EAST LANSING - Sudden news that five-star defensive lineman Malik McDowell officially became a part of the 2014 signed recruiting class on Tuesday night was met with humble predictions by Mark Dantonio that McDowell will be a sudden-impact player this fall.
"I think Malik will be on the field for us," Dantonio said during Wednesday's press conference, announcing McDowell's national letter of intent signature. "I just think he's too big, strong, fast. He can play inside, he can play outside, be a pass rush guy; he can play in goal line situations and short yardage situations."
McDowell (6-6, 292) is a senior at Southfield High School. Rivals.com ranks him the No. 2 strong-side defensive end in the country, the No. 26 player in the country and the No. 1 player in Michigan.
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"I think he's going to be on the field, based on what I've seen from him in camps and his raw physical ability," Dantonio said. "I think he's a smart player and I think he's extremely coachable. He's got a lot of want-to; he wants to please, and that's a part of it, too."
"Now, can he stay healthy in camp? Can he learn the defense? Those are the things that you don't really know until he gets here, but I would say from a physical standpoint, he's going to get on the field, most definitely.
"I talked to Malik this morning. He's thrilled, ecstatic about everything."
McDowell committed to Michigan State on signing day, on Feb. 5. But he didn't officially become a Michigan State signee until his mother signed his National Letter of Intent as well. His mother, Joya Crowe, had strong misgivings about Michigan State. McDowell's father, Greg McDowell, also has reservations about their son choosing Michigan State, but he supported Malik's commitment on signing day. Crowe is Malik's custodial parent, and due to NCAA rules, the letter of intent needed her signature to become valid.
April 1 was the deadline for a signed letter of intent. After weeks of discussions and disputes, some of which were played out by McDowell's parents in newspapers and on sports radio talk shows, she relented and signed the letter of intent on Tuesday night. Michigan State received the fax from McDowell at approximately 11:45 p.m., just 15 minutes short of the deadline.
Now that the letter of intent has been signed, McDowell will be able to enroll at Michigan State and receive books, board and tuition aid this summer.
Incoming recruits often report to Michigan State in late June or early July and take one class during summer semester in order to get a head start on academics and become acclimated to student life. McDowell will also be able to train with his new teammates, go through the summer conditioning and weight training program as an official member of the program, and begin fall camp in late July as a scholarship player.
McDowell was prepared to apply for financial aid as a walk-on this summer, if his mother didn't sign by Tuesday night.
"I am just glad it is over and I am pretty proud of my son," Greg McDowell told Midwest Recruiting Analyst Josh Helmholdt. "He was pretty firm and couldn't be swayed. That is where he really wanted to be. I know he is excited about it and I am happy for him as well."
Dantonio Explains How It Went Down
Dantonio received word on Tuesday afternoon, that the McDowell situation could be resolved on Tuesday night.
"We came off the (practice) field yesterday and got a text and I knew something may have happened," Dantonio said. "And there was just dialogue throughout the evening in terms of just dialogue, texting and things of that nature, to just try to make sure that there was communication and that everybody felt good about the process and what was going to occur."
Crowe said publicly that she was offended in some way during Malik's official visit to Michigan State. Her dislike for Michigan State existed well prior to that visit, according to sources.
Dantonio didn't address specific issues on Wednesday, but said he worked to gain a commitment from Malik's mother, in addition to the one that Malik had already given.
"I knew that the family had concerns and they were legitimate concerns," Dantonio said. "So what we had to do was we had to be able to work through the process until everybody felt comfortable with this.
"Things came up during the entire recruiting process. I guess that created concerns, not just here but elsewhere, whether it was a concern for Malik, his mother or father. (It was a) very complex issue which you try and all get on the same page as you move through the process. And I think all those concerns were legitimate; it takes time to work towards a solution or a resolution in all the different things that we went through.
"It was very important that everybody be on the same page when they made the decision. So what I tried to do on my end was sort of just be still. (I) really didn't talk to Malik much. You're allowed to call the young man once a week. We didn't do that.
"I felt pretty firm that he had a commitment in his direction, but everybody had to be on the same page and I think that it took time. They didn't want it to be impulsive. I've always said many, many times that when you're unsure of some things, you try to slow the game down, and I think that's what the family did. They tried to slow it down, make sure that this is what they wanted and tested him at every turn in that area because this is a big, big decision. He finally came to that conclusion.
"I think all parties involved did a good job of keeping the lines of communication open. (You've) got to be able to communicate when there's a problem. The lines of communication stayed open throughout the entire process, and I give credit to his mother for doing that, because that's not easy to do, because she had some legitimate concerns in this direction.
"So because of that, I just sort of stood still. And every time I had an opportunity to talk to him, which was really about once a month since then, I asked him if he was sure if this is what he would want to do. I didn't want to push him and pull on him that this was the only thing he had to do.
"And there's the trust factor. Trust is a very fragile thing. I think Malik trusts us as individuals and I trust Malik in terms of this is what he wanted to do, and we worked towards a resolution.
"I think this is the best place for Malik McDowell. I sincerely think that, but I wanted him to find the best place for him, too. I didn't want it to be all about us. I wanted it to be his decision, and he made a man's decision."
His decision was to wait his parents out. There were reports that his parents wanted him to take extra visits to Ohio State and Florida State after signing day. But he wouldn't make the trips.
"He continued to try and talk to his family about this," Dantonio said.
But time was running out toward the April 1 deadline, and the possibility of missing out on summer scholarship aid.
"Eventually his family all got on board and they made the decision which in their mind, what was best for Malik," Dantonio said. "And their decision was as a family for him to come to Michigan State.
When asked if he feels he still has to work to earn Crowe's trust, Dantonio said:
"Absolutely. There's no question about that. But I think she had legitimate concerns because she knows her child.
"I just want to make sure that if we go through the process, that if I make a mistake, that I try and make up for that mistake; that if this university has a problem, we try and address that problem with people because there's no perfect place out there for anybody. And at the same time that we address the concerns of a parent.
"Some of it, quite honestly, we have to earn back," Dantonio added, without giving specifics. "To be quite honest with you, I believe Malik's family - his father and his mother - are righteous people. I believe they have a strong faith and I believe they prayed about this and I prayed about this, as well, how to handle it. And I just think that through prayer, we came to a resolution. That's the way I feel. Pretty simple.
"We will do the very, very best we can to fulfill everything that we've recruited him on. Michigan State is a championship type program with a tremendous academic reputation that we will win here with chemistry and we will hold our players accountable morally, as well."
Never before had Michigan State held a press conference to announce the singing of a high school player more than seven weeks after the rest of an incoming class has been signed.
But Dantonio believed McDowell earned the right to have his name mentioned from the university's podium, and for McDowell's future head coach to get a chance to speak publicly about the incoming player.
"He's earned this press conference and he's earned this opportunity to talk about him as a single person because of the perseverance that has existed in this process and because of the length of the process and the questions surrounding it," Dantonio said. "I think everybody just wants to get out in front of it and make it right."
Hours after the press conference at MSU, at a second interview opportunity during a coaching clinic in the Detroit area, Dantonio was asked by SpartanMag correspondent Rico Beard what Dantonio meant in terms of mistakes he had made in this recruitment.
"I guess sometimes I would think a little bit more before I speak, and I would have just remained a little bit more silent on some issues," Dantonio said.
Video of Beard's interview is below:
Video of Dantonio's opening remarks at McDowell's signing day press conference on Tuesday in East Lansing: