Michigan State might be the nation’s best developmental program, turning overlooked and undervalued prospects into stars. But after back-to-back top-5 finishes and major bowl wins, the Spartans are upgrading their profile on the recruiting trail. As coach Mark Dantonio said throughout signing day, MSU is no longer selling hope, but results.
The school on Wednesday signed a 20-member class that could crack the Top 25 of ESPN RecruitingNation's final rankings. Michigan State hit it big at quarterback, running back and offensive line, while adding some quality pieces to its signature defense as well. Unlike signing day 2014, Wednesday provided much less drama in East Lansing.
ESPN.com caught up with Dantonio to discuss Michigan State's latest class.
What stands out most about this class, especially on the heels of the team's success?
Mark Dantonio: Just the quality of class as individuals. Everybody's got ability, but the way they went about their business, there was no drama involved. It was very much, 'This is what we're going to do,' and they stayed with their decisions. It's an outstanding class. I don't know how many top 300 players we have, probably 10 or so. We got an outstanding running back, a big-time defensive end. We've got enough defensive backs and somebody will play as a true freshman, no question about that. You've got active linebackers who can run and defensive linemen. As long as you continue to recruit quality defensive linemen, you're going to have a chance to be a good football team.
How do the recent results resonate in schools and homes?
MD: When we came here, we had to sell hope. We had to invest in ourselves and people came here with the idea that, 'OK, things are going to possible," from what we were saying. Now there's credibility in what we've said. There's facilities, there's continuity, there's opportunities in the NFL, there's winning in a large degree, and when you go in there, you have much better name recognition. There's obviously things you have to be able to overcome in the area with who we compete against. It's always difficult. All of those players seem to be looking in our direction. They could be going other places, but they all look in this direction.
You made some lofty comparisons between the current recruits and some recent Spartans stars. What led you to make those?
MD: You always tend to compare the guys who are coming with the guys who have left and have had great success. That's what coaches do. That's what I've always done, said, 'This guy reminds me of so-and-so who played for us and had great success.' I feel pretty strongly that a lot of these guys do that. Cassius Peat reminds me a bit of Will Smith when I was at Ohio State.
Can Scott compete immediately at running back after you lose a productive player in Jeremy Langford?
MD: L.J. Scott's going to be in the mix, but it all depends on how fast he learns the system, how he pass-protects at times, how well he catches the ball out of the backfield, which looks pretty good. I don't think there's any question whether he can run the football. And can he stay healthy? That's always key as a young player, get through camp and transition to the season. But he has the skills and he has the opportunity. We do not have a guy coming back with 200 carries. We lost two guys [Langford and Nick Hill] who had a combination of about 350 carries between them.
How does Brian Lewerke fit the profile of what you want at quarterback?
MD: He's very, very similar to Kirk Cousins in the way he attacks things from a learning standpoint. He has a very live arm. We didn't take a quarterback last year so this is an ideal fit for him. He was heavily involved in the recruiting process early on. He had so many different people offering him, but he paired it down and he made a decision and he came here a number of times. The culture, the chemistry, the relationship he has with coach [Brad] Salem, all of those things were very big factors in him coming to school here. The fact that we're a pro-style team. We'll have four guys in the NFL playing quarterback, and that factors into it as well.
It was quite a process for the Dowell twins. How did you get involved and get them to come to Michigan State?
MD: First of all, there always has to be a need because they were a package deal. They both wanted to go to school at the same place. We had a need for a defensive back/wide receiver, which happened. And then we needed to find another outside backer. Sometimes you watch a guy as a running back as a junior and all of a sudden, in the case of Andrew, he played safety his senior year and really was a downhill safety, much like a outside linebacker. You're always trying to find that guy who maybe on the first go-round you got somebody else and the second time around, you end up saying, 'Hey, we only have three scholarships left but I want that guy.' That's where we were with the Dowell brothers. We had four scholarships left or whatever it was and said, 'We want those two guys on our football team.'
With [Kyonta] Stallworth, you've upgraded your offensive line recently. Where do you see him fitting in?
MD: Kyonta's a guy we've seen for a long time here. He's been in our camps, we watched him play in person, he's been in other camps we've watched him at. He was sort of a must guy early on, who we wanted to get. We offered early. Very active, very athletic, displays a lot of power and can really, really run.
Michigan State has been known as a great developmental program. Are you approaching this process any differently now, looking for more guys who can help immediately?
MD: We're going to take the best players we can and get them to play as fast as they can. That's natural. There's been some guys here, so-called developmental guys, but the reality is Le'Veon Bell played as a true freshman, Darqueze Dennard played as a true freshman, Jack Conklin started as a redshirt freshman, and Chris Norman played as a true freshman. We've got some under-developed guys who played early in their careers. Kirk Cousins started as a sophomore. They came and they invested themselves right away.