Breaking down MSU football’s 2018 recruiting class: defense


This is the second of two previews of Michigan State’s 2018 recruiting class. Yesterday’s look at the offensive recruits can be found here. 

Defensive Backs

Five DB’s headline the 2018 class including four-star cornerback Kalon Gervin, four-star athlete Xavier Henderson, three-star corners Davion Williams and Christian Jackson, and three-star safety Michael Dowell. This quintuplet is the anchor that has the potential to drive this entire class to the next level.

Henderson, a 6-foot defensive back from Pickerington Central High School, committed to MSU in his junior year and remained with the program longer than anyone throughout the 3-9 trainwreck a year ago. The nation’s No. 14 athlete is possibly MSU’s most intriguing newcomer and prolongs Dantonio’s tradition of heavily recruiting the state of Ohio. Dantonio believes he can immediately make major contributions just about anywhere.

“[Henderson’s] just big, physical, could run, catch the football, he can play wideout,” said Dantonio. “Gains 130 yards in the championship game playing tailback. Outstanding tackler. I think he had 11 picks, as well.”

Gervin will also see immediate playing time as MSU’s top-ranked recruit with the upside to be a lockdown corner within a couple years. Gervin is an Under Armour All-American and a top-two player in the state if Michigan. The track star is energetic and fundamentally sound, roaming from the endless pool of talented defensive backs produced by Cass Tech High School in Detroit.

Outside of nickel or dime packages, Williams and Jackson may not see the field too often for a few years considering how deep the Spartans are in this position. Still, the former basketball standouts add to the overall athleticism that defines this entire class.

If the name Michael Dowell sounds familiar, it should. He’s the younger brother of current Spartan twins Andrew Dowell and David Dowell. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll find regular minutes in the near future. David Dowell will probably start above him, and he lacks the physicality to play a Khari Willis role on the other side. Still, his brothers made surprising contributions as underclassmen and it’s not impossible that Michael Dowell does the same.


The Spartans bring in three three-star linebackers including inside linebackers Chase Kline and Edward Warinner and outside linebacker Jeslord Boateng. Dantonio wasted no time in comparing these players to former or current Spartans. Boateng is a “big-body guy” with physicality that matches up to that of Ed Davis or Taiwan Jones. Warinner is a downhill, bruising linebacker that reminds Dantonio of Joe Bachie.

Both Boateng and Warinner could work their way into rotation early on with the losses of linebackers Chris Frey and Shane Jones. In a few years, either could be a starter, especially on a team that consistently produces quality linebackers. Kline may play as a freshman as an edge rusher in the nickel package.

Defensive Line

The Spartans signed three three-star defensive ends in Parks Gissinger and twins Jacob and Zachary Slade. Dantonio described all three players as high-motor guys, but the Slade brothers may not play on the defensive line at all. Some scouts think Jacob matches up best on the offensive line and Zach has shown interest in fullback. Either case, it will probably be a few years until either makes big inputs on the field.

Gissinger is a 6-foot-4 pass rusher who uses his hands extremely well. He may see the field earlier rather than later with Demetrius Cooper’s departure on the horizon. Also, Robert Bowers has recently separated from the team and Dillon Alexander has yet to prove himself as a consistent end. Next year’s starter across from Kenny Willekes is still up in the air, and Gissinger will have a chance to fill it.


You just never know about recruits. Sometimes, the highest-rated recruits are duds. Sometimes, the lowest-rated recruits are first-round draft picks. Judging when these young athletes will peak is one of the hardest things to calculate in all of sports. But if there’s one thing that seems to be certain, it’s that this year’s class is one of the most dynamic in Dantonio’s tenure, emerging in an era where speed, athleticism and versatility play ever-present roles in football.

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