Big Ten: Matt Sokol

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State had the most eventful signing day of any Big Ten team, complete with the Malik McDowell melodrama and Darius Slade's move to Ohio State. The Spartans also signed quite possibly coach Mark Dantonio's best class at the school. The defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions landed several standout defenders, a big running back and several stout linemen.

Dantonio was unable to discuss McDowell on Wednesday because the coveted defensive tackle hadn't sent in his national letter of intent, but the Spartans coach sat down with ESPN.com to review the rest of the 2014 class.

What stands out to you most about this class?

Mark Dantonio: This is an excellent class from top to bottom in terms of the quality of players. We have tremendous people in this class. I've seen it by how they interact with each other. There's a reason they've been so successful. You see their character.

Have you seen the effects of last season on this class, or will it not be until 2015?

MD: We did. There were some guys obviously who were [committed] as we entered the season. If you look at Michigan State football, we've been on the rise, maybe took a small step back [in 2012] but it's been a program right there, on the threshold of a championship. This year, we win the championship and recruiting gained momentum as we gained momentum on the football field. As it came down to the end, we were on some very highly recruited guys. We got some, some we didn't and that's OK. I appreciate their interest, but people make their decisions based on what's best for them, and again, I just hope that everybody can celebrate the day.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesWinning the Rose Bowl has resulted in a recruiting boost for Mark Dantonio and Michigan State.
Are you encountering players who are further along in their development now than a few years ago?

MD: I think so, but the longer you're at a place, the deeper you go in the recruiting process in terms of how long you've looked at a guy. Recruiting has become very accelerated, and there are certain individuals you see as a sophomore, and you've watched them grow. Guys like Montae Nicholson, who I thought was a national recruit but we were on him early, we knew about him, had relationships with he and his family. A big-time football player. Brian Allen is another guy who's an outstanding football player. I don't know what his record is as a wrestler. He was 48-0 last year, I think maybe he's lost once this year, so he's outstanding with leverage and very athletic. We've got guys who fit our needs, but they're also high-level players. Craig Evans, Enoch Smith it doesn't take long to watch them and you know as a football team, you want them.

Are you seeing the effects of what you've done on defense in recruiting?

MD: We are. We've been the top defense in this conference for the past three years. I think we're one of two teams in the nation that have been in the top five in the four major categories for the last three years. You see collectively, people want to be a part of that. They see guys have an opportunity to go to the NFL from our defense. They're succeeding, they're impacting the team. And on the offensive side, we've got some outstanding guys as well.

[Gerald] Owens, the big back, where does he fit into what you do?

MD: He's like T.J. Duckett. He reminds me of T.J. a lot. I'd watch his film, and then I'd put on T.J.'s film when I was here in the past. You'd see very similar running styles.

You have another Bullough in Byron. What does he bring at the same position as his brothers?

MD: When you have guys that have played for you before, like Max and Riley and now you have Byron, you have Jack Allen and now you have Brian Allen, it sends a message to me that what we're doing here is in the best interest of their sons. It tells a story that what we are doing is being done the correct way. We're not just being good football players and developing them, but we're developing the person, too. It was the same thing when we had Brent Celek and we got Garrett Celek. When we have families and they send their next son here, it's a statement.

What were your big needs in the class?

MD: Linebacker was a need because we lost some great linebackers this year. Defensive line's a need as well, just because we lost really three good inside players. I think we addressed that with three outstanding players in David Beedle and Enoch Smith and Craig Evans. David is a physical guy, 6-4 plus, 290 [pounds], on a state champion team at Clarkson High School. He has a presence and he's instinctive. For a high school kid to bench-press 225 [pounds] 30 times, it's pretty impressive.

You had a couple of guys already enrolled. Are they in better shape to contribute earlier?

MD: Yeah. Matt Sokol comes in as a tight end. He was a quarterback throughout high school and played a little bit of tight end. He's been a mismatch guy. He's 6-4, 6-5. He's going to develop. And Chris Frey is a very instinctive guy. You see him playing fullback, tailback, linebacker, corner on his high school team. He can take a game over. High-energy guy. Reminds me a lot of Chris Spielman when I was at Ohio State. He's just a football player, and he can run, a powerful, explosive guy.

What's the one theme that stands out most about this class?

MD: This group was very connected. That's through social media and everything else, even some of the guys who may have opted to go other places at the end, they were connected. This is an outstanding class, maybe our best class in seven years. That's a huge statement, and I don't mean to disrespect our other classes. Time will tell. You come in a lamb and you've got to go out a lion. That's how it is.

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

September, 4, 2013
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3:30
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We’re moving into Week 2 of the college football season and there wasn’t much movement in terms of recruiting. Here is a look at some trends and questions going into the weekend for the Big Ten conference.

Trending up:

Brad Bournival: Michigan State. Even though the Spartans didn’t move up in the rankings, the green-and-white have plenty of big-time visitors slated to attend this weekend’s game against South Florida. ESPN 300 athlete Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) is the biggest of the bunch, but he’ll be joined by ESPN Junior 300 running back Larry Scott (Hubbard, Ohio/Hubbard), 2015 cornerback Tyson Smith (Bloomfield, Mich./St. Mary’s Prep) and 2016 offensive tackle Thiyo Lukusa (Traverse City, Mich./Traverse City West), as well as 2014 commits Matt Sokol (Rochester Hills, Mich./Adams), Deon Drake Jr. (Detroit/Cass Tech), Jalen Watts-Jackson (Orchard Lake, Mich./St. Mary’s Prep) and David Beedle (Clarkston, Mich./Clarkston).

Big Ten lunch links

May, 14, 2013
5/14/13
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Your Big Ten spring meetings version ...
There has been plenty of recent news on the recruiting trail around the Big Ten, and we're a bit overdue for a scorecard, so here's the latest rundown. Teams are sorted based on most verbal commitments for the 2014 class.

MICHIGAN

Total commits: 9
ESPN 150 commits: 8
The latest: Michigan's recruiting once again is off to an extremely fast start, as the Wolverines not only are piling up commits but quality players. Defensive end Lawrence Marshall on Saturday became the eighth ESPN 150 prospect to pick Michigan. No other FBS team has more than five ESPN 150 players pledged for the 2014 class. Barring a surprise turn, Michigan will sign a top-5 class in February. The Wolverines currently rank No. 3 in the RecruitingNation rankings.

PENN STATE

Total commits: 9
ESPN 150 commits: 1
The latest: Penn State has filled out most of its 2014 class before mid May, and the Lions are adding quality prospects like ESPN 150 athlete De'Andre Thompkins, wide receiver Chris Godwin and linebacker Troy Reeder. The Lions picked up two more commits late last week in defensive back Marcus Allen and linebacker Jared Wangler. Bill O'Brien and his staff have to be selective because of scholarship restrictions, but they've also been aggressive in piling up early commits. Penn State is No. 13 in the latest class rankings.

NORTHWESTERN

Total commits: 8
ESPN 150 commits: 0
The latest: Northwestern is quietly putting together the best class in coach Pat Fitzgerald's tenure. The Wildcats are 19th in RecruitingNation's class rankings after an excellent week that ended with them landing talented running back Auston Anderson on Thursday. Anderson's pledge came on the heels of four-star athlete Dariean Watkins choosing Northwestern. Although Northwestern hasn't landed an ESPN 150 prospect, it boasts several commits (QB Clayton Thorson, Watkins) who are close.

OHIO STATE

Total commits: 8
ESPN 150 commits: 1
The latest: Urban Meyer's assistants are all over the recruiting trail -- and letting us know about it on Twitter -- and after a six-week drought without a commitment, the Buckeyes added one Sunday in wide receiver Lonnie Johnson. The Gary, Ind., native had offers from Indiana, Purdue and Nebraska, among others, but gives Ohio State a four-star prospect at a position of need. Ohio State checks in at No. 14 in the latest class rankings.

MICHIGAN STATE

Total commits: 6
ESPN 150 commits: 0
The latest: The Spartans' total hasn't changed since they picked up linemen Brian Allen and Enoch Smith Jr. during spring game weekend, but they're closing in on prospects like tight end Matt Sokol and defensive end Rashawn Pierce. The downside is that Michigan State lost Marshall to rival Michigan after many believed Marshall would go green. Michigan State also had been pursuing Watkins, who verballed to Northwestern.

WISCONSIN

Total commits: 4
ESPN 150 commits: 1
The latest: Gary Andersen's staff has added just one 2014 commit (defensive tackle Craig Evans) since taking over in late December. Although Evans pledged in March, the Badgers staff has been active on the recruiting trail and extending plenty of scholarship offers. Wisconsin made a late addition to its 2013 class last week by picking up junior-college cornerback Tekeim Reynard.

ILLINOIS

Total commits: 4
ESPN 150 commits: 0
The latest: The Illini added to their quarterback depth earlier this month by picking up a commitment from Ohio prep signal caller Chayce Crouch. Crouch led his team to the state championship game last season and had received scholarship offers from several MAC programs, as well as some interest from other Big Ten schools. Illinois also has injected some more spice into its in-state rivalry with Northwestern by picking up defensive end recruit Tito Odenigbo, the younger brother of Wildcats defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo.

IOWA

Total commits: 3
ESPN 150 commits: 1
The latest: The Hawkeyes haven't added to their total since getting a pledge from offensive lineman Lucas LeGrand in early April. But with three in-state prospects -- headlined by guard Ross Pierschbacher, the nation's No. 47 player and highest-ranked Big Ten commit, according to RecruitingNation -- Iowa still is off to a decent start. Iowa is extending its recruiting reach to Georgia and recently offered defenders Henry Famurewa and Bradley Chubb.

MINNESOTA

Total commits: 3
ESPN 150 commits: 0
The latest: The Gophers added two verbals during spring game weekend in athlete Dimonic McKinzy (early All-Name team nominee) and defensive tackle Steven Richardson. In-state running back Jeff Jones, a three-star prospect, headlines the class so far. Like the previous coaching staff, Jerry Kill and his assistants are targeting Texas for recruits like linebacker Everett Williams and defensive end Noah Westerfield.

NEBRASKA

Total commits: 2
ESPN 150 commits: 0
The latest: The Huskers wait for their second 2014 commitment ended last week as Texas defensive back Jason Hall pledged for Big Red. At 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds, Hall brings excellent size to Nebraska's defensive backfield. Although Nebraska should continue to add to its total in the coming weeks and months, recruiting coordinator Ross Els told ESPN.com last week that the Huskers likely won't see a surge until prospects start coming to campus on official visits this fall.

PURDUE

Total commits: 1
ESPN 150 commits: 0
The latest: Purdue is going back to its recruiting roots under new coach Darrell Hazell, as its first verbal for 2014 comes from the fertile state of Texas. The Boilers recently added wide receiver Trae Hart to the mix. I'll have more on this later in the week, but Boilers recruiting coordinator Gerad Parker said the program is ramping up its efforts in the Lone Star State, mindful of the success former Purdue boss Joe Tiller had there.

INDIANA

Total commits: 0
ESPN 150 commits: 0
The latest: After signing an excellent recruiting class in February, Indiana's efforts for 2014 are off to a slow start. Indiana and Colorado are the only programs from a big-five conference (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) without a verbal commit for next year. Things should pick up when camps kick off next month in Bloomington.

Future Big Ten members Rutgers and Maryland also are recruiting for the Big Ten, so here's a quick look at how they're doing ...

RUTGERS

Total commits: 9
ESPN 150 commits: 0
The latest: The Scarlet Knights recruited well under Greg Schiano, had six players selected in April's NFL draft and continue to bring in quality players under Kyle Flood. After a productive March and April, Rutgers began May by adding a pledge from defensive tackle Pete Mokwuah. Running back Joshua Hicks and defensive end Justin Nelson headline Rutgers' 2014 so far. Rutgers also went into current Big Ten territory for quarterback Tyler Wiegers from Detroit Country Day School.

MARYLAND

Total commits: 3
ESPN 150 commits:
0
The latest:
The Terrapins added two pieces to their 2014 class in recent weeks in running back Johnathan Thomas from Massachusetts and athlete William Ulmer from Washington D.C. Maryland has plenty of local and regional players on its radar for 2014, as the areas surrounding College Park consistently produce a ton of FBS talent. The Terps picked up most of their 2013 recruits before the start of the season, but they might have to be more patient after a 4-8 record in 2012.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 10, 2013
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Is it late August yet?

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