Michigan State suffered its share of setbacks in football this past fall, but the Spartans didn’t lose on the recruiting trail. None of the 16 high school prospects who committed to play for the Spartans prior to the 2016 season were scared away by the team’s 3-9 record on the field.
The Spartans signed the 32nd best recruiting class in college football on Wednesday, according to ESPN’s team rankings. The group lacks some of the spark of last year’s class, which came on the coattails of a College Football Playoff berth, but more closely resembles the types of classes that head coach Mark Dantonio and company used to build a perennial Big Ten contender in the past half decade.
Dantonio's slow-and-steady approach has been credited as the key ingredient for building that foundation during his time in East Lansing as well as the main cause of some erosion during the 2016 season. The recruits who signed with Michigan State this week said that consistency is a big part of why no one was tempted to look elsewhere when the Spartans started to struggle.
"They stayed in touch throughout the season letting us know what was happening," said three-star cornerback Josiah Scott. "I never second-guessed my commitment once. The coaching staff has been here for a while and they’re one of the most consistent coaching staffs in college football. You’re going to get consistent winning out of them. You know one bad season won’t hurt the reputation at Michigan State."
Scott is one of three early enrollees who arrived on campus last month, along with tight end Jack Camper and wide receiver Hunter Rison, son of former All-American receiver Andre Rison. That trio said the coaching staff didn’t change its tone or approach while keeping in touch with them during the season.
Dantonio thanked his newest players for their loyalty Wednesday, saying that has been a staple of past successful groups in East Lansing.
"We’ve had very, very few players decommit to the program over a long course in time," he said. "I try and be the same guy that's recruiting them as the guy who will be sitting in the chair when they come to see me in the office. I don't want there to be a difference when they show up in my office, 'who is that guy?' because I never met him during recruiting. I think that's important. That's how we've always done it here."
Dantonio didn’t make any changes to his coaching personnel this winter following the worst season of his tenure at Michigan State, which fit with the message recruits heard through the fall. Scott said defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett contacted him almost daily, and during the many conversations they had the coach made it clear that their adherence to consistency wouldn’t be changed by a bad season.
Rison said he got the same message on a regular basis from receivers coach Terry Samuel. Rison said the coaching staff took its time making him feel comfortable and didn’t rush him into accepting a scholarship offer. Rison originally made a pledge to Michigan State early in his recruiting process. He backed off that slightly during his junior year of high school, but didn’t waver after committing last April.
"It was really the lack of pressure," Rison said. "That was what it was. (Samuel) never talked about how great I could be here or whatever. He let it fall into place. He said there are great opportunities here and they’re going to be here waiting for me. If I come they’ve got a spot for me."
Rison and Scott said their classmates discussed the 3-9 season among themselves this fall, but none of them needed to be convinced to stick around.
"It was always just, 'Hey, it’s one bad season and there’s still the same consistency throughout the whole team," Scott said. "It’s just one bad season. The coaching staff is going to stick here and we’re going to work through it together."
Michigan State's steady message and lack of pressure might have cost them some recruiting battles during the final weeks of January and prevented them from making a splash on signing day. Those aren't the type of victories that helped Dantonio build his program's foundation, and he's betting that they won't be the victories that help the Spartans rebuild after 2016. This week served as yet another reminder that Dantonio and his coaching staff are doubling down on the consistency approach that helped them get to where they are, for better or worse.