EAST LANSING - Michigan State's Mark Dantonio said he likes the explosiveness and versatility of the 2010 recruiting class as a whole, during Wednesday's Signing Day press conference, the first opportunity the head coach has been able to publicly comment on the members of the 21-player incoming recruiting class.
"It's very important as you go in recruiting to try and stack classes on top of each other and I think that's what we've been able to do with this class," Dantonio said. "We have stacked a class of 22 players last year and took a class of 21 and put it right on top of that.
"This is another highly-acclaimed, highly-ranked class, and it shows great versatility, in the type of players we have. We addressed our needs."
Rivals.com ranks Michigan State class No. 29 in the nation and No. 3 in the Big Ten behind Penn State (No. 13) and Michigan (No. 20).
Michigan State had commitments from 14 of the 21 by Sept. 1, including four of the five players who earned four-star status from Rivals.com.
"We have been to three bowls games in a row and I think it's paying dividends for us in that area," Dantonio said. "This class shows great versatility. It's a pretty balanced class."
Dantonio described Detroit Southeastern's William Gholston as the cornerstone of the class. Rivals.com lists Gholston as the No. 1 player in Michigan, No. 21 in the nation and the only five-star recruit to sign with a Big Ten school in 2010.
"You don't need a whole team (of stars), but you need specific guys that can play at a high level, to play at a championship level," Dantonio said. "Who knows if we are a Top 25 class or a Top 10 class or a Top 15 or whatever it is, I don't know because they have to come and play. But all things indicate to us that we are very, very happy about our class and I feel very fortunate to have the quality of players here."
In Gholson, QB Joe Boisture, LB Max Bullough, DB Isaiah Lewis, and offensive lineman Skyler Schofner, the Spartans signed five players listed as four stars or better. That's fourth-most in the Big Ten, behind Penn State (12), Ohio State (8) and Michigan (6).
Lewis is the No. 1-ranked safety in the Midwest, according to Rivals.com, and the No. 2 safety signed by a Big Ten school.
Bullough is the No. 3-ranked linebacker in the Midwest, by Rivals.com, and the top-ranked inside linebacker signed by a Big Ten school.
As for other four-star recruits around the Big Ten, Iowa signed 4, Minnesota signed 2 and Illinois and Purdue had one apiece. Northwestern, Wisconsin and Indiana failed to sign a recruit ranked higher than three stars, according to Rivals.com.
Dantonio refrained from putting a letter grade on the class.
MSU continued to focus its efforts close to home. MSU signed 11 from Michigan and six from Ohio, in addition to two from Georgia, one from Indiana and one from Florida.
"We have recruited Michigan very, very hard and the Midwest hard and I think we have gotten excellent players in this area of the country," Dantonio said.
MSU signed five of the Top 10 players in Michigan, while Penn State signed two of the Top 10, and Michigan, Oregon and Iowa had one each.
Strong Up Front
Offensive line and defensive end are areas of strength in this recruiting class.
MSU went all-Ohio on the offensive front, with three from the Buckeye State. Skyler Schofner (6-7, 276) leads the group. He is ranked the No. 8 player in Ohio and No. 172 in the nation, overall. He picked MSU over Michigan, Wisconsin, South Carolina and others.
Travis Jackson (6-4, 265) and Michael Dennis (6-7, 270) had heavy scholarship interest from major conference programs. Jackson, whom Dantonio said finished No. 3 in the voting for Mr. Football in Ohio and was ranked No. 20 in the state by Rivals.com, picked MSU over Boston College, N.C. State, Iowa, Tennessee and others.
Dennis picked MSU over Illinois, N.C. State and others.
"Dennis has gained about 25 pounds since we recruited him," Dantonio said. "He's about 275 now and will probably be 290 or 295 by the time he walks into the building, here. He's a good student. I think he has great feet. What you watch him practice basketball, the exciting thing he does is, at a guy his size, going up and down the court. Very, very impressive."
As for Jackson, Dantonio said: "I'm from Ohio and I can't remember in my time an offensive lineman or defensive lineman ranking in the top three in the Mr. Ohio voting. He was named the outstanding defensive player in the state of Ohio (A.P., Division III). We will play him on the offensive side of the ball. We will look at him as a possible center or guard.
"Outstanding student. He plays with a high motor. And when you get around him you realize what an outstanding person he is as well."
Schofner represented one of the biggest recruiting victories of the year for MSU.
"276 doesn't quite do him justice," Dantonio said of Schofner's weight listed on Wednesday's MSU press releases. "He's about 305 right now. He is benching 225 29 times in a row now as a high school senior. He is very, very athletic. His stock was already high and then he played in two all star games and it really rose very quickly after those, one in South Carolina and one in Hawaii, where I think he was named the best offensive lineman out there.
"Extremely competitive young man. Very explosive. Very athletic for his size. He should have an outstanding career here in all respects."
Sharp Defensive Edge
Gholston spearheads MSU's pass rushers in this class, as defensive edge talent was an area of need.
"William showed a tremendous amount of discipline and maturity in terms of how he treated the entire recruiting process," Dantonio said. "He has been on campus many, many times since his junior year, dating back to the Eastern Michigan game when I saw him walk into our new building. I remember that vividly, sitting there and him coming and talking to my wife and I, early in the recruiting process."
After Gholston committed to MSU in June, national heavyweights such as Alabama and USC continued to recruit him.
"It showed a certain amount of maturity to hang in there and stay a Spartan throughout the entire recruiting process," Dantonio said. "And, again, none of our guys decommitted. None of our guys who had originally made a commitment went on another visit. And that speaks to the character of not just them but of their families and the people back home, their coaches or whomever. This day and age, when you see people flip-flopping a lot, that's a statement in itself."
Gholston had 44 tackles for losses, including 27 sacks as a senior. He played linebacker at Detroit Southeastern, sometimes lining up on the edge and sometimes at middle linebacker.
Dantonio said linebacker will be Gholston's primary position at MSU, presumably outside linebacker.
"He can play multiple positions for us," Dantonio said. "We have talked about playing him at linebacker like Julian Peterson did, where he would enter the DPR (designated pass rusher) type of situation on third downs, but would play linebacker on first and second down.
"He is very energetic. I think he has good leadership skills. Very personable. He will be a huge linebacker for us. Outstanding football player. We look for big things from him, really, immediately because of the maturity he has shown. I think he gives you an intangible you can point to."
Although an in-state darkhorse, Taylor Calero is also part of MSU's intriguing class of pass rushers. MSU had him well-scouted before he came to camp in the summer, and then he impressed MSU coaches with his athleticism, in addition to the fact that he played through the pain of a stress fracture to his pubic bone.
"Very, very intelligent player," Dantonio siad. "Powerful. When you watch him in camp film when he goes against offensive linemen, he has that quick twitch that is so difficult to block.
"Outstanding get-off. Great pass rush. He tested extremely well; vertical, very well; ran very well. He gives us an edge pass rusher along with Marcus Rush."
As for Marcus Rush, the Cincinnati Moeller star was named Athlete of the Year in the Great Catholic League South.
"He plays in maybe as competitive a conference as there is in this country," Dantonio said. "To see him doing things week-in and week-out at that level is a huge statement. He was tri-county player of the year, which includes all of Cincinnati and the Kentucky border.
"He has big-play knack, much like Julian Peterson had. When there is a fumble, he is going to go pick it up. When there is an interception to be had, he seems to be the guy making those plays. He has snap."
Dantonio said he expects six or seven members of this recruiting class to see immediate playing time, consistent with the numbers that have seen the field as first-year players in each of his first three recruiting classes.
He mentioned Gholston and defensive backs Kurtis Drummond, Isaiah Lewis, Mylan Hicks, wide receiver Keith Mumphery and junior college defensive tackle Anthony White as players who could see the field early.
"We wanted to sign four defensive backs because we graduated five," Dantonio said. "Drummond is a big powerful safety. He reminds me a great deal of (former Spartan safety) Thomas Wright."
Dantonio and defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett like the toughness and competitiveness of Hicks, who also starred at tailback in high school at Detroit Rensaissance.
"He is an outstanding athete who plays with great toughness and ball judgment," Dantonio said. "He performed extremely well in camp, in the two or three sessions that he attended.
"Lewis has great explosiveness and natural hitting ability. He does a great job of getting off blocks and making plays."
White is only the second junior college player that Dantonio has signed in his four recruiting classes at MSU.
"He has three years to play three and he is originally from Battle Creek, so he has an opportunity to learn about Michigan State," Dantonio said. "He has an affinity for Michigan State already, growing up in Michigan.
"He is extremely powerful. He has a 625 dead lift. He benches over 400. He is very, very explosive. Very athletic. Great feet. The thing that those coaches talk about him constantly is those great feet. We will look for him to fill some immediate needs for us on our defensive line.
"Overall, stack this class on top of last year's group and I think we are headed in the right direction."