NCF Nation: Chris D. Rucker
Junior defensive tackle Oren Wilson and redshirt freshman wide receiver Myles White both face assault and conspiracy charges. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio on Tuesday indefinitely suspended both players from all football-related activities. Both Wilson and White must turn themselves in for arraignment.
"As with the previously suspended players, their status with the team will be re-evaluated on a case-by-case basis as their legal issues are resolved," Dantonio said in a statement issued through the school's sports information department.
Eleven players now have been charged in the incident, which took place during a fraternity potluck function held the same night of Michigan State's team banquet. Four other players were suspended from the team for being present at the residence hall, though none faces charges.
Wilson started for Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2, while White was suspended for the game for an unrelated incident. Dantonio, through a spokesman, said he didn't know Wilson and White were present at the residence hall until being notified of the forthcoming charges late last week. Though the suspensions were announced Tuesday, the punishments went into effect last week.
Dantonio handed down suspensions or dismissals for all the other players identified as being at the residence hall before the Alamo Bowl. Players were given opportunities to come forward about their involvement in the incident, but both Wilson and White declined to do so. MSU police in early December identified 10 suspects in the assault and were hoping to identify five more. Now we know that all 15 suspects were football players.
Still, it's troubling that more than two months have passed before Spartans coaches knew Wilson and White were involved.
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings told the Lansing State Journal: "MSU Police has wonderful investigators and to me, it was never a question of if these two individuals were going to be identified, just a question of when."
Here's the breakdown of what's happening with the 15 players:
- Running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette, who face charges and have previous legal issues, have been dismissed from the team.
- Running back Ashton Leggett pleaded guilty Jan. 14 to two counts of misdemeanor assault as part of a plea agreement in which a more serious conspiracy charge against him was dropped. Leggett since has transferred to Illinois State. Defensive end Jamiihr Williams, who also faces charges, will transfer as well.
- Brynden Trawick and Ishmyl Johnson, who were suspended for being at the residence hall but not charged, are transferring.
- Five players who face charges -- cornerback Chris L. Rucker, offensive lineman J'Michael Deane and wide receivers, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Fred Smith -- had their pretrial hearings postponed earlier this month. Dantonio allowed them to attend a team meeting several weeks ago, but their ultimate status will be determined after the legal process concludes. Wilson and White both are now in the same boat as these players.
- Donald Spencer and Chris D. Rucker were suspended but not charged and attended a team meeting earlier this month.
Obviously, this remains a messy situation for Dantonio and Michigan State, which could be without a sizable chunk of the roster when spring practice begins.
The recent wave of player suspensions and dismissals remains the top story around Michigan State, though linebacker Greg Jones' return to school is significant as well. Dantonio has reinstated seven players suspended following a Nov. 22 assault at a campus residence hall, five of whom are facing misdemeanor assault and conspiracy charges.
The suspended players who remain at Michigan State were allowed to attend a recent team meeting when the squad assembled following winter break.
"They have been outside of the football facility and everything to do with football for the last six or seven weeks," Dantonio said. "And at this point in time, we are going to welcome them back into that environment for clarity purposes. They are on our football team."
Four suspended players, including two who face charges stemming from the residence hall incident, have transferred from Michigan State. A total of nine players were charged Dec. 10 with misdemeanor conspiracy to commit an assault and battery as well as misdemeanor assault and battery. Two of those players, running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette, have been dismissed from the team.
"We are not doing anything as a team right now," Dantonio said, "but at least to sit in a team meeting room for our initial meeting back, they were welcomed to be in there, and then we will make decisions based on what happens at a later date."
Here's a look at where everyone stands:
- The following players who face assault and conspiracy charges have been reinstated: cornerback Chris L. Rucker, offensive lineman J’Michael Deane, wide receiver Mark Dell, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, wide receiver Fred Smith.
- Wide receivers Chris D. Rucker and Donald Spencer, who were suspended for being at the residence hall but never charged, also are back with the team.
- Running back Ashton Leggett, who was suspended and charged, has transferred to Illinois State. Defensive end Jamiihr Williams, who was suspended and charged, has transferred to Northeast Mississippi Community College.
- Linebacker Brynden Trawick and nose tackle Ishmyl Johnson, who were present at the residence hall but never charged, also have transferred from Michigan State.
- Wide receiver Myles White, who was suspended for a situation unrelated to the residence hall assault, also is back with the team.
The players facing charges are scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning for pre-trial hearings. Ingham County prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III told the Detroit Free Press that no plea agreement is in place at this time, though that could change.
The wide receiver group has been hit especially hard as four suspended players -- B.J. Cunningham, Mark Dell, Chris D. Rucker and Myles White -- play the position. Cunningham and Dell rank second and third on the team in receiving, having combined for 1,090 receiving yards, 74 receptions and five touchdowns.
Cunningham started nine games, while Dell started the final three regular-season contests. Their presence will be missed Jan. 2 against Texas Tech in a game where Michigan State likely needs to throw the ball a lot and put up points.
"We've talked about all season how at a lot of positions, we feel one of the strengths of our team is depth," Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "We have lost some guys, and it's going to test our depth. There are guys who haven't had opportunities yet to play in games, who we know work very hard year-round behind closed doors when no one else is really watching.
"They're guys we know we can count on, come the bowl game."
Cousins knows what he's got in Blair White, a first-team All-Big Ten receiver who leads Michigan State and ranks third in the league in receiving average (73 ypg). The Spartans also can turn to sophomore Keshawn Martin, who, in addition to becoming a threat on returns, has 14 receptions for 325 yards (23.2 ypr) and four touchdowns.
After those two, though, it's slim pickings. Michigan State can turn to tight ends Charlie Gantt, Brian Linthicum and Dion Sims, but it needs more production from the wide receiver position.
So who steps up? Cousins thinks sophomore walk-on Brad Sonntag could emerge.
"He's got a lot of upside," Cousins said.
Sonntag and redshirt freshman Milton Colbert are listed as the backups to White and Martin on Michigan State's pre-bowl depth chart. Neither Sonntag nor Colbert has caught a pass this season.
"We're still tinkering with all that," Cousins said. "We don't have a set plan yet, and we're still figuring out what would be the best matchups to use. And we're a team that likes to use our tight ends, so we always want to get them the football, too."
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Brian Hoyer returns to lead the Michigan State offense.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State media day is under way, so check back for updates later in the morning and this afternoon. For now, here's a look at three major questions facing the Spartans entering what should be a defining 2008 season.
1. Can Brian Hoyer take the next step in his evolution and silence his critics?
Hoyer did a lot of good things last season, but quarterbacks are ultimately judged in the fourth quarter and Michigan State went 2-6 in games decided by seven points or fewer. His play in crunch time will go a long way in determining if the Spartans back up their preseason label as the Big Ten's surprise team. Hoyer can be extremely efficient, as he proved with just seven regular-season interceptions last fall, but the nightmare of his four-interception meltdown in the Champs Sports Bowl lingers with Spartans fans. As a senior, Hoyer should limit his mistakes, and if several capable wide receivers emerge, he'll have a big season.
2. How will Michigan State replace Devin Thomas' playmaking ability?
Thomas' rapid rise as a wide receiver/return man probably can't be duplicated by one player, but the Spartans feel confident in their mostly unproven receiving corps. Both Deon Curry and Mark Dell appeared in all 13 games last season, combining for 44 catches, and redshirt freshman B.J. Cunningham could be the team's top big-play threat. The two Chris Ruckers -- Chris D. and Chris L. -- provide depth and heralded freshman Fred Smith could contribute immediately.
3. Who will anchor the pass rush after the losses of Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin, both of whom ranked among the Big Ten's top seven in sacks?
Expectations are high for end Trevor Anderson, a transfer from Cincinnati and a proven commodity. Anderson recorded 10 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in two seasons playing for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati. He might be a bit rusty after a year off but should provide a big boost on the edge. The Spartans also need increased production from seniors Justin Kershaw and Brandon Long, who combined for 3.5 sacks last season.