pads. We're very, very excited about getting him as a Spartan. And he and Connor Heyward will basically man the tailback position early in their careers. They both have abilities, certainly Connor has the ability to play other positions. Weston also could probably play other positions, although he will remain at the tailback position.
The third phase of offensive, so we're moving through it, I guess, starts with Jordan Reid from Cass Tech, Cass Tech is another state champion. Like many of our guys, state champions and like many of our other guys, sort of withstood a barrage of recruiting throughout the process. These guys committed early on and held on, all of these guys have held to the fact that they took no visits through the process and remained completely committed to Michigan State, which I think is probably a little bit abnormal the way recruiting goes at some point in time. We asked them to do that. They stayed committed. They've been very firm in their commitment. Jordan also played defensive line, all these guys play defensive line and offensive line. So they're athletic, very athletic guy. Very rangy, can run well. Again, played for outstanding program, Thomas Wilcher, they're used to winning and their expectations and bar is set high. He is 265 or 70 pounds, but could go as high as 285. We look for big things from him early in the process.
Mustafa Khaleefah or Whiz, as we call him, from Dearborn High School has been playing football for I believe three years. I think this was his third year playing high school football, and an extremely tough young man. Very, very good student. Came to the United States from Iraq, back when he was, I believe, nine or so. And learned how to play football. And he's still learning. Came to camp for two years, I mean for two times this year, and demonstrated great toughness, and great ability to work. Very, very great ability I think to understand basic offensive concepts and things of that nature. Mark Staten did an outstanding job in recruiting process and evaluating him, along with Terrance Samuel, and all these guys, I can go back and talk about all these guys as far as who recruited them. But Whiz is a guy that has a very, very high ceiling in the process, here. Big guy, 6-5 or 6-6, 290 pounds already, and is not a sloppy 290. So he's a guy that I believe will project very, very quickly in the offensive line situation as we go.
Our next offensive lineman, Matt Carrick from Perry High School, played in the state championship game. Jim Bollman, Mark Staten, Mark Snyder, also recruiting those guys, hope I'm putting on the right hats at this point, but Matt is a wrester, wrestles for Kim Anderson that played for us at Ohio State when I was there. A wrestler, 325 pounds during the season, got down to 285 for wrestling in Ohio. So the guy knows how to work. What impressed me about Matt early on in the process, just like all these big guys that play defense, as well. If you watch him on his junior film, you can see him play defensive end, change of direction, power, those type of things, and was extremely, extremely impressive. He gets out and pulls very effectively, gets on you, can play any position, center, guard or offensive tackle. He's a big guy and extremely committed guy. Comes from a great program and understands how to work and what you have to do to be successful.
And then Kevin Jarvis is our fourth offensive lineman, and given is an outstanding player, Chicago Tribune Player of the Year, and another guy that could go anywhere in the country. Don't ask me how I fit these hats on, sometimes they come up a bit short, sometimes fit just right. But Kevin made a commitment to come to Michigan State, 6-5 or 6-6, 340 pounds, he's not a sloppy guy at all, very, very trim and fit for that size. Another guy I believe that can play very early in his career. Played defense, as well, for another state champion, the Main South football team and represented his team, and I think he had two sacks in the championship game. Big, talented, offensive lineman and tough. And I think all of our offensive linemen bring that sense of toughness to the game when you talk about them. Graduated some guys last year, so we look forward to their development.
We've got another guy that we're able to announce, I call them free agents. He's from Catholic Central High School, Blake Bueter, as a young man who will come here as a non-scholarship athlete, just like Jack Conklin came. Amazing thing, we have about six guys I'm able to talk about, I think three of them or so, or maybe four, but when Jack came here, Jack Conklin came here a number of years ago, he came here without anybody, anybody, offering him full scholarships. That's not the case with Blake. He's been offered by other people, won't go into who, but he made the decision that he wants to play at Michigan State. So he will be able to do that, and will be able to accomplish that dream. I really believe he's got tremendous upside, he's big, 6-4, approaching, 285. He comes from a great program, for coach Tom Mach, where they're used to winning football games. And like you saw Jack Conklin, first-team All-Big Ten, first round pick and then All-Pro in his rookie season, I think a lot of these guys have that ability. You don't know when a Darqueze Dennard or a Jack Conklin, or someone like that, will walk into your program, and be a star.
We may have another guy join that group, as we go through the process, but it would be a free act type capacity.
Our defensive end of things, start with the linebackers, Antjuan Simmons from Pioneer High School, a four star outside backer, was also a tailback for them, and in the ESPN 300, picked 294, for whatever this gets you. Rated number one outside linebacker in the state of Michigan, Dream Team guy, 73 tackles, two interceptions, highlights go on and on and on. Tremendous person, works with special needs kids at Pioneer High School. Actually works in a classroom setting. Plans to major in special education here. And I think he'll be a dynamic leader, not just player, but leader for us. So decided to commit to Michigan State a little bit later in the process but certainly he's one of the guys that we jumped at and very, very excited that he's going to be a Spartan. Hits with great shock, can run, redirect, great ball skills, outstanding football player.
Darien Tipps-Clemons from Piqua High School. The guy committed early in the process. Was a recruited tailback in high school. Standout junior season, had over 1,650 yards as a tailback, 24 touchdowns in 2015, 150 yards a game. When you watch his highlight film you can see the things he can do as a tailback. We recruited him as an outside linebacker, he's a great player. His senior season was cut very short this year, and after one game, he had a season ending knee injury, he's on the rehab from that, and should be at full strength when summer comes, as it was early in his junior year. We'll look for him to be an immediate contributor, possibly at linebacker. He does give us that flexibility of putting him at tailback, as he's got great feet, great vision, runs behind his pads, and has the ability to be a punt returner, kick returner, as well. Both he and Antjuan are very skillful players for outside backers. I think that's what you're seeing right now with linebackers across the country, you see linebackers that really look like running backs. They really are probably running backs in high school, and they got a tackle running back. So I think it's very unique. Coach Tomlin of the Steelers mentioned that to me at a Pro Day, how more and more in the NFL you're seeing those type of linebackers show up. He'll go 220 pounds or so, and I think he'll be an outstanding player for us, in a variety of positions.
Noah Harvey had offer opportunities, various scholarship opportunities, school scholarship opportunities, and he will come here as a gray shirt, which means we will put him on next January, and he's a guy that tested very, very well in our camps. He long jumped almost 10 feet and verticaled well into the 30s, and ran 4.6's, a big body guy, standing 6-4, 230 pounds. Out of Arrowhead, Wisconsin, and we're looking forward to him impacting this program, like a Kyler Elsworth did. I think about the Rose Bowl, and thinking about the guys that come in in this capacity. And I look and say Andrew Gleichert, big catch in the Rose Bowl, Kyler Elsworth, MVP, Trevon Pendleton, Connor Kruse starts at offensive line. We've got guys that have come here and done that, and it's always very, it's not unique, it's almost exhilarating when you see a guy that's come from so far make plays like that. And I think Noah has that type of ability. As he moves forward he's going to be a guy to watch.
Brent Mossburg from Carleton, Michigan. I don't believe we have a hat for him. Another linebacker that will come here, he can flat-head you. When you watch his film, he puts his face on you, puts his shoulder pads on you, won't put a helmet on you anymore. Three years of varsity football at Airport, four positions, linebacker, big guy that can thump you. And that's our linebacker group.
Our defensive line starts with Jacub Panasiuk from Lake Park West. He's a three-year starter for Coach Roll up there. Obviously we've got Mike here, so it's always great when you have a guy that, I think it's a statement when you have one young man from that family playing and they make a decision as a family that that next guy in line will come here, as well. Extremely highly recruited guy. Really can transition speed to power. Big guy, 265 pounds right now, could be 280 by the time he walks in here. Could play defensive end. I think he'll be an impact guy for us. A guy that can get on the field for us. Extremely gifted with his hands and his feet. Plays with a high motor. All-State First Team, 8A, All-State First Team in Chicago, 55 solo tackles, 14 TFLs, and six sacks. And really excited about him, and I remember making a statement to him when he did commit. I said you will be impacting this football team and you'll be playing on this field next year. So I'm looking forward to that opportunity for him.
Lashawn Paulino-Bell out of St. Thomas Aquinas, which is the home of Madre London. Outstanding football player in that high school program. He's another young man that won a state title. A guy that committed early in the process and stayed true to his commitment throughout. And if you go to St. Thomas Aquinas, daily that you've got college coaches, head coaches and college coaches. And when you see that big body guy with his big hands like that you cannot help but be attracted and say `who's that? Who's that guy?' Has tremendous speed off the edge. Will impact this football program in a lot of ways, sort of a nationally recruited guy. Coach Snyder was involved with recruiting him, Coach Burton, as well. Very highly successful program, and he's used to success and I think he'll be a great pass rusher for us among other things. No. 5 USA TODAY rankings as a team, and defensive team process, No. 41 by scout, No. 53 by ESPN, which again, whatever that gives you. But I think Lashawn is an outstanding player, and I appreciate all of our guys as they went through this process, their commitment lasted. They didn't waiver, they didn't go back and forth, there wasn't a situation where we had to re-recruit a guy. They stayed the course. And that's been a fixture for most of our classes since we have been here, almost all of them.
The last defensive lineman here is DeAri Todd, and DeAri is out of Lorain, Ohio. Jim Bolman, primary recruiter. DeAri is a guy that we looked at as the season came to the end and a guy we continued to recruit. We didn't know much about him, we didn't have him in camp, so we continued to watch him play basketball, do the various things we had to do as the recruiting process continued. Recruited as a defensive end, but has the ability to roll into a defensive tackle. He's playing 245, about 6-4. Very athletic guy, could play tight end, great hands, plays on the basketball court. Is a fluid basketball player, not just a banger. We watched him a long time and made some decisions on him as we went through the process. I think he's got a great upside. A great future here at Michigan State. Good student. Very, very solid person, and Ron Burton and Jim Bolman were very much involved in that recruiting process over the point in time.
Defensive back wise, defensive backs, we'll start with Josiah Scott who is currently here. Josiah reminds you a lot of Darqueze Dennard the way he goes about his business, his change of direction, his ability to move vertical. I've only seen him out there one day, but I've heard from other people talking about him, as they've watched him in work outs, comes to work every day, has a sense of toughness, has outstanding ball handling from film and watching him in person playing in games. Coach Barnett was his primary recruiter. Has great snap when he tackles. I think he'll be a tremendous player for us. I've only watched one day, when we started winter workouts, fourth quarter workouts, not to be confused with first quarter workouts, but I just thought he really, really looked dynamic out there. So we'll look forward to him contributing here this spring, and seeing what he's got. I think he's got great football IQ, as many of our players do, and we'll look forward to that as he grows.
Dominique Long, guy committed in summer after coming to camp, and in camp he vertical-ed 38 inches, long jumped 10-8, weighed 205 pounds, size 16 shoes, about 6-2 and a half or so. Runs a quarter, runs a 400 in 47.88, I believe. Runs a 10.9, 100 meters, as well. Outstanding athlete, very, very explosive. What attracted me to him as you watch him in the recruiting process, and he played some safety as a junior, but he was an outside linebacker and he was running and tackling. His ability to tackle in space really is the thing that I looked at and said, `hey, who is that guy?' The more you found out about him the more you liked about him. I think he's got 31 on the ACT, maybe 4.3 grade point average, wants to do engineering. Tough, wide receiver, kick returner, punt returner this season. And I think, a tremendous athlete with a big upside. Reminds me of Montae Nicholson in his athletic makeup and ability. I look for the way he tackles and ball skills, he'll be having the ability to get on the field early for us. It will be interesting watching him. Great person, great player.
Tre Person. I don't see a hat up here for Tre. Might be. Tre Person is from Atlanta, Georgia, Westlake High School. Plays for Kareem Reid. And again, the more you watch him, you watch him at corner, you watch him at safety. Very, very high football IQ. Plays at a high level down there. Great competition down there. Punt returner, kick returner, plays wide receiver, runs the football, defensive back, great tackle. I think he's going to have a chance to get on the field very, very quickly for us. Ran 10.9 (100 meters), only ran track for a couple of years. He'll come down from that even this next spring, here, this coming up spring, but Tre was very, very impressive when he came on the scene here, when he came up here a couple of weeks ago, and made the decision to commit. We were very, very excited about it. I think he's a guy that has a huge, huge, huge future here, as do all of our players, but I think there's something special about that guy, as well.
We are recruiting one more scholarship defensive back who I'm trying to -- if I can make it to 4:00 p.m. -- okay, so we're good -- so Emmanuel Flowers is from California, plays out at Chino Hills, one of the top corners in the nation by Rivals or Scout. But in California, he's the guy that plays wide receiver, as well, reminds me of Tony Lippett. He has a lot of length. Made plays on the ball in the deep part of the field. Made plays in space in tackling. Watched him workout in person, I flew out to L.A. and do some drills. He could drop his weight, great change in direction, and I think he'll be an outstanding player for us. Played wide receiver, as well. Really only the last four games of the year, but when you watch his highlight film you see tons of catches and things of that nature. So great ball skills. Great length. Very, very good tackler, great ability to change directions. I think all three of these guys, Tre Person, Emmanuel Flowers and Josiah Scott have a great upside. I think two of those guys could play field safety or corner. So I think he'll have an opportunity to get involved very, very quickly here. He made the announcement probably in the last five minutes, and I think he's a great addition to our class and takes us to four defensive backs in this class.
Jack Mandryk is a man from Hudsonville. Comes as a free agent. Jack played quarterback, played a variety of positions there, comes here as a safety, and a very good athlete for the Bulldogs and another guy that I think when you look at it, you start to evaluate guys where they're at, where they come in at, it's best to look at how they leave. How do they leave Michigan State as they end their college career. He's got work to do like a lot of our players. The main thing I want to emphasize when you talk about these guys, it's a starting point. This is not the end point for these guys, whether you're Emmanuel, whether you're Matt Dotson or any of those guys with all of these hats. This is the end point for their recruiting process, but it's the starting point in college. What they're able to accomplish will be defined by what they do and how they compete in the next four and five years. Usually at the age of 18 there's a lot of development to go. They're just starting to scratch the surface, as we've been reminded so many times here at Michigan State when we look at a young man. You can't evaluate him even as a freshman, that evaluation should take place probably when they're into their second year. Some guys will play as true freshmen, I think that's the nature of it, but a lot of players will come, they'll work, they'll transition too this level of football and start to make their way through it.
But when you look back at our class it makes very, very solid class. I'll take some questions right now.
Q. I sense in your voice, Mark, a sense of loyalty to the guys who stuck with you through this season. What do you run into, what is the impact as you were on the recruiting trail, and what were the conversations with these guys that you feel that loyalty with them throughout all of last fall?
COACH DANTONIO: First of all, we've had that established here for a long time. We had very, very few players ever de-commit to the program over a long course in time. We had some guys flipping back at the end of the recruiting process back and forth. It's probably because they don't have a good decision of where they're going to go at the end of the process. When you start making decisions on Signing Day or the day before, it's got to be nerve wrecking, but the guys taking their time, and planned out where they want to go to college, they've looked in depth at our program and made a decision to come here, have stuck with their decision throughout the process.
This has been the same for these guys, and really to be quite honest, I never got one question where we're at. Our season was one of a lot of different things going on, but competitiveness was never the problem. And these guys will come and will be part of the process, and we're excited about that, and I do appreciate their loyalty. But I always have. Probably one of the most important things that I say to a player in this process at the end of the day is that I appreciate your trust in us as people, and your loyalty to the program. But more our trust in us as people, in terms of helping you move forward in your life.
Q. The recruiting process, it was said that almost all the coaches use flamboyance and uniforms and other things to get kids attention, and you're completely different, and that's why nobody flipped, because you recruit integrity, and guys with integrity are drawn to that. Is that probably the best compliment a recruit could give you?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I hope so. I just put on some hats today, I thought that was big of me. I'm stepping out, okay?
I think that's what we try to be. I think it's very important to walk into somebody's home and be who we are. This is not easy, it's not easy to play college football. I think people need to understand that as they go through this. A lot of people have different gimmicks as they go through it, and that's part of the fun process of this, too, because it is fun. That's part of the fun, I guess.
We've done some of those types of things, as well, but I think at the end, in the end, you see people -- if you spend enough time with people you tend to see people for who they are, and they really don't change all that much.
So I try and be the same guy that's recruiting them as the guy who will be sitting in the chair when they come in to see me in the office. I don't want there to be a difference when they show up in my office, `who is that guy?' because I never met him during recruiting. I think that's important. That's how we've always done it here.
Q. Two part sort of question, here. Now that Emmanuel is in the fold, are there more guys that you were after from this class in particular?
COACH DANTONIO: We'll always never close the door. There may be some opportunities to take guys, but our numbers sort of dictate that this is where we're at. Obviously we could probably go over a little bit, or there may be some different things happen. But we also put -- I think it's important to know that we put Collin Caflisch on scholarship, who was our snapper last year, Matt Coughlin went on scholarship, and they count to our 85, so that was assumed, as well.
Q. The second part, I know you can't speak to specific situations for guys who were not in this class, but can you revisit the Austin situation last year and the things that you guys went through from signing day when you learned he wasn't going to be here and the process that you went through before you added him?
COACH DANTONIO: I think that's last year's news, but I think that these situations happen. I think people continue to recruit individuals for whatever reason they haven't signed, for whatever reason. And there are a lot of football players out there, as evident by, I keep bringing up Jack Conklin, but I think five years ago at this time, he had nothing. And he made a commitment to coming here and walking into this program and look where he's at now. So that speaks to the development by our coaching staff and by our strength coaches and by our academic people and speaks to his toughness and what he's trying to do, and that exists out there, not just in him, but in other players, as well.
Q. In a few hours all the recruiting analysts are going to tell us how your class did and everyone else in the country. It's kind of comical, because some of those guys rating have never seen these kids play. Do you put little or zero stock in where your class is rated?
COACH DANTONIO: I really don't know where -- I really don't -- we evaluate players based on what we see, and in the scope of things I think there is traction gained by recruiting services, based on who is recruiting them. And that usually occurs in their junior year. I think their senior year a lot of times guys sort of fade off the radar a little bit. But if you go and look at NFL rosters across this country, you're going to see guys playing from a lot of different places, and when you really get right down to it, I believe the NFL probably evaluates people as well as anybody in America, certainly more intense than the college coaches because they have more access, more access, more ability to work guys out and things of that nature, and ask them to do specific drills, and they can spend all the time that they want with them, and they still make mistakes, and there are still guys that come as free agents in the NFL and play.
I think it's difficult to evaluate people's progress, especially when you're 18, and going between 18 and 22, are probably your biggest years of development as a young man, going from a teenager to a grown man. And there's a lot of development there both intellectually and physically and emotionally.
Q. That's how you end up with a lot of guys in the next level.
COACH DANTONIO: And we do, we have a lot of guys playing, and a lot of guys playing in the NFL. And they got there honestly, and they got there through hard work. Some guys are highly recruited guys, and other guys not so much, but they're still there.
Q. Do you feel like with one of the guys who was a true freshman a year ago that you now have a true pass rusher again in your program?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, these are guys that we recruited out of high school, but I say you hope that's the case. I also think that there's things before we get to spring ball that we'll talk about, certain movements, and we were young, and sometimes the quarterback should have had him and sometimes -- those are things that I think we talk about at a later date. There's no question when you recruit defensive linemen, you're recruiting guys that can pressure the quarterbacks and rundown quarterbacks, and we've seen that with all three of these guys.
Q. Beyond the rankings, do you kind of look at this as a typical Michigan State class, and the need that you had? Or was there something unusual with the amount of flips that you had at the end that you guys flipped at the end? Was that unusual or is it the typical Michigan State class?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think our foundation is 17 guys, a lot of very highly recruited guys in there, and they stood pat, and I think that's been typical of what we've been able to accomplish here. I think that speaks to the stability of our coaching staff.
We've got guys that have been here, recruited the same area, they have personal relationships with those players as they've come to camp or come on campus or as they've called them on the phone over the course of the recruiting time periods.
So I think that's a big part of it. In terms of guys who made decisions late in the process, I don't know if they flipped or I don't know that we started recruiting them a little later. California is a ways, but everybody has little bit of something going in this direction.
For Emmanuel, you know, the guy grew. He was playing defensive end as a sophomore, but thinned out and all of a sudden he's a thin, lean defensive back that can run and change direction and do all the things that he needs to do.
So everybody, I think, evolves at a different time period. I know a couple of guys that were committed to other programs, but they were still being recruited out there by power five conferences.
So even though they were committed, there were power five schools coming in on them the last couple of weeks, such as Tre and things of that nature.
Q. I was curious, so the years leading up to last year, the recruiting cycle going that way. What's the brand recognition with Michigan State, was it still as strong after this season or did you and your coaches experience anything else that you hadn't seen before?
COACH DANTONIO: I think our brand is very, very strong. When you look at when you're recruiting young people right now, you're talking to young people that have seen us play in the Rose Bowl, seen us play in the playoffs, see us play and win in the Cotton Bowl. They've seen us on the big stage. We always have a big stage here at Michigan State, we always do. They look forward to that, the opportunity to play. Sometimes I've had a quarterback tell me when we went to the Rose Bowl he was de-committing because he didn't think he could play.
So it works both ways. Sometimes people don't think they can come play immediately, and other times they think I can help, and I can play right away. I don't know what's the real truth behind that, but there's been absolutely no loss of our brand in this country. We're able to walk in and go head-to-head. We lost some guys last night or on Signing Day in the morning. It was between us and major, major programs throughout this country. So it is sort of what it is. I think the general thought process here has been that guys on campus, they get to know us as people, and go that's probably where you do your best work.
Q. You talked before last season, and a couple of times during the season about how certain guys have come in and had that mentality you talked about. How much do you look for guys that have the right mentality coming into the program?
COACH DANTONIO: We look for guys that can help with great programs. I'm looking down at these hats here, Cincinnati Moeller, you know, Maine South, Perry, I'm looking over here, looking at Peachtree Ridge. I can go on and on, Fairfield, I can go on and on. Programs. Westerville South, which maybe didn't have as much success as they had in the past, but a place that's been putting out players for years, for years.
We look at programs and we look at players within those programs and it tells a story, I think. Tells a story of who's coaching those guys. A guy like Keith Wakefield coaching Matt Carrick or John Rodenberg coaching Matt Dotson, and on it goes, Mark Fleetwood at Peachtree Ridge coaching Connor Heyward. That's a statement within itself. They've had an opportunity to work with these guys from the 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th grades. They've learned to do things in their program that can build our program, as well. We look for players within programs, just like everybody.
I think it's a rarity when we go into a program, and they've had one player, and the only player they've had for the last 6-10 years. I think that's rare. I don't think that's happening very often.
Q. Along those same lines, there were nine different states represented in this class. Some things happened in-state with some guys. How important was it for your coaches, the road work that they did in the last few years, when you guys were at the pinnacle in other states away from the cardinal area where you usually look?
COACH DANTONIO: We have a national brand, as I spoke to earlier. You walk in here or when you walk into any high school in America, any high school in America, you have a Spartan on your shirt, you're going to be in the hunt. Doesn't mean you're going to get them. The reality is if you said, hey, we win if we get five, if we're in the top five of their programs, we win. We're winning on a ton of players. So that constitutes winning and losing in recruiting. What makes up that last one is a combination of everything, coach, host, players, their experiences here, distance, position, opportunity to play early, NFL prospects, all these different things. So that's hard.
But our brand is extremely strong, and it always will be. It always will be. That's why I came to Michigan State in the first place, way back, and that's why I came back to Michigan State in 2007, because of the brand and because of Michigan State being who it is.
Q. Recruiting these days, a lot of it is early offers, early commitments in January and spring and so forth. But in this class it seemed like there was a lot of late activity. Was some of that a throwback in terms of doing late evaluations and late offers and take me through that and what was that like. Someone like Tre Person was someone who the schools came on later?
COACH DANTONIO: We're always looking. We're always recruiting. We're not just sending guys and saying go to these schools and don't look around. We're always looking for good people and good football players. And so that attracted us, and there were also some needs there. Trying to make decisions between this guy and this guy and this guy and this guy, and it's tough. Because there's guys out there we didn't quite go on that were very, very good football players around the country. So it gets tough. It becomes a little bit like, okay, what do you think is special, as opposed to what somebody else thinks is special.
But I guess the answer to your question, I do think, as crazy as it sounds, I do think it's getting, which is even more of a statement towards our 17 guys who stayed firm, I do think it's getting pretty radical out there with guys flip flopping, flip flopping and flipping back to you and flip flopping again.
So that's uncharacteristic and that's frustrating for a coach, but I guess that's the world we're living in. It's the world of instant gratification, it's a world where a lot of people probably don't even listen to the song they have playing the whole way. They have a tendency to shut it down before they listen to the whole song.
I understand that, that's the world we're living in, so we need to be able to adopt and be able to, in the process, be able to change abruptly, as well, and go a different direction, if we need to. We always need to have guys sitting there in a position of, okay, if this is going to happen, we've got to go with this guy.
Q. You say you're always looking to tweak things and keep things fresh, Laress Nelson said something interesting, he said you're looking for a type of a receiver to do things in space. Nelson wasn't the only recruit you had to visit that was kind of a smaller explosive type guy. Does that indicate that that's one type of player that you had to have a different mindset in coming into this recruiting year?
COACH DANTONIO: Coach Samuel compared him a lot and I'd agree to MacGarrett Kings, who was very, very successful here. Quick body guy in the slot. Make you miss. That's what we saw in him, and we saw that at a late stage, and other people saw that at a late stage, as well, I think. But the bottom line is we saw it. And when we saw the workout tape, the individual workout tape that his coach made for us to watch, that was the impressive thing, that was the thing that pops your eyes and said, wow, that guy's got skill.
So at times we've looked at it and said we're going to -- believe what we see. So, again, it's the type of thing where people went a couple of different directions at the end or flipped or whatever the case may be, we're happy with the guys that we get, and we always have a plan. I think that's the important thing. Always have a plan.
Thanks for coming here today. Thanks for being a part of this. Go Green!