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Does Michigan State football's 2023 class signal new era for Spartans in recruiting?


With eight four-star recruits already verbally committed to the class of 2023, Michigan State football is well on its way to having its best recruiting cycle since 2016, and potentially dating even further with an ample amount of openings still available.

Five of the four stars have committed in June alone, and head coach Mel Tucker likely isn’t eager to stop anytime soon.

Tucker’s approach to recruiting is a change in philosophy when compared to how things have traditionally been run at MSU. Former head coach Mark Dantonio, who took over the Spartans in 2007 and retired in 2020, is the winningest coach in program history. Of Dantonio’s 13 seasons at the helm, he finished above .500 in 11 of them and had six seasons of 10 wins or more.

His accomplishments are undeniable, and he's considered one of, if not the, best coach in MSU football history. But, Dantonio's recruiting classes were almost never as nationally respected as what Tucker has done in just his third year.

It’s still early, so the rankings are subject to change, but the Spartans' 2023 class as of Thursday afternoon was ranked 13th by 247Sports. However, four-star cornerback Jaylon Braxton, who verbally committed to MSU on June 14 and is still counted in 247's rankings, deleted his commitment tweet and has taken official visits to Arkansas, Miami (Florida) and Cal since.

Moreover, traditional powerhouses like Alabama, which currently only has five commits, are sure to rise and potentially surpass MSU. But to be ranked this high with just 11 recruits is perhaps a sign of a new era in East Lansing.

“They put a lot of effort into recruiting and put a lot of effort into building relationships,” Allen Trieu, a Midwest recruiting analyst for 247Sports, said. “They have a lot of people in the building, from the recruiting staff to the very top with Mel Tucker, who really can relate to kids and also don't concede any recruiting battle.

“They will recruit the very top of the board in the country, and I think that's having some effect. Then certainly when you come behind it with winning 11 games last season, I think recruits are seeing what direction Michigan State is headed.”

Those 11 wins were the most since 2015, when Dantonio led the 12-win Spartans to the College Football Playoff.

Having that level of success so early in Tucker’s tenure is a huge reason why MSU has thrived on the recruiting trail, according to ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill. He also said it’s a reciprocal relationship between winning and recruiting.

“I think the No. 1 thing that (has) elevated their status is their combination of recruiting and (use of the) transfer portal going into last year,” Luginbill said. “(It) really helped them get ahead in the sense that they turned the roster around much quicker and then the results on the field were far better than expected.

“And so they had (the) momentum of a really successful season on the field heading into this cycle. … And I think that wins lead to better recruiting, (and) obviously better recruiting leads to more wins.”

Climbing the recruiting ranks doesn’t happen all at once, though. Tucker has made good progress in his first three cycles, going from 47th, to 26th and now temporarily 13th, but competing with the big dogs for high-end four stars and five stars is relatively new territory.

Trieu said he believes the Spartans are proving they can hang with the biggest programs, citing how players like defensive lineman David Hicks, safety Ryan Yaites and cornerback Daylen Austin have either already taken or plan to take official visits to MSU.

But for Luginbill, he doesn’t think getting to that level is even necessary for the Spartans, and doesn’t believe they have the capabilities to keep up, anyway.

“Most of the kids that (the Spartans are) going to have access to may not play right away as freshmen, (and they) probably don't need to play right away,” Luginbill said. “So you redshirt them, you develop them (and) you bring them along. (Then) you start to combine that style of kid, which I think will always be the core of the class, with a handful of four-star guys, and now the transfer portal, and you've got your best opportunity to hang with the Ohio States or the Alabamas, the Clemsons.

“ … Could you have one or two classes every four to five years that can hang, and then you make the right decisions in the transfer portal and then you develop those other players, and next thing you know you're on the field, it's late in the year and you're playing Ohio State at home and you're 9-1 and they're 10-0. Could you do that? Absolutely. I think that's been proven. Do I think this is an 11-1, 12-0 style of team each and every year? If you base it just off of recruiting resources, I don't think so. I just don't think that's the way this program is built.”

Whether Luginbill’s assessment of the program is true, it’s impossible not to notice the philosophical change in Tucker’s approach when it comes to recruiting outside the state and away from the region in general, and Luginbill recognizes that.

Of the 11 committed recruits for 2023’s class, four are from Texas and three are from Florida. Two are from Michigan.

“I think Mel Tucker probably realizes, and his staff realizes, that they can't just recruit the state, or just recruit the Midwest and be a 10- or 11-win team year in, year out,” Luginbill said. “They're going to have to go down into Florida and get some speed and skill guys.

“They may have to go down into Texas and get some speed and skill guys. If you look at the class, our top-rated player of this class is (linebacker) Jordan Hall for them. He's a Florida kid.”

Getting recruits to leave their home states and travel across the country to a place they might have never even been before can’t be easy. There’s a reason why only a select few programs in the country do it at a high level.

But to pull it off, the coaching staff has to convey a few different things to the athletes, according to former Ohio State linebacker and current Big Ten Network analyst Joshua Perry.

Perry went to high school in Ohio and stayed in-state to go to college, but said he might’ve been willing to bolt if he was convinced he was going to a place where he could win and be developed into an NFL-caliber player under a coach he trusted. He elected to be a Buckeye because Luke Fickell, who recruited him, convinced him Ohio State checked all those boxes.

“If I felt like that opportunity was better for me at Michigan State, if I felt like it was better at Notre Dame, for example, I might have left the state of Ohio,” Perry said. “But I felt like I had that all in my backyard. It's just about how coaches package that. If you feel like the opportunity exists away from home, then that's where you're going to go.”

In addition to Hall, the other two players coming from Florida include four-star offensive lineman Clay Wedin and three-star cornerback Eddie Pleasant III, both from Carrollwood Day School in Tampa.

Coril Joseph, the defensive line and strength and conditioning coach for Carrollwood, had high praise for both recruits. He touched on Pleasant’s physicality and his intelligence, which allows him to play both man and zone, and Wedin’s mix of patience and mauling attitude, which keeps defenders on their toes between pass and run plays.

He also said it’s good to see schools like MSU be willing to reach so far out of its region.

“They're putting a full-court press on these Florida kids, and it's nice because a lot of these kids now (are open to leaving),” Joseph said. “It's not like when I was growing up, where a kid wanted to be a (Florida) Gator, a (Florida State) Nole or a (Miami) Hurricane and that was it. It's not like that anymore here.

“And those coaches who can actually come down here and recruit here for real, they're going to get those kids. Those kids are willing to leave. …The coaches who do the best at coming here and being honest with the kids, being real about the situation and making those genuine relationships, they have (a real chance). Clay and Eddie feel like (MSU is) home already.”

Anthony Carrie, a four-star running back, also out of Carrollwood, is scheduled to take an unofficial visit to MSU on Friday.

It’s clear Tucker and his coaching staff have a vision for how they want to build this program up, and part of that is being aggressive on the recruiting trail, and thus far, it seems to have paid off.

“​​I do think that (the Spartans) are viewed much more nationally and you hear about the brand coming up in different parts of the country,” Trieu said. “I think Mark Dantonio and his staff did a great job. Obviously, they built the program and took it a long way during their tenure, but that was done very regionally. A lot of the recruits came from the Midwest. They would pop into Georgia (or) Texas here and there, but not to the level that's happening now.

“So, I do think that when you see the high-four- and five-star recruits that are from the south, and out west and from Texas mentioning Michigan State, I think that the perception of what Michigan State is as a recruiting entity (has changed). I think you now have to view them as a serious threat anytime they come into your backyard and start recruiting a player.”

rsilva@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Rich_Silva18