NCF Nation: Fred Smith
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.
Head coach Mark Dantonio announced Tuesday night the following players have been suspended from all team activities: wide receiver Mark Dell, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, wide receiver Fred Smith, running back Ashton Leggett, cornerback Chris L. Rucker, linebacker Brynden Trawick, nose tackle Ishmyl Johnson and defensive end Jamiihr Williams. Last week, Dantonio dismissed running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Michigan State police have confirmed that all 10 players were present during the Nov. 22 assault at Rather Hall. While the school is not officially calling the players suspects, MSU police have identified 10 suspects following interviews with witnesses and victims and a review of on-site video. So you can do the math.
The investigation is ongoing, but police are trying to identify five additional suspects. The police will forward their findings to Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III early next week.
We'll have to wait and see what charges are filed and against whom, but the accounts of the assault, which took place during a potluck function sponsored by the Iota Phi Theta fraternity, don't look promising for Michigan State. The Winston connection is particularly damaging, given his role in an off-campus altercation last year that led to four months served in jail and an immediate return to the roster upon his release. Other football players were involved in the previous altercation.
Of the 10 players dismissed or suspended, six have started games this season. Michigan State's depth for an upcoming bowl game could take a major hit, depending on the length of the suspensions, though that should be the least of Dantonio's worries right now.
The bottom of Michigan State's news release reads: "MSU Athletics Director Mark Hollis emphasized he and Dantonio share high expectations and standards for conduct and behavior of student-athletes."
A message left for Hollis on Tuesday night was not immediately returned.
More to come on this story.
If you need a cavity filled in the state of Michigan a few years from now, don't be surprised to see Blair White pulling up next to the dentist's chair.
|Cliff Welch/Icon SMI|
|Blair White ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards with 90.7 yards a game.|
And rest assured, White has very steady hands. Anyone can see that from watching him catch passes for Michigan State.
The former walk-on emerged midway through the 2008 season and wound up leading the Spartans in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (659). It could have been the end of the line for White, who was admitted to the University of Detroit's School of Dentistry and had a chance to enroll this fall.
But he had one season of eligibility remaining and decided what the heck, might as well stick around. Michigan State is extremely grateful, as White once again has become the team's No. 1 wide receiver.
He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards (90.7 ypg), fifth in receptions (6.43 ypg) and third in scoring (5.1 ppg).
"It's a little different than what I had planned," White said. "It's a blessing and I'm very fortunate."
White entered last season not knowing if he'd see the field much, if at all.
He had only three catches his first two seasons and played primarily on special teams. Michigan State seemed fairly set at wide receiver with Mark Dell, Deon Curry, B.J. Cunningham and heralded freshmen Keshawn Martin and Fred Smith. About the only clue White would play a bigger role was his appearance as a co-backup with Chris L. Rucker on the preseason depth chart.
But injuries and other personnel moves -- Rucker eventually moved full-time to cornerback -- opened the door for White.
"I was able to catch some balls for us," he said. "I figured I could go to dental school any time I want, but I can only play football at Michigan State for one more year. I took advantage of that, and I'd like to think that was a wise choice, not passing that up."
White not only has become one of the Big Ten's better receivers, earning co-Offensive Player of the Week honors after recording career highs in both receptions (12) and receiving yards (186) to go along with two touchdowns in last Saturday's win against Northwestern. But he's doing it at a school that means a lot to his family.
White is the 15th person in his family to attend Michigan State. The group includes his three younger siblings, his mother, Vicki, an All-American swimmer for the Spartans, and a cousin, Jessica LeFevre, an All-American softball player.
His strong ties to Michigan State could present a problem in the future. See, White has applied to the School of Dentistry at Michigan and might end up in Ann Arbor a year from now.
White gets chided about attending Michigan "all the time," particularly from former Spartans teammate Brian Hoyer and Spartans running backs coach Dan Enos.
"It's definitely still possible," White said. "They're one of the best dental schools in the country, so I'm not just going to throw them off, even though I bleed green."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten preseason has seemed downright boring compared to the rest of the country.
There's no Mark Sanchez or Ben Olson crisis in this league, and though Ohio State has endured a few recent off-the-field incidents, the Buckeyes have nothing on Georgia. None of the four major quarterback competitions -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- are settled, and the one in Ann Arbor could drag on for some time. Wisconsin dismissed running back Lance Smith, but the Badgers remain well-stocked at the position.
If the first two weeks of preseason practice have revealed anything, it's that a position that seemed weak in the league could be much better than forecasted.
The Big Ten lost seven of its top 10 receivers from last season, a group that included three-time league receptions leader Dorien Bryant, big-play dynamo Devin Thomas, Indiana career receiving leader James Hardy and Michigan stars Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Aside from Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern, every Big Ten team entered camp with some degree of uneasiness about the wide receivers.
Michigan State and Indiana lost superstars. Michigan lost almost everybody. So did Purdue. Illinois and Minnesota needed second options. Iowa welcomed back several prominent pass-catchers from injuries. Wisconsin was very young at the position.
The anxiety level has dropped quite a bit.
Illinois, which will stress the pass more this fall, has produced several good candidates to complement Arrelious Benn, including juniors Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt, sophomores Chris James and Alex Reavy and freshmen Jack Ramsey, A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott. Highly touted Fred Smith will make an impact this fall at Michigan State, but he's been overshadowed a bit by classmate Keshawn Martin. Michigan's young wideouts impressed first-year coach Rich Rodriguez from the get-go, and the Wolverines will lean on players like Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway come Aug. 30.
I was extremely impressed after watching Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath, a big-play threat with tremendous speed. Though I didn't see Purdue practice after media day, junior-college transfer Arsenio Curry certainly looks like he can contribute alongside Greg Orton. Playmaker Andy Brodell is back in the fold at Iowa, and sophomore Colin Sandeman looks to be pushing incumbent Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the starting job. Ray Fisher and Andrew Means headline a group of Indiana wideouts that also include some promising freshmen.
There has been so much buzz about the spread offense sweeping through the Big Ten. It looks like the league will have the moving parts to make those schemes work this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'm off to Rantoul, Ill., to spend the day with the Illinois Fighting Illini, one of two Big Ten teams to hold preseason practice off campus [Northwestern is the other]. I'll catch up with coach Ron Zook, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and several players, so check back later for your Illini fill.
Onto the links:
- Arrelious Benn can take hits again in practice, and the Illinois star loves it, Bob Asmussen writes in The [Champaign, Ill.] News-Gazette. Benn will be in the backfield more as Illinois tries to replace Rashard Mendenhall. Also, tackle Xavier Fulton returned to practice.
- After taking plenty of hard knocks last season, Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen is ready to counter this fall, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Christensen and the offense impressed in Tuesday's scrimmage.
- Indiana coach Bill Lynch addressed Mitchell Evans' move from quarterback to wide receiver and other topics at media day, Jared Poertner writes in The Hoosier Scoop.
- Nick Sheridan might be inching ahead of Steven Threet in Michigan's quarterback competition, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News. The intensity was noticeable at Wolverines practice Tuesday, and young players like Michael Shaw and Martavious Odoms continue to impress, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Shaw and fellow running back Sam McGuffie are among the freshmen who will play this fall, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Michigan State standout Greg Jones might not stay at middle linebacker after practicing there this spring. Adam Decker is getting his chance in the middle, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode writes in his blog. Spartans freshman wideout Fred Smith came in with all the hype, but classmate Keshawn Martin continues to impress, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press [second note].
- Minnesota brought in a ton of junior-college talent, but don't forget about the Gophers' seniors, who are finally healthy, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Knee injuries are dogging the Gophers' offensive linemen, Kent Youngblood writes in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune.
- Northwestern's offensive backfield has seen plenty of production but seeks more wins this fall, Mark Stewart writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Ohio State defensive end Lawrence Wilson caught a bad break in the 2007 opener, but a talk with former Buckeyes punter Tyson Gentry put things in perspective. The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May wonders whether Ohio State would be ranked No. 1 if preseason polls were taken midway through training camp, after teams like Georgia and USC suffered significant injuries. Buckeyes incoming freshman defensive lineman Willie Mobley will miss the season with a shoulder injury that could have lingered from high school, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Fans aren't the only ones anxious to see Penn State's warp-speed redshirt freshman Stephfon Green at running back this fall, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror. Penn State's receiving corps is stacked with seniors, but don't count out redshirt freshman Derek Moye, who is finally healthy, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Purdue fans are anxious to see Joe Tiller's final season, as season-ticket sales are on pace to increase, Tom Kubat writes in The [Lafayette, Ind.] Journal and Courier.
- Chris Maragos' college journey has taken him from Western Michigan to Wisconsin and from wide receiver to safety. Now he's in the mix as the Badgers' top nickel back, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A torn ACL was the least of Aaron Henry's worries in the last few months, as the Wisconsin cornerback dealt with the loss of three friends, including former Central Florida football player Ereck Plancher, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Two-a-days are in full swing, and I'm beat.
- Illinois defensive end Will Davis shined in Monday night's scrimmage, and tackle Xavier Fulton hurt his leg but should be fine, Bob Asmussen writs in The [Champaign] News-Gazette. The Decatur Herald-Review's Mark Tupper thinks theIllini receiving corps is much more than just Rejus Benn.
- Former quarterback Mitchell Evans practiced at wide receiver during Indiana's practice Monday, and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Dan Rutigliano quit the team, the Bloomington Herald Times' Doug Wilson writes in his blog.
- Some good stories here from former Iowa athletic director Bump Elliott, courtesy of the Des Moines Register.
- Obi Ezeh can help Michigan at linebacker this fall. It's just a matter of which spot he occupies, Chris Burke writes in The Diag. Wolverines running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are big fans of the new offense, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News.
- The defense is usually ahead of the offense in preseason practice, but not at Michigan State, where quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins led the way in a scrimmage win, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. Freshmen wideouts Keshawn Martin and Fred Smith continue to draw high praise, Shannon Shelton writes in The Detroit Free Press.
- Minnesota defensive back Kyle Theret has heard the criticisms of the Gophers and wants to "shut everyone up" this fall, Kent Youngblood writes in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. The Gophers' young receivers might take time to click, but when they do, look out.
- Northwestern's new coordinators are stressing broad concepts in hopes of getting specific results this fall, Skip Myslenski writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Terrelle Pryor's passing has been a pleasant surprise for Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, but the freshman still has a lot to learn, George Thomas writes in the Akron Beacon Journal. Transferring from Ohio State doesn't automatically equal a starting job, as former Buckeyes quarterbacks Antonio Henton and Rob Schoenhoft are finding out, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog.
- Quarterback Pat Devlin could be the quiet front man Penn State sorely needs, Jeff McLane writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Offensive linemen Stefan Wisniewski is continuing the family tradition at Penn State, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports in the Redshirt Diaries blog.
- Purdue's Brandon King is moving back to cornerback from safety, Tom Kubat writes in The [Lafayette, Ind.] Journal and Courier.
- Wisconsin's Peter Konz is on the move to offensive line, while third-string running back John Clay sat out Monday's practice with a sprained ankle, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.The Badgers are getting used to bowl games in central Florida, and they wouldn't mind a more choice destination like Pasadena, Dave Curtis writes in The Sporting News.
|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.