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December 14, 2006Detroit - On a night in which new Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio delivered a speech at the National Football Foundation/Detroit Free Press Dream Team Banquet, Spartan verbal commitments Mark Dell and Ryan Wheat reaffirmed their pledges to Michigan State, Wednesday at Ford Field.
Meanwhile, recruiting targets Joseph Barksdale of Detroit Cass Tech, and Ronald Johnson of Muskegon High, listened for more than 15 minutes as part of a captive audience.
Oklahoma commitment Keith Nichol was the only member of the Dream Team who did not attend the banquet, due to illness.
Barksdale, who visited MSU last weekend and lists Ohio State, Michigan State and LSU as his leaders, was one of six Dream Teamers awarded with an academic achievement plaque. He has a 3.48 grade point average at Cass Tech.
"Time management," Barksdale said. "That's the key."
Is Michigan State seriously in the running for his services?
"Yes," he said. "I wouldn't have visited if they weren't."
Dell took his official visit to Michigan State last weekend as part of a double-digit group that led to five commitments and counting.
"I can speak for me and my parents that we were pretty much blown away from the presentation and everything that they gave us," Dell said. "A few times, we talked to Coach Dantonio one-on-one and everything I've heard about him were pretty much true. He is a great guy and a good-loving coach, and everything I've seen and heard so far makes it clear that he is going to come in and get the job done, so I'm settled on my decision."
He said Iowa and Nebraska have continued to recruit him, but Dell says the commitment is secure.
Wheat's mother, Allyson Jones, told SpartanMag.com on Monday night that her son needed more time to get acquainted with the new coaching staff. Wheat, of Flint Carman-Ainsworth, visited Minnesota last weekend in order to make sure he was making an educated decision, Jones said.
Now, a satisfactory level of comfort and familiarity have been achieved. Wheat, who took his official visit earlier in the fall while John L. Smith was head coach, said on Wednesday night that he is a full-fledged Spartan again.
"I am done looking around," Wheat said Wednesday night in Detroit. "I have had a chance to talk to Coach Dantonio and I feel good about the direction of the program. I wanted to look at all my options, but right now I am solid in my commitment to Michigan State. I do not think that I will be taking any more visits."
Jones said she and her son are planning to get to East Lansing to meet with the coaches more in the future on unofficial visits.
Said Dell: "It's been hectic for me and Ryan, I'm sure I can speak for him. But the confidence he (Dantonio) shows and the plan he has for coming in and taking over the situation provide a lot of belief that they will get it going."
At the banquet, Dantonio was joined by members of the Michigan State coaching staff, including offensive line coach Mark Staten, running backs coach Dan Enos, linebackers coach Mike Tressel.
Dantonio was the only in-state Division 1 head coach in attendance. He said he will attend the event every year. He first attended the event in 1995 as an assistant for Nick Saban at Michigan State.
"I can assure you one thing, to this table over here," Dantonio said, pointing in the direction of the University of Michigan table, which included Wolverines defensive coordinator Ron English and defensive line coach Steve Stripling. "We will be a player in the state. And we will measure up. I can promise you that."
In his speech, Dantonio saluted the Dream Team players, as well as their coaches. He relayed an anecdote about getting a phone call earlier in the day from his former college coach at South Carolina. Carrying on with that message, Dantonio said "I tell recruits all the time, 'Pick a school (where) you can pick up the phone 10 years from now and call that coach and have a relationship with him like the relationship you have with the people in this room who are your coaches right now.'"
Dantonio also outlined a list of six things that he feels are important to a student-athlete in terms of development as a player and a person:
1. Make the right decisions in the face of temptation. "Don't try to be someone you're not," he said.
2. Stay connected with your families.
3. Get bigger, stronger and faster and accept coaching.
4. Get your degree.
5. Treat football as a privilege and donate time back to your community.
6. Strive for a championship.
Dantonio was introduced at the podium by Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharpe, who served as master of ceremonies.
Sharpe had some equal-opportunity jabs at Michigan, Michigan State, but mostly the Detroit Lions. But Sharpe also had some compliments, including relaying a conversation he had with Saban at Ford Field shortly after his Miami Dolphins defeated the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. In speaking with Saban, Sharpe described some things that he thought MSU needed in a coach, and Saban's answer was, "Mark Dantonio. He's all of that."
That was two days before Dantonio was interviewed and three days before he was hired by Michigan State.
Dantonio also received an eyebrow-raising compliment from keynote speaker and former University of Michigan star from the late 1960s, Ronald Johnson.
Johnson saluted coaches in general, and pointed to Dantonio as an example. "He's from a rival school, but I can see that he is a coach," Johnson said. "The Michigan coaches are going to hate me for this, but I can see that he is a coach that I would have wanted to play for."
Immediately after the banquet, Michigan State coaches were whisked to the airport to continue their work on the recruiting trail. The Spartans expect to play host to another official visit weekend of more than 10 visitors.
Five of last week's visitors committed to Michigan State: Milford High School offensive lineman Joel Foreman, Hilliard (Ohio) Darby defensive tackle Antonio Jeremiah, Westerville (Ohio) South High School wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, Warren (Ohio) Harding defensive back Chris Rucker, and Cincinnati Harmony Prep lineman Oren Wilson.
Jeremiah (No. 4), Cunningham (No. 37) and Rucker (No. 36) are ranked in the Ohio Top 50 by Rivals.com
The commitments have created a buzz on Lansing sports radio talk shows and Internet message boards.
"Let's keep the buzz going," Dantonio said.
Video of Dantonio's speech will be available to SpartanMag.com premium members later today.
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