Stearns: Despite missing out on Andrel Anthony, Tucker is still performing admirably on the recruiting scene

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Michigan State head football coach Mel Tucker. (Photo: Michigan State Athletic Communications)

Nathan Stearns, Football Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — Mel Tucker can’t catch a break lately.

After having a top 20 recruiting class as of April 30, Tucker has seen his 2021 recruiting ranking plummet to No. 63 in the nation, according to 247Sports. 3-star wide receiver Andrel Anthony Jr. was supposed to fix what has been a massive dry spell for MSU recruiting 

He didn’t.

Anthony, who hauled in 954 receiving yards and nine receiving touchdowns in his junior season at East Lansing High School, was once considered to be a likely MSU get. Up until a week ago, all three recruiting experts at 247Sports had Anthony choosing MSU.

Boy, how quickly things can change.

Shortly after 6 p.m. on Friday, Anthony announced that instead of suiting up for the Spartans, he would be a Michigan Wolverine in 2021. He had Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State and Michigan State in his final four choices. 

Losing Anthony stings regardless, but losing his services to Michigan is another blow entirely. Anthony would’ve been the highest-rated recruit that Tucker had poached since he got hired at MSU. Instead, a player who he poured so much time and effort into will be trying, with every ounce of his being, to blow the doors off of the Spartans for the next four years. 

Anthony wasn’t the only recent recruiting setback for the Spartans. Jamari Buddin, a 4-star linebacker out of Belleville, chose Penn State over MSU, Minnesota and Purdue. It’s safe to say that both players would have made an immense impact had they chosen MSU.

For a program that has struggled mightily to woo the best of the best over recent years, it was easy for fans and sports personalities alike to get their hopes up about the tantalizing prospect of Anthony and Buddin joining forces. Obviously, when neither of these young men chose Michigan State, disappointment followed. However, I still believe Tucker is doing an excellent job on the recruiting trail.

Fixing what has ailed MSU football on the recruiting trail isn’t a one year fix. Especially given the difficulties amid the coronavirus pandemic, it is anyone’s guess as to what Tucker will be able to accomplish in his first season at the helm.

Tucker deserves immense credit for even being in the running for Buddin and Anthony.  Yes, it is a definite setback when your recruiting targets go elsewhere, but as the old saying goes, “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

After years of not being in the same echelon as Ohio State and Michigan from a recruiting standpoint, the Spartans are finally starting to cement themselves in the modern era of college recruiting. Tucker gets “it.” He understands that the players of today want a modern feel when they are choosing a school. They want a coach who can relate to them, mentor them and challenge them. By virtue of playing collegiately at Wisconsin and coaching in the NFL, Tucker is equipped with a player’s mindset and perspective when dealing with things.  He knows which qualities NFL coaches and executives look for in young players, and he tailors his coaching approach accordingly. That’s important. 

It’s also imperative to have a skilled coaching staff that knows and understands the intricate complexities of the collegiate recruiting game. Guys like Harlon Barnett, Scottie Hazelton, Mike Tressel and Ted Gilmore have built reputations as master recruiters because, like Tucker, they know what buttons to push to attract talented prospects. They are young enough to understand the players of today, but not so young that they lose the respect of student-athletes.

Let’s not forget that Tucker beat out Florida State for corner Charles Brantley, who also resides in Florida. How many times under coach Mark Dantonio did MSU go into another state and steal a recruit from a perennial national power that has won a national championship and two Orange Bowls over the last decade? Seldom, if never. Even Tyson Watson, a strongside defensive end out of Warren Mott, was offered by Iowa and Minnesota, yet he chose MSU.

Frankly, it’s simple to look at the recent struggles of Tucker on the recruiting trail and get discouraged. While there are sure to be many bumps in the road in the immediate future, it shouldn’t be forgotten that for a coach navigating a new school environment in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century, he has done an exceptional job. Tucker has already procured the commitments of 11 3-stars for 2021; I would expect many more before the book is closed on the 2021 recruiting season.