Mark Dantonio Introduces 2014 Recruiting Class
Feb. 5, 2014
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio introduced the Spartans' 2014 recruiting class Wednesday afternoon at a press conference inside the Clara Bell Smith Center Auditorium.
The class features 20 players representing eight states (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin).
For a complete look at MSU's 2014 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: Long video, but we thought we would give you an opportunity to see our guys. First of all, want to welcome everybody to I guess what would be our eighth signing day. I think recruiting is about formulating the future a little bit sometimes.
I guess the adage would be, Come in as the lamb, go out as the lion. That's what we've been able to do thus far with every one of our recruiting classes.
With this one in particular I feel it's our most solid in seven, eight years here. Very, very excited about the people we have coming in. I think we addressed some of the issues across the board that we needed to based on graduation.
We've recruited four linebackers, and all of these guys are very instinctive players, guys that have played multiple positions, tailback. I think all three of them - all four of them have actually played tailback at one point in time. Couple played in the secondary as well. So they're athletic guys. They're guys that can move, catch the ball, run; they're 220 plus pounds or so.
T.J. Harrell is a guy from Tampa Florida. Very highly recruited young man. He's playing in the International Bowl on Friday. He's playing with two of our other signed, committed guys. He's a very exciting player; highly recruited.
Certainly look back in the back here. Chris Frey is on campus right now. Upper Arlington High School and a guy who has played corner. He's played a lot of positions for his football team, so very excited about him.
Byron Bullough is a Spartan so he understands the nature of what goes on here. I think it makes a statement when you send your son into a place where your other two sons have already been. I think it makes a statement in terms of how they been treated and the type of direction we're going as a football program. So excited to have Byron here. Again, another guy that has played quarterback - multiple positions.
Then Deon Drake is a guy out of Cass Tech. Injured a lot of the year this year. Didn't get back except for the last three games. He's a guy that had a tremendous junior year, explosive. Played running back as well as linebacker, and he's a thumper. Looking forward to those four guys coming.
Defensive line I think you've always got to address the defensive lineman as you move through the process. I think we have an extremely strong defensive line class coming. Very exciting.
Craig Evans, No. 7 on that film, was in our camp. Very powerful guy. He's got a lot of explosiveness. He's got great change of direction for a big man. About 6-3, 310 or so. Probably will be an immediate contributor in terms this year's football team.
David Beedle is a guy, state championship team in Clarkston, a very well coached football team, and a guy with a huge up side. Big guy, 6-4, 290, very strong, athletic.
Enoch Smith is another guy that is very disruptive from Mount Carmel High School up in Chicago. Just an outstanding program. Enoch is a guy that can play defensive end or defensive tackle with the three technique. Very explosive. Can really, really run. A number of those guys - actually all three of those inside players - were in our camp, so we understand a little bit more about them.
At the defensive end position, right now we have two guys. Robert Bowers and Montez Sweat. Both guys that have great length to them and will fill out to be like 240, much like Demetrius Cooper came in last year and is now weighing about 235. But very, very athletic guys. Can do a lot of things given this range. We recruited one defensive end last year, so this is a position in need. We're looking forward to the guys that are coming to be a part of that.
Then in the secondary, Vayante Copeland is a young man who runs a 48.22 400. State champion down in Ohio. Reminds me a lot of Darqueze Dennard in a lot of ways in terms of his demeanor and in terms what he's done for his football teams. I think he ran for 2,500 yards as a junior, over 4,000 in his career there as well as being a kickoff returner, punt returner, corner, played safety, great tackler.
Jalen Watts Jackson, again, No. 1 in the film here. Just had a dominant camp when he was here. About six-foot tall, great jumper; plays on his basketball team. Very, very explosive. Has great timing. Has just a knack for playing the ball in the deep part of the field, and very excited about that as well.
When you look at the other two guys back there, you look at Montae Nicholson, I feel like he's a dual threat player. I think he can play either side of the ball. 13.9 high hurdlers; second in the state. Big body, very athletic. Very, very good athlete. Down the field pass catcher. Would play X force. Big body guy. On the defensive side of the ball, I think he has the ability to be a tremendous safety and maybe even a corner. He's got length and can really, really run. Tough, good tackler and really feel can almost do it all. So we're very excited about him. Played the All American Game as well and was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Pennsylvania.
Matt Morrissey, who the is the son of Jim Morrissey, former Spartan who played for the Bears in the Super Bowl, Matt is a guy who plays on his basketball team where they were runner up state champions. Big school division last year. Very explosive. Great ball skills. Good tackler in the back end. Maybe an outside backer, grow into it. Maybe a safety. Right now he'll start at wide receiver. Reminds me a lot of Blair White. He's a quick jumper and extremely disciplined player. So I think I that's pretty much the defensive side of the football team.
On the offensive side we addressed the running back situation. I think we have two outstanding players in Gerald Owens who, again, reminds me a little bit of T.J. Duckett. Big, powerful guy. Can play a lot of positions. We recruited him as a tailback, but I've seen him play on defense as well. Just an outstanding football player in general.
Madre London, who is down from Fort Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas, which plays tremendous competition at the highest level in Florida. Just an all round great running back. Great hands, soft hands, elusive, runs with power. Very, very excited to get those two guys.
Matt Sokel was on campus as a tight end. Played quarterback for his high school team, but we found him in camps on the 7 on 7 tournaments that were around. Outstanding pass catcher. Big guy. He'll go about 240 here very, very shortly, so we're very, very excited about him. He brings an added dimension because I think he understands the offensive concepts relating to football on general.
On the offensive line, Brian Allen, another young man who has played in the All American Game. Brian is another guy whose brother plays here (Jack). I think it sends a message based on him following in his brother's footsteps in terms of what's going on within the program not just from a football perspective, but overall perspective. Tough. Very tough individual. I think he's lost once in wrestling: 48 0 last year and the state champion. This year maybe he's lost once. I'm sure he'll correct that as the weekends go here. I think he's won 42 plus matches this year. 285 pounds. Probably will be an immediate contributor for us. Can play center, guard. Toughness I think runs in that family, and very, very excited about that.
Chase Gianacakos is an outstanding young man. Really lived all over the world so he's played football for a very, very short time. Big, tall, filling in. Plays basketball, athletic, very smart. Has toughness, relentless type guy. Going to make his presence known as we move through the process as well.
Nick Padla is a young man from out here Berrien Springs, Michigan. Very athletic. Really doesn't come off the field. Another guy that's going to grow into his body. 6-5, 265, 270 right now, but he's going to be a big, strong guy. Going to look forward to him as well.
Our punter that was signed, Jake Hartbarger, is probably one of the top two in the nation. We're extremely excited to have that situation, much like we have with Mike Sadler where he can probably watch for a year and then take over that punting situation. We have been dominant on our special teams because of our great punting. Whoever it's been, it's been a big factor in our success here. We'll look for Jake to continue that.
All in all, I feel like we've had an outstanding recruiting class. There are some other guys that are on the fence here or not yet completely signed without the papers being here. But we're very, very excited about those opportunities as well. I would like to thank our staff and everybody involved with recruiting in terms of what we've been able to do this year. Just a great job by our staff. Recruiting has become about relationships. It's become so accelerated in terms of what's gone on that people are making their decisions faster and faster.
Obviously you have some guys going down the stretch, and that's exciting for all of us. The majority of those people make the decisions earlier in the process, and so it does become about evaluating the player, getting them on campus, having a relationship with them, and establishing that trust relationship with their families as well.
I want to congratulate our staff on the job they have been able to do. I also want to congratulate specifically Curtis Blackwell, the job that he did this past year, some of different things we tried to do and interacting with our players I think has been instrumental and just cutting edge in terms of some of the things we have done, especially with our young people.
Would like to also congratulate him and Simone (Proulx) and our entire recruiting staff as well. Matt Mueller as well.
Winter conditioning started yesterday. So before I finish up, winter conditioning started on Tuesday, so we were in there at 5:30 in the morning. It's a chance to reflect and step back and reestablish who we are. I think you have to do that when we've had the success that we've had this past year. You need to restart engine, so you need to really back it up and find out why you were successful, what have you done, what are you going to do now to remain successful. We were able to start that the other morning nice and early. We'll go again tomorrow morning, so it'll be exciting.
Mark Scarpinato who has been a player for us these last couple years has decided to graduate this summer, two years ahead of time, so he's done an outstanding job in the classroom. He's accepted to med school and it's something that he's looked at and worked for very, very hard.
When you have goals, whether it's goals in football or goals in any other areas of life and you can accomplish those goals, we want to congratulate him and the job he's been able to do here.
At this point in time, it's his decision. I thought it was important everybody be made aware that. We want to congratulate him as a program entirely.
With that, I will take some questions and go from there.
Q. You mentioned a couple people that still don't have their letter in. Do you expect those people to sign with you and be part of this class?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I do. I do expect that. But I think recruiting should be about a celebration for everybody involved, and everybody needs to feel comfortable as they move through the process. We're excited about those opportunities as well.
Q. Two players: Sokol, you talked about him being a quarterback, but the toughness factor that he brings and Morrissey's willingness to go across the middle.
COACH DANTONIO: I think Sokol is a guy that is right back there so you can ask him. He was a quarterback. Had him in camp so I asked him to throw the ball around a little bit. I knew he was going to play tight end right off the bat. He is an extremely tough guy. Great running ability. He showed that you throughout his high school career. When I had the opportunity to watch him catch the football in camp and really in 7 on 7s on film throughout the spring, he was a dominant performer in a lot of respects.
He's big guy; going to put on weight. But the big think is I think he'll understand offensive concepts down the field relative to the passing game.
Obviously he'll have to grow as a blocker a little bit, but he can be that miss matched guy as a tight end. It will be exciting to watch him grow. He could have an opportunity this year as well.
I just think Matt is a complete football player and athlete. I think he's a guy that can go a lot of different directions. His father was not a big guy when he came here. Developed into an outstanding linebacker. He shows hitting ability and great ball skills. He's got the great ability to judge the ball. He's a big guy, about 6-3.
He's guarding one of their featured players, whoever they play in their opposing basketball teams, he's guarding that dominant player a lot. He's a quick jumper. Blair White was a great jumper. 35-inch vertical guy. I think he's very, very similar. He can find the sweet spot. I think he'll be an outstanding blocker.
We'll probably start him looking at wide receiver, but he may cross over onto the defense as well. I think either side of the football he's going to make himself known.
Q. Obviously you lost a quarterback kind of late in the game, so no quarterback in this class. Was there a push at all late to add one?
COACH DANTONIO: I think with the timing it was kind of hard. I feel very good about our quarterback situation right now. Also gives us an opportunity to look towards 2015 as well.
But, you know, we had a lot of players on the board and we were coming down the stretch, so I think you have to decide which direction you're going to go sometimes. You only have so many scholarships, and you've got to figure out what are your needs.
I feel very, very comfortable with the three quarterbacks we have right now. They're all excellent. Obviously Connor Cook had a huge year, but Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry are two guys I think have excellent ability.
Q. Coach, talk about the way you closed. Do you think this was the best close for you as well down the stretch?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think some of it - you know, when you close down the stretch it's difficult sometimes, but one thing that I've tried not to do in the recruiting process, and I think our coaches have done a great job with this as well, is we really haven't pressured people.
We try to make decisions based on giving people latitude. Sometimes maybe that cost us a little bit, but we tried to do that and be very fair with people. At some point in time you've got to make decisions and move on as a program.
That's all relative sometimes. But for the most part, I think we've tried to do it the right way, and we'll continue to that in that fashion as we go forward. But sometimes you do have to, as a program, take a stance sometimes. But I was excited about the way we came down the stretch and the players who made their decision to come to Michigan State. Very, very excited today.
Q. Can you talk about the impact of the Rose Bowl and the way you guys finished the season and the doors it opened in January? Did it make things easier?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I think most of the recruiting is usually accelerated now. A lot is done. But I think it helped us close. I think it helped us get on the national recruits down the stretch and it made a difference.
It sort of ensured what we were doing as a program. Basically I think gave people the stamp of approval that this is what we're doing; this is the right direction to go; we're graduating our players at an almost 80 percent rate of those who stay the entire time. Our grade-point average is its highest as it's ever been as a team. We have won more games than we've ever won.
There is a sign down there that says, Never forget, which talks about the number of people that have gotten into problems here. Haven't had a guy get in a major problem for 207 days. That's been a positive.
So right now everything in this program is going in this direction, and that's a positive thing. I think goes beyond football though as well.
Q. What do you like the most about signing day? I guess do you get nervous still or are you used to it now?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I don't really get nervous because we present the opportunities and the individual, the recruit or the competitive recruit, he ultimately makes the decision.
As I said, we haven't been a football program that has said, You need to do this or this. We just have not handled things that way. We've tried to give people room to experience us and make a decision whether they want to be here or not.
I think that's what young men have done. Do I get nervous on signing day? No. Do I get disappointed at times? Yeah. Am I thrilled at times? Yeah.
I'm not nervous. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. It's pretty far long in the process. We'll do what we can within reason and try and be very transparent in terms of how we handle ourselves.
Q. Looking at the defensive line class, is this the best group you've brought in in your tenure?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I think it is. I think it's a dominant class on the defensive line. I think with this defensive line class we'll continue to establish ourselves as one the top defenses in this country and in this conference. That's a positive for us.
Also very, very excited about the skill players and the linebackers and the offensive line and the punter and the running backs. So we have very good players. I would say from top to bottom this is the - and I don't mean to disrespect the other classes - but from top to bottom I feel like this is a very, very powerful class in terms of players that will get on the field very quickly and make a name for themselves.
Q. Do you feel like you have more clout now? Do you feel like the move to the East Division changes things at all for you moving forward?
COACH DANTONIO: Wearing my Rose Bowl pin. I think we're moving in the right direction as a football program. We'll compete in the East Division. It's an extremely competitive division, but so is the West. The Big Ten is a tremendous conference. Got a lot of great football teams in it and is extremely competitive.
So as I said, winter workout started, so we're right back to square one. We need to make sure that we, again, establish ourselves who we are, what we have to do to be able to move that process forward.
I keep talking about we got to be able to move the rock. Really that's the program: We've got to be able to push it in a positive direction.
Q. I know you don't get too wrapped up in rankings, but have you taken a look? This reflects one of your best classes.
COACH DANTONIO: You know, I have not taken a look at that. I've been busy. (smiling) But I'm excited about it. We've always tried to look at the class and do the very best we can to bring or class in here that fits our needs.
But when they come in this August and they move around with our football team, that's when we'll start finding out more about our class. When they adapt to the surroundings here and have a chance to be in our program a little bit, everybody is going to come under some adversity. They got to be able to establish themselves, and they got to want to be here to do that.
So that's all a part of it. I think all of the players that are signed today want to be Spartans and are excited about it. It'll get in your blood and stay there. That's very, very exciting to all of us.
Q. Last night at the Jim Thorpe Award dinner, how much did that impact going into the house of a young man? Here is a guy a lot of people didn't want...
COACH DANTONIO: I guess I forget about that because the day is sort of spinning out of control a little bit. But the opportunity to go see Darqueze Dennard, that is truly one of the highlights of my coaching career to be able to see a young man accept an award like that as the outstanding defensive back in the entire country.
I think when you have people that are getting those type of awards, it points to the future that other people can do it. Sort of like going to the Rose Bowl or winning the championship. It's been done. Once it's been done once, you know it can be done again.
Great things are possible right here. You can become a Lombardi Award winner, Jim Thorpe Award winner, you can do great things here. Michigan State is a great place and will continue to be so.
Q. You talk about attracting more national kids and getting into some of the higher ranked players, does that create more headaches at times?
COACH DANTONIO: That goes with the job. Headaches go with the job. But I think you want to recruit the best players. You want to bring the best players in here, the best people in here. Can't always be just about the player. Got to be about the individual as well.
But you want to bring the right people in here that are going to fit our scheme, fit our format, and fit our program in terms of discipline and the different people.
So that's a part of it. I've seen great players go different places they didn't want to be and fail. You got to be where you want to be. That's very, very important in this process.
Thanks again guys, and Go Green.
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