- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Michigan State signed a relatively small class this year, with just 18 new players. And the Spartans were overshadowed a bit by the recruiting successes of Michigan. But Mark Dantonio and his staff have shown a knack for identifying their type of player on the recruiting trail and then developing them into All-Big Ten type performers. So you'd be wise not to sleep on this latest batch of recruits who are heading to East Lansing.
I caught up with Dantonio for a few minutes to discuss this year's class.
What were your main objectives with this class?
Mark Dantonio: We didn't have a lot of seniors, and then we had a few guys go out early, so we had to adjust some thinking and needs. But I thought the needs we addressed were we needed to find a kicker to compete for the No. 1 position, and I thought we did that. Michael Geiger is ranked the No 1 kicker by Rivals, so that's exciting for us. You don't need a kicker until you need one. The two linebackers we signed were big-time recruits, four-star players, but more importantly state champions from excellent programs. Team leaders and very active, explosive players in Jon Reshcke and Shane Jones.
The tailback situation, with Le'Veon Bell going out, we added a lot of depth to that position by signing Gerald Holmes and R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams, who's really an athlete who can play a lot of positions. But he'll start at tailback. He reminds me a lot of Bell when he came in here. So three talented players there, and an excellent offensive lineman, a tight end and defensive linemen. Then I think in our secondary, Darian Hicks is an outstanding player and an extremely good athlete, and Justin Williams and Jalyn Powell are the same. Wide receivers are talented as well. I think we've got five state champions and 11 all-state players.
Damion Terry has gotten a lot of attention. He's a dual-threat quarterback, which we haven't seen much of lately at Michigan State. What were your thoughts on his recruitment?
MD: Damion is a guy we started the recruiting process on last spring. He came to camp and did a tremendous job throwing the football. Great mechanics and very poised and composed. And then he has the ability to run around. He's 6-foot-3, probably 6-4, and 220 pounds. He has run the football on designated runs but also created in high school. He was a state champion player. He was the AAA player of the year in the state of Pennsylvania. Damion has thrown for 50 touchdowns and run for 12 more in one year. He's got tremendous upside. One of the biggest things is he seems like a great leader. Very calm. And extremely talented.
You haven't had to play many freshmen right away on defense the past couple of years. Do you see that continuing with this group?
MD: Redshirting and playing, as a young freshman, is really determined by opportunity, timing and a lot with injuries. Can you stay healthy, can you pick up the defense the first two weeks of summer camp? The players in front of them, do they get injured and provide a window? But I think they're capable, from a physical standpoint, of running, of playing the deep ball, of explosiveness at the linebacker spot like we talked about. Those guys have the upside to be able to play early. It's just, can they stay healthy and will people in front of them stay healthy, and how do they pick up things? That remains to be seen.
With Bell gone, you don't have a lot of veterans at tailback. Do you see some of these young guys contributing there early?
MD: Yeah, I do, just because of the nature of the position. We really only have three other tailbacks, and couple of guys are smaller in stature -- powerful, but smaller. I think these guys will all be 200-pound-plus guys, and they all have great skill. Their skill should allow them to be in a competitive situation. Now can they stay healthy and the things I just talked about? That remains true.
You've had a strong run at linebacker recently. Are these new guys in that same mold?
MD: Yeah, I think they're very, very similar. They're guys that are explosive. Good blitzers who play downhill and can run very, very well. Both have great football IQs and come from great programs. They're used to playing on great stages. There is no bigger stage than the Cincinnati-area Catholic league, and there's no bigger stage in the state of Michigan than Brother Rice. They're state champions, both of them, and very, very successful players.
You also signed a defensive tackle transfer from the University of Toronto in James Bodanis. How do you see him contributing?
MD: He's a young man who played college competition up there. It's similar to probably junior college football down here. He's got the skills, he's quick, he's explosive, he's big, he's very powerful. But it's going to be an adjustment to the game down here. And there has to be a window of opportunity. Can he adjust?
Did you have to be more selective this year because of the small scholarship numbers?
MD: We're always going to be very selective. We try to take quality over quantity. We only took one offensive lineman, but he's an outstanding player in Dennis Finley. He's a big, long guy. I think he could be one of the best players maybe in the class. So it will be exciting to watch him grow and mature. We're excited about it. It's like New Year's Day for us. I think everything at this point starts fresh, and it's a new life and a new stage for these guys.