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MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 6, 2013
MARK DANTONIO: Very, very excited about our class this year. As always, I think that a lot goes into signing a football class, a lot of investment, time from our coaches, and the various people within our organization here. It's not really where you come in at. I think that's the thing that we talk to our recruits about a lot. It's not really where you come in at, it's where you finish.
I remember the 2007 class came in, and seven guys are playing in the NFL right now from that class, and it was a class that probably wasn't thought of as highly maybe coming in. It was their first year, but nevertheless made great progress, and a lot of guys in that class, B.J. Cunningham, Kirk Cousins and those guys, went on to win a lot of football games here and became really the winningest class in Michigan State history.
Very excited about this. I think they add great value. The chemistry is very, very good. None wavered throughout the entire process, and it was very easy this morning to just talk and get up to date with those guys as we have been throughout the recruiting process.
I appreciate their trust. I think whether it's the family or the individual recruit, but in this day and age with recruiting becoming so accelerated and so many different things going on, we appreciate their trust in us as people as we move through this process. This goes both ways. Certainly we appreciate what they have done and hopefully they will appreciate what we do in the years to come as we go forward.
We're going to invest in these guys. They're going to invest in us. We're going to see their stock rise, and we're going to make their dreams come true, and I think that's all a part of this as we move forward.
When you look at our class in particular, you've got five state champs, young men coming from state champions. You have 11 guys who were first‑team all‑state in their respective states. Again, Midwest and Florida is represented predominantly.
We've recruited four defensive linemen. The guys we recruited on the defensive line: James Bodanis from Canada, sort of a late add, a guy that we got late in the process through word of mouth, but after watching the film and seeing him do the different things that he can do, we felt compelled to go up to Canada and recruit him. He played in the college ranks for two years there and will have an opportunity to come down here and make an impact.
Noah Jones is a guy that's sort of a come‑on‑lately guy. At the beginning of the process he weighed 240 pounds, 6'3" plus, and at the end of it he was nearly 270 and had numerous BCS offers, and some of those from the Southeast Conference. So we're excited about Noah, and he can play in the inside area or at the defensive end position, one of the two. But I think he remind me a lot of Joel Heath in a lot of his athletic abilities and the things he can do as a player right now, so it's going to be interesting to watch his development.
Devyn Salmon from the Tampa Bay area is another guy, same school as Denzel Drone, Plant City, and a physical presence on the inside, physical player, could be nose tackle, pre technique, and we're looking for big things from him as he moves forward. Early commit, had his sights set on Michigan State even before he visited, and we took the commitment even before he did visit after watching him play personally at the high school level.
When you look at Demetrius Cooper on defensive end from Chicago, very athletic guy, thin, missed a lot of his senior year due to an injury, but just really had a tremendous camp with the Sound Mind and Body Camp down in Detroit and really was unblocked in that camp. Another guy that had numerous BCS offers as we went through the process. Excited to have him.
And that really rounds out our defensive line.
The linebackers, Shane Jones and Jon Reschke, both all‑state players, probably the top players in their states respectively, four‑star players, very active, run extremely well, heady players, great football IQ on both of them, established programs at Brother Rice and Cincinnati Moeller. Both these guys I think will be tremendous players for us and play at an early time in their careers, so we're very, very excited about those two athletes.
Three defensive backs, Justin Williams from Treasure Coast, a guy that came down to a number of BCS schools, a couple in the Southeast Conference at the end of the recruiting process here. 10.5, 20.7, 200 meters, just a guy that can really run and very athletic, great ball skills, tough, will tackle you in space, plays all the different positions offensively or defensively in the skill area.
Jalyn Powell, a guy that committed early in the process, cousin of C.L. Rucker. His father played at Youngstown State, active player, played quarterback as a junior, a guy that can play defensive back, big hitter, tremendous junior film and then senior film that just went on and on and on, first‑team all Ohio guy at Warren High School, which is another outstanding program why some of our guys have come from.
Darian Hicks, tremendous athlete, 23‑foot plus long jumper, offered him early in the process and a guy that I think could play wide receiver, defensive back, corner. Was tremendous in camp, tremendous upside, another guy when you watch the film on him, he's a guy that you just put a star beside and walk up to the board and say we've got a great one there, and I think that he's a young man from Solon, Ohio, that again is from a great football program. Jim McQuaid is an outstanding coach, and he'll do amazing things here, so we're looking forward to him.
An athlete in the category sort of catchall guy is Delton Williams, can play our star backer which is out‑of‑the‑box backer, he can be a safety for us. He'll start at the running back/tailback position. Reminds me a lot of Le'Veon Bell when Le'Veon was a senior in high school. He's a punt returner, kick returner, catches the ball extremely well. I think he had 59 catches or so this year, state champion team, 15‑0, go‑to guy, had about 700 yards rushing, 700 yards or so pass receiving, was the AAA Defensive Player of the Year in the state of Pennsylvania but a guy that can play a lot of positions, and I think he's a very, very special player in a lot of ways.
The one kicker that we signed is also a punter, but he'll kick for us. Michael Geiger is a No.1 rated kicker in Rivals and played in the Semper Fi All‑Star Game and did a tremendous job in camp out here during the summer and really before I even knew he was the No.1 kicker in the country for Rivals, which I guess he proved himself in that capacity at a kicking camp, but just did an outstanding job here, was extremely consistent and made all the kicks. And I think that he'll be a guy that'll compete for the position right off the bat. Certainly he has to compete, but he's very level‑headed, all‑Ohio goalie, as well, safety, corner, those type of things. So all‑around athlete for us there.
Our two running backs: R.J. Shelton, a guy that committed last February, a guy that just felt like he belonged at Michigan State, one of the highest recruited players in the Midwest and particularly in the Wisconsin area and a guy that runs 10.68, about 195 pounds right now, and about six foot, plays basketball, football, runs track, does it all. I think he had almost two miles' worth of‑‑ two or three miles', I guess, I'm not sure how many miles, but he had a bunch of yards. Just can catch the ball very effectively, but I think he'll have an opportunity to play early on based on our tailback situation with Bell leaving, and he'll certainly get the reps coming into the camp.
The other tailback, Gerald Holmes, bruiser, great vision in the hole, great cut‑back runner, runs with his pads low, runs with a purpose, and very excited about Gerald, had a tremendous senior year, was banged up his junior year and maybe didn't get as much notoriety his junior year, but as a sophomore, coming out of his sophomore year, we felt like he was special after having been in camp. So he's a guy that we targeted all along. Big, physical guy weighing about‑‑ coming in here weighing about 215 to 218, same with Delton Williams, and gives us the big backs that we're going to need to play in this league.
So excited about those three running backs as they come in.
Dylan Chmura is the tight end. Physical guy, big, physical, great hands. Had a great camp for us last summer, offered him coming out of camp, and it was a talented camp in terms of the tight ends that were there. But he can block very effectively, has power and great, great hands, and we'll look for him to add to our tight end position. I think it's a position of need right now, so we have plans to get him involved very, very quickly.
The one offensive lineman that we did sign with this class that's a little bit special situation because we took Jack Conklin last year and put him on scholarship mid‑year, and Jack is a guy that's 6'6", 305 right now and has had a very productive fall camp for us, and look for great, great things from him.
Dennis Finley, big, long, rangy guy, two‑time state champion, runs very, very well, good student, very active. Again, a guy that we saw in camp as a junior and is a guy that we targeted very early in the process, and I feel like he's one of the best offensive line offensive tackle prospects in the country. Big things are going to happen for that young man. He's going to be a huge person and very, very athletic and talented, and excited to have a guy from Cass Tech coming to Michigan State.
Our two wide receivers, Trey Kilgore from Cincinnati Saint X. If you know anything about Saint X, it's a school of 2000 boys, plays in the Greater Catholic League down in Cincinnati, state champion type program that is constantly up there, played quarterback as a junior, three‑year starter at that school, played wide receiver predominantly as a senior, was hampered a little bit by a foot problem. But had him in camp nevertheless, big body, skill player, jumps very effectively, catches the ball well in traffic, and a gamer, and I think he's going to do great things. We watched him play as well as had him in camp.
Jay Harris, our other wide receiver, is an exciting player from Downingtown, PA, being the big 33 game as well as Delton Williams and Damion Terry. But exciting, versatile player, can play on the offensive or defensive side. We'll play him at wide receiver right now, but he's got the toughness, a guy that if you can imagine this, can do 50 pull‑ups. So powerful, explosive, tough, and will bring an attitude to the game when he enters the game and can do a lot of different things.
As you watch the film, we have quite a few guys who can return kicks and return punts and those type of things.
The quarterback we brought in, Damion Terry, is a guy, a three‑year starter for Erie Prep, led them to the state championship, he was the AAA Pennsylvania Player of the Year in PA there offensively, 50 touchdowns, a guy that ran the ball for 12 plus touchdowns, I believe, threw the ball for over 3600 yards this year. But we had him in camp, and he can spin it. Big guy, 6'4", 220 or so, so he's a guy that I think brings a certain amount of physicalness to the quarterback position. He's going to give us four quarterbacks this year, and he's a guy that I think will be interesting to watch as the future rolls around.
But I do think we've got great quarterbacks on this football team. Obviously it's going to be how he picks up things as we go. But he's going to have opportunity.
And that's our class. What I tried to talk to each and every one of them about today is that recruiting is about opportunity. Today is about a new beginning. It's about a new phase in these young people's lives and it's about the future. And for some, it sort of signifies to me, it sort of signifies our New Year's. The bowl games are over, there's new dreams ahead, there's new challenges ahead. Winter workouts started this Monday at 5:30 a.m. Anybody that wants to come into winter workouts at 5:30 at that time, Monday, Wednesday or Friday, you guys are welcome to come and take a look at that if you'd like. Spring ball is right around the corner, and then here comes summer and there's the next season.
So there's a lot of new things happening, but for right now, this is the exciting time of year. It sort of ends of the 2012 recruiting class or the recruiting time, and we start for 2014 as we go at this point on. But we're tremendously excited about this class, and I'll just take some questions and we'll go from there.
Q. On Damion Terry, what is realistic for him early? You have veteran guys here. Do you think he can just start doing the playbook now?
MARK DANTONIO: He'll start looking at it, but realistically you've got to see how a guy comes in. I think for all of these freshmen what's going to be very, very important is how do they come in the first two weeks of August, can they stay healthy, keep up with the playbook, handle the speed of the game because the speed of the game is going to pick up from high school to college regardless of where you're coming from, and I think that's the big challenge for all of them. He's been very composed throughout his high school career. Everybody you talk to sees him as that, and I think that's a trait that quarterbacks have to have.
With that being said, these other guys have a jump on them and they're going to have spring ball, and we've got a guy with experience in Andrew Maxwell coming back, and he'll come in as the No.1. We've got two guys in Connor Cook, who played well in the bowl game, and Tyler O'Connor, and I'll be very interested to watch him.
Damion has the physical skills to play at this level right now. Now, the rest of it is up to him and our coaching staff, and obviously he has to fit the situation. A lot of this is timing and opportunity.
Q. Running back, obviously with Le'Veon leaving it's a need. Will both of these young men get the opportunity to compete for that spot?
MARK DANTONIO: I think running back is a position you can play as a true freshman. You look back at Edwin Baker and Larry Caper played that as true freshmen, and then the next year Le'Veon Bell bounced in there as a true freshman, and they all had over 200 carries I think in their freshman year. I think it's a position that can be played by a freshman, and I think all three of these guys physically are very gifted, and I'm going to include Delton Williams into that mix. They're very gifted.
With our guys coming back, their opportunities are going to come this spring, but again, it goes back to can you stay healthy these first two weeks and can you pick it up, can you hold onto the ball when you're being hit, and how are you going to handle the tempo of the game, can you catch, can you understand the protections and those type of things.
But very confident that, again, they have the skill set. The skill set is there, and that's what's exciting about these guys.
Q. When you looked at Dylan Chmura in camp you saw some things but he didn't play as a junior because he was hurt. You liked him in camp obviously. When you saw him put his pads back on as a senior, what did you see? Is he a guy that can help you move forward in terms of blocking?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah, he's a big, physical, strong‑looking guy, powerful, great in the weight room. He's going 240, 245 right now. He'll probably come in here around 250 pounds. Again, you're blocking a different level of player, so again, you've got to stay healthy and you've got to learn, but we've had young tight ends play here in the past. He's got great ball skills. I think there's a need at that position as we move forward, so he's going to have opportunities. But he's a confident young man, and I think that he has a great background in terms of what he's been exposed to, whether that's the high school level or the fact that his father has played that position at a high level.
So there'll be opportunity for him. But I think he's strong. He caught the ball very, very effectively, and he's got confidence.
Q. You've developed quite a bit of depth at linebacker over the past few years with two more top guys coming in again. I know you haven't been afraid to play these guys early. Does it become tougher the more depth that you have there?
MARK DANTONIO: We're going to always play the best players. We say that walking in the door. If you're the best player, you're going to play. I think these two guys, Reschke and Shane Jones, they're very, very active players. You don't want to play them just to play them because you want to build for the future. But they're two guys that I think that are outstanding. They were offered very early in the process. We've seen all of these guys play, including Dylan Chmura, we've watched them all play in games. We've had many of these guys in camp.
But high football IQ, as I said, outstanding programs that they're from, well‑coached programs, programs that are used to playing for state titles and playing on a high stage, on a big stage, and that's no exception when you come here that's what you're going to have to do. Their expectations are high, and they'll have tremendous support from their families and from the people surrounding them.
It's going to be interesting to watch those guys. Reschke will come as a mike linebacker, Shane will come as a sam, he's got the ability to play out there as a star out in space, they both run very, very well and are active, collision‑type players.
Q. Following up on the Damion Terry question, towards the end of last season you discussed the need for your quarterbacks to be a little bit more mobile when you talked about experimenting with that in the spring. Is that something that's done with Terry in mind and will that continue regardless of whether or not Terry plays this fall?
MARK DANTONIO: I think, first of all, the last question I think is more spring or fall, but with Damion we saw that ability to move the pocket, to create. We also saw a very strong‑armed quarterback when he came to camp and a guy that had a physical presence. He's every bit 6'3", 6'4", almost 220 pounds as a senior in high school. The thing that I like about him, he's very calm, he has great demeanor in terms of how he addresses people and how he handles himself in the pocket, whether that's doing drills with 100 other quarterbacks in camp or whether it's watching him practice getting ready for a big game or watching him in the state finals or listening to the things that he did.
But nothing seems to faze him. That's exciting to watch. And again, he's got to prove it at this level, and there will be great competition here. But he has the mechanics and the‑‑ I think he has the presence physically and the ability, body mechanics, throwing the football and those type of things, to be an outstanding quarterback here.
Q. Now that you've had the chance to evaluate the film of last season, what did you assess along with the players that are leaving as the biggest needs for your team going forward, and how do you feel like this recruiting class addresses those needs?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, you know, at the beginning of this entire recruiting class, we had nine seniors leaving, and then it sort of snowballs into more as we go, due to some injuries, due to some guys leaving early for the NFL and those type of things. I guess the biggest thing is that when I look at our football team, we've got depth, we've got a foundation built. We talked about that here a lot. We want to bring people in to fit our program. We want to bring people in here that fit our chemistry, the same type of people that we have here that are people that want to work for the common good of everybody.
And then we want to fill needs. I felt like we had a need at running back. That's a position that's going to get banged up. We've got some talented players there, but it's going to be a position that's going to get hit on every single play and there's going to be injuries and there's going to be injuries afforded to the people because of their size and speed, things of that nature. It helps if you can play other positions. We've brought a lot of guys in here that are multitalented players that can play either the offensive side of the ball or the defensive side of the ball. And that's been the knack here, that's what we've done, whether it was a Darqueze Dennard, recruiting him as an either‑or guy but he ended up on defense and sticking, or whether it's bricking a guy like Tony Lippett in who played a little bit of both.
But I think that's what's helped us be successful, and it's the unselfishness that our players have had that sort of lends itself to that, and I think these people that are coming, they're confident, but they fit our profile, and that's the positive thing, that's the exciting thing about the guys we have.
Q. Delton Williams talked about how he can play a lot of positions. Do you expect to start him off at running back, and for this class, is it a case of quality over quantity because it's not as big of a class as perhaps you could have had?
MARK DANTONIO: Yeah. Well, as I said, it's always‑‑ people always want to talk about the size of your class, I think, right about now. The bottom line is if you recruit 25 guys, you've lost a lot of players. When you don't lose as many players, that's a good thing when spring ball comes around. We lost some players, guys went out early, we lost nine players that were seniors, have a couple injuries as I just said. But I think this is a talented class top to bottom. We bring one offensive lineman in here, but he's a tremendous player. It only takes one. We bring an outstanding quarterback in. We bring three tailbacks in that I think are superlative players, outstanding football players.
The defensive backs, I already talked about Darian Hicks. I think the guy has got a star right beside his name. He's a quality player. Powell is a big hitter. The areas of development on the defensive line, you've got to develop a little bit there, but we've got depth already at that position.
But you've got to develop and we've got some guys with big playability.
A kicker, an excellent kicker wins games for you, there's no question about that. So I think we addressed our needs as we mentioned before, and really excited about our class. I don't get too concerned about the size of the class as much as the quality of the class, and a lot of these guys were targeted early on and have remained consistent throughout the process, and people tested the waters to see how firm they were in their commitments, and they stayed firm and they stood firm, and that's been the trait here.
I think in‑‑ I guess this is our seventh recruiting class, I believe, I think we've had one guy decommit on signing day, two guys total. If you take in the number of players that we recruited, that's a tremendous statistic.
Q. Your policy has been when a guy commits, don't take any other visits, stay committed or you're going to pull their offer. Is that changing as you go for a different quality of a player, or is that going to be your stance?
MARK DANTONIO: Well, that's our stance. It just means that if they're not committed we'll open up the process. It doesn't mean we're not recruiting them, but we open up the process. The only thing that I've asked our players, make sure if you make a decision, make sure. You don't want to go back, so we don't really pressure, we don't glad‑hand people and rub their neck when they come here. We tell them how it is, who we are. They invest in people, I invest in people, or we invest in people.
I think that's what this business is about, because every one of these young people who go to college today, they're going to be challenged, they're going to have obstacles, there is no question about that. You need to expect those obstacles as they come forward, and we need to all expect the challenges and help each other through them.
But that's all a part of this process, and I'm just excited with the guys that we have, and I'm excited for their families, as well, great families and great people that are surrounding them that will help them to be successful.
Q. The ranking of this class in terms of ranking is right around where most of your classes has been. Do you look at it the same? Is it basically about the same if you just judge the overall quality or is there any change in that?
MARK DANTONIO: I don't really rank a class until they've been here. We'll find out how good they are once they've been here because there's a lot of unknowns coming into it. We recruited guys‑‑ we tend to think of ourselves when we recruit these guys, we should become the expert, we should become the experts on our recruiting classes, not others. Other coaches, maybe, but we should be the experts if we're taking these guys. We need to be concerned about the guys that we're taking, not the guys we're losing out on, and that's been the basic idea and premise here that we've started with and we've always tried to do that. Even going back to our time at the University of Cincinnati, we just tried to lay one brick in front of the other one and just keep trying to build a foundation, and we built it with people.
But our guys who have come here, going back as an example to that 2007 class, have been tremendously successful. They're not successful just because of themselves, they're successful because of the chemistry created here, the resources that they're given, the coaching they're given, and their abilities, as well. So guys have a tendency to gain ground once they get to college because they're going to be competing against a higher level player, and they're going to be receiving more resources, more instruction. Not necessarily better instruction but more of it.
Q. When you're putting the class together and you're putting it together early, as everybody else is these days, how much consideration do you have to give to balance, offense, defense?
MARK DANTONIO: I think you have to look and address your needs and try and satisfy those needs. Again, when we started building this class, we thought at that point in time we had nine‑‑ actually ten seniors. Fou was able to come back‑‑ Fonoti was able to come back, so we thought we had nine. So at that point in time, very, very slow in the recruiting process. In January we readjusted some things, all of a sudden Delton was no longer a safety or a star or linebacker, he was more thought of as a tailback, which he may have been thought of as that anyway when he came in. But we're going to put people at the position that's best suited for them in college.
But we were very, very particular on who we were going to be able to take. Classes tend to change after bowl games, and that's when things sort of fall down from there, things start of slide back. You address a guy's medical for some reason, you just recognize that concern and deal with it.
Q. You know they've still got to go through fall drills, but how far a ballpark of how many true freshmen might see action, and do you think because of the number of early commitments you get that maybe your ranking is a little misleading because it seems like the guys that stay on the board late seem to get more stars than the ones that commit early?
MARK DANTONIO: I don't know. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? If you're talking a lot‑‑ to me, the results are what did they do in high school, what did they do on the film, and the difference between a star here or a lack of a star is about like that. And so, again, you're investing in people, and if you're investing in people, you've got to recognize what kind of football IQ do they have, what kind of intangibles do they bring to the table, what kind of competitive environment have they already played in, do they play other sports. You just don't look at a film and say that guy's a this or a that. We've got to dig much further than that.
What's good for some people might not be‑‑ beauty is in the eye of the beholder here. All I can tell you is we've been at this for a while. Our coaching staff does a tremendous job. We've got continuity on our coaching staff, so that lends to consistency in terms of how we evaluate people and how we go through the process.
Simone Proulx does a tremendous job, she's back in the back here, this is her Super Bowl Sunday. She's extremely active in the recruiting process, especially with the parents. Matt Mueller is a guy that works tirelessly in our recruiting area, and that has become so big of a process and a department for every football program now, and it's going to become even bigger with the changing of the rules. It's very important that you identify and get on players and be proactive really in terms of trying to address who these guys are.
We've got a lot of guys that work behind the scenes, graduate assistants and some interns. There's a lot of people working at this. Then you go back to our coaches, it's about the relationships that they establish and the job that they do coming down the stretch, and that December, January, and throughout the entire year. Brad Salem is our recruiting coordinator. He wears two hats, but he's done an outstanding job, as well.
Q. A ballpark? You mentioned Delton and a few other guys that may play.
MARK DANTONIO: Ballpark, I don't know what's good and what's bad. Two years ago we had one guy play as a true freshman, Taiwan Jones, and after the season he wished he was red shirted and had an extra year left. If you're playing early, sometimes it means that timing is right, Keshawn Martin played early in his career and made great plays, great plays as a true freshman. Other guys played early in their career and weren't noticed quite as much. It just depends, I think, in terms of how they come in. Aaron Burbridge is an outstanding freshman, got nicked up early, missed summer camp; Marty Madaras, outstanding freshman, every bit as talented I feel, but tweaked an ankle and was out for eight weeks, didn't play his freshman year because of it.
So you've got to stay healthy those first two weeks. You've got to be able to pick up things and adapt.
Q. At the end of last season you talked about the need for offensively staying with the times and looking at some changes. Could you just expand on that idea a little bit and also‑‑
MARK DANTONIO: Well, I'd rather not just because I want this to be about today's recruiting. We'll have time to address that as we move forward. This is about recruiting today. This is our young people's time, and I just would rather keep it to that if we could.
Q. Would you say joining Twitter was part of the whole recruiting movement that helps you out, and also, do you do your own tweeting?
MARK DANTONIO: Yes, I do do my own tweeting. Actually my oldest daughter set me up Saturday night. We started with that, and I sent out a tweet. But I'm going to do my own, nobody will do it for me. We'll go from there. We'll hope to be positive. Do social media positively.
I think there is‑‑ obviously there's some information that you can gather from there, and I think it's a way that you can get your message out. Here I am. Welcome to the real world.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports