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April 2, 2014

Mark Dantonio

COACH DANTONIO:  First of all, just appreciate everybody coming today and being a part of this, and a little bit different.  Never really done this before for one specific recruit, but I thought that a press conference at this time was warranted just to speak to the fact about Malik and his whole situation a little bit and just go through it. 
He's an extremely highly‑recruited young man.¬† We are very, very excited that he became a Spartan last night and got the papers about 11:45 last night.¬† So it was an eventful evening.¬† So we are just extremely excited for him and his family in terms of where we go from here.
I think what makes him so special as a player, he has a unique ability, obviously a big guy, he goes about 6‑6, 290 but his versatility to play defensive end and to play defensive tackle, his power, his speed, his athletic ability, his size, obviously, are huge characteristics.¬† But beyond that, you look at the intangibles and I think the guys that do, when we had him in camp a couple years ago, watched him in camp this past summer; he was a guy that had a high motor and understood what he wanted and he went about it in a very clear manner and decisive manner.
So we are very, very excited about him becoming a Spartan.

Q.  You mentioned his motor; he seems to go all the time.  How appealing was that to you early?
COACH DANTONIO:  Very, very appealing.  He came to camp between his sophomore and junior year and when he comes to camp, put him through the different things relative defensive line play, he was able to keep his motor running.
He was able to sustain, I guess is what you would say, throughout every drill and that was impressive because sometimes big guys can't do that.  So he was very light on his feet and he was extremely flexible, but you just had a feeling that he was going to be a great player and I think that he did that his senior year.
I think the film speaks for itself a little bit, certainly a lot, and the fact that the people who were recruiting him, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Michigan State, and many, many others who were involved in this.  So as I said before, very, very excited he's become a part of this program.

Q.  How sure were you he was eventually going to stick to his commitment after things didn't happen right on signing day, and can you speak to the bizarre scenarios around it and what that was like for him to go through, for him and you?
COACH DANTONIO: It was a long process, there's no question about that.  You know, I knew that the family had concerns and they were legitimate concerns.
So what we had to do was we had to be able to work through the process until everybody felt comfortable with this.
You know, I think that one thing ‑‑ and I wrote some notes down, the one thing that you have to understood about recruiting, especially the intensity of this recruiting‑‑ the recruiting of this young man, five‑star guy, top player in Michigan, all of the different things that go along with that, a national recruit, a lot of visits early in the process.¬† So people were on him just constantly.¬† So constant that when you send a Tweet on direct message, there were so many direct messages that you really couldn't even read them.
So I think the complexity of the whole recruiting process had something to do with that, but I also think that you know your child, as a parent, you know your child and you're concerned about your child and you want what's best for him.¬† So you take steps to make sure that the decision that he makes is not impulsive, and that that decision is going to be a long‑term decision; and it's not going to be a decision that's going to be made because he likes coming up here on the weekend or something of that nature.¬† It's something that will last.
Things came up during the entire recruiting process, I guess that created concerns, not just here but elsewhere, whether it was a concern for Malik his mother or father.  Very complex issue which you try and all get on the same page as you move through the process.  And I think all those concerns were legitimate; it takes time to work towards a solution or a resolution in all the different things that we went through.
So I thought it was very important that everybody be on the same page when we make this decision or when they made the decision.  So what I tried to do on my end was sort of just be still.  Really didn't talk to Malik much.  You're allowed to call the young man once a week.  We didn't do that.  There wasn't that communication.
I felt pretty firm that he had a commitment in this direction, but everybody, again, had to be on the same page and I think that it took time.  They didn't want it to be impulsive.  I've always said many, many times and I think I've said it in here, when you're unsure of some things, you try to slow the game down, and I think that's what the family did.  They tried to slow it down, make sure that this is what they wanted and tested him at every turn in that area because this is a big, big decision.
He finally came to that conclusion.  I think we did a good job, both parties, all parties involved good a good job of keeping the lines of communication open through the process, and I think ultimately I think that is what created this, I guess, resolution and this final decision, and again, I'm just very excited about it.

Q.¬† Did you have an idea late last night or‑‑ 52 minutes to deadline and this comes in, or was it an ongoing discussion it might happen?¬† And have you ever been part of something like this?
COACH DANTONIO: No, I've never been, you know, part of this.  I've been involved in these type of things on signing day but never this far into the process.
But again, I think this was a unique situation a little bit.  We practiced yesterday.  So came off the field yesterday and got a text and I knew something may have happened.  And there was just dialogue throughout the evening in terms of just dialogue, texting and things of that nature, to just, again, try to make sure that there was communication and that everybody felt good about the process and what was going to occur.
I talked to Malik this morning.  He's thrilled, ecstatic about everything.  And I think the thing that we need to understand is that first and foremost, when he comes here, he's a student first, and that was primary in his parents' concerns; that he's going to be a student first.
And secondly, that he was going to get a legitimate degree and work towards that degree, and that we are going to hold him accountable for that.
And then third, that he was going to be a football player and help us win championships and continue to get better and be able to fulfill all the dreams that he and his family have in that endeavor, as well.
I think my feeling is, when you move through this, when I look at how did these things happen, why did they happen, it's the same thing that I have written on the board for all of our players on a shield:  There's got to be a commitment.  There certainly was a commitment that took place last night, but there's got to be a commitment.  Malik made that commitment on signing day and we worked towards resolution based on that fact.
There's got to be a commitment by the university, as well, and now there has to be a commitment from myself, our coaching staff, towards Malik and his family as we move through the process, too, to try and maintain those lines of communication, make sure that we do what I just indicated to you are our goals.
Got to be able to communicate when there's a problem.  You've got to be able to continue to communicate.  And the lines of communication stayed open throughout the entire process, and I think I give credit to his mother for doing that, because that's not easy to do, because she had some legitimate concerns in this direction.
But the lines of communication stayed open, whether it was from my point of view, her point of view our coach's, Malik, our high school coaches, all of the people that were involved in his life because there were many other people that were involved in this process.
And then finally, there's the trust factor.  You know, trust is a very fragile thing.  It can be broken very easily but can always work hard to reaffirm that trust as we move through the process.  But I think Malik trusts us as individuals and I trust Malik in terms of this is what he wanted to do, and again, we work towards a resolution.
But we will do the very, very best we can to fulfill everything that we've recruited him on.¬† Michigan State is a championship‑type program with a tremendous academic reputation that we will win here with chemistry and we will hold our players accountable morally, as well.

Q.  Because we are aware of the mother's resistance, did you still have to sell her?  Knowing you, you're the kind of guy that would say, let's not do this until Mom is convinced; is there any that have going on?  Do you have to win her over still?
COACH DANTONIO: I just want to make sure that if we go through the process, that if I make a mistake, that I try and make up for that mistake; that if this university has a problem, we try and address that problem with people because there's no perfect place out there for anybody.
And at the same time that we address the concerns of a parent.¬† I don't know if I'm answering the question‑‑ I can't remember what the question was‑‑

Q.¬† If you had to work on his mother to get her on board‑‑
COACH DANTONIO: Absolutely.  There's no question about that.  But I think she had legitimate concerns because she knows her child.
You know, it's tough.  It's extremely tough.  I put myself in that situation and ask ourselves, how do we handle our children; how do you handle your children.  You know your child and you want to make sure he's not making an impulsive decision, and if you feel like he is, then there's resistance.  I just think she went through the process.  I'm happy that it's resolved.

Q.  I'm fascinated over the attention this has gotten over a high school kid.  Going back to your first statement, this isn't like to you call a press conference to announce a commitment.

Q.  What makes this so different?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, first of all, I've never been in a situation where this national recruit has signed this late‑‑ I have not.¬† I know it's happened before.¬† This is not a unique situation.¬† This has happened before.¬† Young players wait until later on after the signing day to make decisions.¬† So that's what makes it unusual.
I knew that there would be a lot of questions.¬† I wanted to make sure that we were forthcoming in anything and everybody had their questions answered and that's the whole reason for having a press conference here.¬† I just want to make sure that when we leave here that you've had the opportunity to talk about it and also I think it's warranted.¬† I think there's a lot of‑‑ I guess it's newsworthy.

Q.  You mentioned not being through something specifically like this.  How do you choose to handle it the way you did, and did you know that's the way you wanted to in terms of leaving him alone and not reaching out at every possible opportunity?
COACH DANTONIO:¬† I just wanted to try and make sure that at the end of it all, I really just didn't want to be‑‑ I didn't want there to be such a problem created that it was all about us.¬† There needed to be another dynamic there.¬† Malik had to want to come here badly, and that was in existence.¬† That was there.
So because of that, I just sort of stood still.  And every time I had an opportunity to talk to him, which was really about once a month since then, I asked him if he was sure if this is what he would want to do.  I didn't want to push him and pull on him that this was the only thing he had to do. I wanted it to be his decision, and you know, he made a man's decision.
You know, he continued to try and talk to his family about this, and eventually his family all got on board and they made the decision which in their mind, what was best for Malik, and their decision was as a family for him to come to Michigan State.
So difficult decision to reach as you move through the process, but again, there's a lot of people involved in this and I think there was a lot of‑‑ there was a lot of work done on the part of the family, and on the part of the people who counsel family lies in terms of what's the best thing for him, whether that be here or someplace else.¬† I just think it was an involved process.

Q.  Based on the public comments the family made, the relationship with Coach Burton coaching him, how do you make sure there's not concern there?
COACH DANTONIO: I've learned one thing as being a coach or maybe hopefully a man:  You move on.  You move on.  Things can always get worse or they can get better.  They are never going to stay the same.  You're going to improve relationships or relationships are going to go south a little bit.  Doesn't mean you're going to go all the way south but you have to work on building relationships, and that's trust.
And you have to work on those three aspects that I talked about, commitment, communication and trust.  You have to be able to work on those things every day and we have to earn that.
Some of it, quite honestly, we have to earn back, but you know, in my‑‑ to be quite honest with you, I believe for a family, I believe Malik's family and his father and his father, are righteous people.¬† I believe they have a strong faith and I believe they prayed about this and I prayed about this, as well, how to handle it.¬† And I just think that through prayer, we came to a resolution.¬† That's the way I feel.¬† Pretty simple.
But there is no‑‑ people are thrilled here.¬† There is no problem with in terms of how Malik McDowell is going to be handled here.¬† And as I said earlier, he's earned this press conference and he's earned this opportunity to talk about him as a single person because of the perseverance that has existed in this process and because of the length of the process and the questions surrounding it.¬† I think everybody just wants to get out in front of it and make it right.

Q.  Was going to ask you about the ripple effect.  We talk about the ripple effect of victories on the field, and certainly recruiting is a big game of perception and when recruitments have dragged on in past years, is this a sign that Michigan State is taking its place in recruiting, as well as on the football field?
COACH DANTONIO: I hope so.  We have got a lot of players drafted every year.  We've had guys drafted and we've won 42 games in the last four years.  You know, number three in the country I guess, if that's what it was.
So we have taken big steps and I think that we are pleased that we have sort of nationally recruited as of late, especially in what I would call‑‑ I don't know if it's being local, but in the Midwest, especially in the Midwest, and only because of the acceleration of the recruiting process for the most part, and the number of commitments that you have prior to even the season beginning.¬† Because other than that, we can't even recruit nationally except that sometimes we are filled up.
But I do think it's a step, a big step.  This will pay dividends down the road, not just in terms of his play on the field but in terms of the recruiting that goes along with it bringing other players.

Q.  Going backwards here a little bit, on National Signing Day, just when did it become clear to you that this might not be coming in?  What was that day like keeping up with the McDowell situation, and then did you have any situation then that it could take this long to get something done?
COACH DANTONIO: I didn't know who he would commit to on that day.  I did not know that.
So obviously we were thrilled when that happened, but as the day wore on, there were some questions and initially it was, let's try and get things resolved as quick as possible.  But as you found out more and more, you know, you knew it was just going to take time.
We just tried to be patient and basically, as I said earlier, try to not rock the boat too much and just be still and let the process take place.
I wanted‑‑ I think this is the best place for Malik McDowell, I sincerely think that, but I wanted him to find the best place for him, too.¬† I didn't want it to be all about us, and in the end, I think that's what happened in the end.¬† In the end, things went as they go.¬† It just goes as it goes sometimes.

Q.  Behind closed doors, was there any private celebrations with the coaches?  Did you slap fives or open a bottle of ginger ale?
COACH DANTONIO:  No, actually I laid down and tried to go to sleep, but I think I got to bed about 12:45 because all this went down last night and I finally got the fax about 11:45.

Q.  You talk about expanding the recruiting circles, your reputation is for finding the diamonds in the rough.  Have you had to change your game, and if so, how much have you had to change your approach to recruiting with the accelerated process and with the larger area now that Michigan State can canvas?
COACH DANTONIO: We really haven't changed our process.  We really haven't changed the direction that we go.  We are going to recruit players here first and expand beyond, because I think we find out more about the people.
We find out more about the individuals that we bring here, and I keep saying, you know y do we win, why have we won; we won because of chemistry.  We got some good players.  We got some guys that played hard and they have played hard for each other and we have won here because of chemistry, and that chemistry exists because of the people that are here:  The coaches, the manager, the trainers, the equipment people, our players.
Just anybody that touches this program I think impacts young people, and that's what I've asked them to do and that's what they have done.  I think our seniors have always done a great job in terms of motivating the younger players and being there for them.
So we are on players‑‑ I think what's happened that the players that we get on in the spring, we have a pretty good chance of getting.¬† That's what's happened.¬† We are not finding these guys at the end.¬† We identify a guy, say, he's a player, I don't really care who recruits him.¬† In this case, everybody recruited Malik but in other cases, maybe a guy was not quite as highly recruited, Shilique Calhoun and then he's the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten Conference and All‑American and all that.
You earn what you get as you move forward.  Nothing stays the same; as I said, you're constantly moving forward.  We all have to do that and we have to critique what we do and try to get better, whether that's relationships or whether that's hard work or whether that's football or whether that's school.  We just keep trying to get better.

Q.  Going back to last summer, there was a perception, rightly or wrongly, that Michigan State might not have been the leader for Malik.  Did you get that idea that there was catching up to do?  When did you feel he was becoming comfortable with Michigan State?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, it's difficult to get a hold of different people in this recruiting process, especially because everybody is calling once a week and that type of thing.
Really, probably, towards November, or early December, I started to feel like Malik was very receptive to coming here.  And then they made the decision as a family to cancel one visit and insert Michigan State a visit opportunity, and so that to me was a positive.  And then we just tried to move forward week by week.  Sometimes we move forward, sometimes we move back.  But like I said, eventually, we got to this resolution in this process and I think that's the best way to determine it.

Q.  You talked on signing day, when you talked to all your signees about what your expectations were.  Is this a young man who you think could compete for playing time in the fall?
COACH DANTONIO: I think Malik will be on the field for us.¬† I just think he's too big, strong, fast, he can play too many‑‑ he can play inside, he can play outside, be a pass rush guy; he can play in goal line situations and short yardage situations.
I think he's going to be on the field.¬† Based on what I've seen from him in camps and his raw physical ability‑‑ and I think he's a smart player and I think he's extremely coachable.¬† He's got a lot of want to; he wants to please, and that's a part of it, too.
Now, can he stay healthy in camp?  Can he learn the defense?  Those are the things that you don't really know until he gets here, but I would say from a physical standpoint, he's going to get on the field, most definitely.

Q.  You addressed this on signing day, obviously Malik wasn't part of that discussion at that time because of the NCAA rules, but now stepping back and looking at this defensive line class collectively, have you ever recruited a class that compares to this as far as defensive linemen in one signing class?
COACH DANTONIO: This is an excellent signing class in defensive linemen.  I would say a couple years ago when Shilique and LP as a defensive lineman and Joel Heath and some of those guys were coming; I think it was a good class.
But I think this class, probably supersedes that in terms of raw numbers and ability, and I think we have two defensive ends coming in that are sort of wiry guys like Demetrius Cooper.  We have got a big guy coming in Malik that can be dominant and hold the point and is active.  We have got defensive tackles coming in.  Smith can play defensive end a little bit, too or be an inside player, be extremely powerful.  You've got Beedle coming in who is a very athletic guy and Malik coming in, you've got Craig Evans who is a defensive lineman who is a big powerful guy, inside player, nose tackle or a three technique but a guy that can move.
So I think it's an excellent class and when you look at our football team, our defensive tackle position is a position that is needed and our defensive end position, we only recruited one last year.
So it was a position of need.  So I think we addressed our needs there and I think these guys will all have an opportunity to play, more than just Malik.  They are going to have to learn and there's going to be some experience factors here, there's going to be some lessons learned as we move forward but I think all of those guys are excellent football players and I think this is one of the better classes we've signed.

Q.  Something else you didn't get a chance to talk about on signing day that you often do when you get a chance, signing the No.1 player in Michigan, quote, unquote.  How important is that?
COACH DANTONIO: It's not a direct competition.  It's only important because we deem that individual an important player or a very important player in our program.  So is he the top player in the state?  That's for other people to say.  I guess he is.  We have gotten the top player before and those guys have come here and been great players for us.
I think l t is in that capacity.  I think Burbridge was, Gholston was.  I'm not positive, Malik probably is.  Those guys, the point is, they have all come and they have all been successful as players and they have been good people.
Calling him a player; I think he's 290 pounds, so he can go in there and play, but he's athletic enough, I've seen him on the edge and his get‑off and things of that nature to, play end, and I think if he hits the magic 300 number, I don't know, we'll figure that out.¬† Those are good problems.¬† I think he has the athletic ability to be extremely versatile.
Thank you so much and again, it's very, very exciting.  Malik McDowell is a Spartan.  Go green.

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