With new NCAA regulations in place, an early signing period for 2018 football recruits allowed Mark Dantonio to bring in a class that may be just as talented as last year’s group, which played a record 13 freshmen. With the youth of 2017’s team, there are a large majority of starters returning in 2018. That’s not to say the group of 20 players won’t push for playing time of their own.
“We’ve signed a majority of our class, still have room for a couple guys,” Dantonio said at a press conference on Wednesday morning. “We’ve signed 20. We may take a couple more.”
The class is headlined by Kalon Gervin, a 5-foot-11 cornerback from Cass Technical in Detroit, a recruiting hotbed for both Michigan and MSU for the better part of the last decade. The secondary in particular is an area where Cass Tech has excelled in producing talent, as Michigan has produced three NFL players in this decade from the metro-area school.
Gervin is ranked by 24/7 Sports as the second-best player in the state of Michigan, and the 19th-ranked corner in the nation. Dantonio noted his athletic ability and mentioned that he has a chance to see playing time in 2018, high praise considering the personnel coming back next year.
Two players from Ohio’s Pickerington Central are among MSU’s highest-rated recruits: tight end Trenton Gillison and defensive back Xavier Henderson. Both rated as four-star players according to 24/7, and Gillison may see some playing time from a tight end position that had its ups and downs for MSU in 2017. Henderson played both safety and corner in high school, and his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame allows for versatility in the secondary. Co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel mentioned that Henderson “will start out as a safety, but he can do it all.”
At the quarterback position, Dantonio mentioned that he’d take “one and a half” quarterbacks in the 2018 class, and while many won’t mistake the 6-foot-5 Theo Day for anything other than under center, Muskegon’s La’Darius Jefferson could end up almost anywhere on the field.
“We recruited him as an athlete,” Dantonio said. “Way back last year when he wasn’t playing as much quarterback, we offered him as a linebacker. He has the ability to play linebacker, there’s no question about that.”
The 6-foot-2, 209-pound prospect was rated as the 12th-best player in Michigan by 24/7, and Jefferson’s tape displays a running style closer to a running back’s than a quarterback’s. Day meanwhile is a pro-style quarterback, and was rated the 15th-best at that position in the nation, earning a four-star designation. Day has the potential to follow the names of a handful of Spartan quarterbacks to make the jump to the NFL, potentially including current starter Brian Lewerke.
The recruiting class on paper is composed mainly of three-star players, as only Gervin, Gillison, Henderson and Day have received four-star reviews. That said, Spartan fans are used to seeing players that may fly under the radar in the recruiting process turn into stars under Dantonio’s tutelage. Nine players from the recruiting hotbed of Ohio and six from Michigan make up the majority of 2018’s class, but MSU’s record flip from 3-9 to 9-3 in 2017 has attracted players from as far away as California and Nevada.
In an interesting development, two players from Georgia signed their letters of intent on Wednesday, cornerback Christian Jackson and 6-foot-4, 345-pound offensive tackle James Ohonba. Ohonba is physically one of MSU’s biggest recruits in years, something Dantonio made sure to mention at Wednesday’s press conference.
“He wears a size-18 shoe,” Dantonio said. “I think I could have curled up and taken a nap in his shoe.”
There were not too many holes in the roster to fill heading into 2018, as MSU graduates just four seniors who saw extensive playing time in 2017: center Brian Allen, defensive end Demetrius Cooper, linebacker Chris Frey, and running back Gerald Holmes. LJ Scott could enter the NFL Draft a year early, but his future is still up in the air and any decisions on his future will come after the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28.
Should Scott enter the draft, it may prove beneficial for Elijah Collins, a 6-foot, 194-pound running back from Detroit-Jesuit. Dantonio mentioned that he turned away other backs who wanted to commit to the Spartans and instead held a spot for Collins, a three-star prospect who was named the 37th-ranked running back and the 18th-ranked player in Michigan. Collins is one of a handful of Spartan recruits who handled kick return duties in high school, and it may be something to watch during next season as to who can challenge Connor Heyward and Cody White for return roles.
Ohio’s Michael Dowell is now the third Dowell brother to sign with the Spartans, as the safety from St. Edward could present the unique situation of having three brothers on the field at the same time in 2018, something Dantonio mentioned as a possibility. Belleville, Mich. cornerback Davion Williams rounds out a group in the secondary that can potentially compliment an improved group in 2017. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound three-star recruit was named as the eighth-best player in Michigan, and would have an opportunity for playing time in 2018 if there weren’t so many solid players in the secondary already.
In the trenches, offensive coordinator Dave Warner and his staff placed a priority on offensive tackles, securing Saline’s Dimitri Douglas and the aforementioned Ohonba. While there are no projected guards in the class, there is a family element surrounding center Jacob Isaia, from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas. Isaia is the grandson of former MSU standout Bob Apisa. According to 24/7, Isaia is the No. 16 center in the country. Defensively, the highest-rated defensive lineman is California’s Parks Gissinger, a 6-foot-4, 227-pound defensive end.
With the early signing period pretty much over, Dantonio and his current crop of Spartans turns their focus to San Diego, and the upcoming Holiday Bowl. They face the Pac-12’s Washington State Cougars on Dec. 28, at 9 p.m. EST. The game will be televised by FS1.