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2011 Spartan Nation MSU Football Recruits and Rankings

Mark Dantonio signed his best class in 2011.  Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

Mark Dantonio signed his best class in 2011. Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

Each year when I compile my ratings for the incoming recruiting class it is an exhaustive effort and this year is no different. I try very hard by calling coaches who coached for or against the recruit, and to do as much research as possible including speaking to multiple different (non-MSU) division one coaches to help me analyze each kid.

Why so much emphasis on recruiting? One NFL coach when talking about his time as a college coach expressed it better than anyone I had ever heard when he said, “It is like getting 25 first round draft picks each year.” What a great analysis!

Here is an amazing fact. This is without a doubt the best recruiting class that Dantonio has hauled in at MSU. If you look, all 21 of these players are solid players and there are no guesses or risks. Every single one of them can and will play. Some of the players who we rate today at the bottom of this class would have been highly rated (top ten) in Dantonio’s first three classes. Every one of the players in this class are high caliber talented young men.

Please take into account that I do not use other rating systems, stars, or whatever may be available. A recruit’s true value is based upon need of the program, his ability to fill that need, his character, and finally, what other schools offered him. For example, Jim Tressel told me that he has never been around a coach that can evaluate defensive talent like Mark Dantonio. Dantonio’s track record at OSU, UC, and here at MSU proves that.

If you are at school that runs a spread offense like JLS did and you already have five great QBs on scholarship and add yet another, although he may be highly rated, he certainly does not fill a need. I also weigh this list based upon need and how they fit that need.

As far as character issues, there are definitely some kids that would come in and fill a need and have lots of hype, but cannot stay on the field or even in school because of character or academic issues. Mark Dantonio told me, “We recruit character first. If a guy can’t stay he can’t play here.” They may be a detriment in the locker room or get arrested, thus being a complete loss.

How hard are the rankings? When Glenn Winston arrived we praised his character. Glenn had two highly publicized off field issues and has since been removed from the program. Coaches from high school to MSU talked about what he had endured and what he had overcome to become a top-flight recruit. You simply can never be certain.

Let’s look at the number two recruit from last year LB Max Bullough. Coming in behind a returning All American in Greg Jones many thought I had Bullough too high last year. Bullough made such an impact that he was the #1 draft pick FOR THE SPRING GAME! The man making that pick? Greg Jones. Bullough, I believe, will have a bigger impact in 2011 than Jones did in 2010. I also believe when his career is over, it will be better than Jones.

Character and academics are a more important issue with this staff, as they won’t recruit kids that can’t cut it. In the past we saw a roll the dice mentality, this staff does not operate that way. Will they get it wrong sometimes? Without a doubt, but unlike the past they won’t take kids KNOWING they are rolling the dice.

Lastly, what other programs have wanted the kid? Does a kid come from a school with a proven track record of developing talent? Do they take unheralded players, and make them stars and put them in the NFL as high draft picks? When I see a kid that is an O lineman or a running back and he had an offer from a school that is proven there, he gets great points in my system.

So, after hours of work and effort, we here at Spartan Nation excitedly present to you the 2011 MSU football recruiting class.

1.           LAWRENCE THOMAS LB • 6-4 • 245 • Detroit, MI Renaissance HS LT is the real deal. He will probably end up with his hand in the dirt like William Gholston and the thought of those two as bookends on the MSU DL should send fear through opposing offensive coordinators’ dreams. LT is a stud whose passion for the game is contagious. A coach’s take, “I love LT. That young man was born to play football. He is so fluid and plays at a high level effortlessly.”Dantonio’s take, “Lawrence Thomas is one of the most highly touted players in the nation. He is very explosive, tough, and plays multiple positions. We saw him play in 2010. He plays linebacker, tight end, and has played defensive end. Lawrence is a big body, thumper-type linebacker. He is a downhill type guy who we can build a defense around. He is an outstanding player, and most importantly, is an outstanding person with a very bright future ahead of him at MSU.”

2.           BRANDON CLEMONS DL • 6-4 • 265 • Milford, Pa. Delaware Valley Clemons is a super young man character wise and that is the only thing bigger than his on field talent. A relentless motor, Clemons terrorizes opponents. He has an incredible understanding of the game of football and has good technique. Great feet and able to use his hands, he is ready to play day one with a lot of upside that he can grow into. A coach’s take, “Clemons has NFL written all over him. I know when we turned on the film I asked my guys to show me some weakness areas and they had no film to show me. There are things he has to learn, but no film of a lazy kid or someone who couldn’t do something. When his team is up or down he still goes 100%.”Dantonio’s take: “Brandon Clemons is a young man who has not played football for an extended period of time. He is explosive and could play on either side of the ball. We will bring him in as a defensive lineman weighing 265 pounds. He runs very well, bends his knees very well. We saw him play in 2010. He’s also very fluid on the basketball court. Brandon was one of the most highly recruited players in Eastern Pennsylvania and is a dynamic person.”

3.           DARIEN HARRIS LB • 6-1 • 215 • Silver Spring, Md. DeMatha Catholic One of two steals for Dantonio in this class if you can call the #3 player a steal. He does everything right. He is a highlight tape when you watch him. He can use his hands like a ginzu knife to shed blockers and his feet like an Olympic track star to get to the point of attack. He has a great ability to feel the play and get to the point before it even develops. I would not be shocked at all if he were to be the best of the class or potentially Dantonio’s best overall in any class. A coach’s take, “Harris is a talented young man who you can give the highest compliment to when you say he plays old school. He hits, he tackles, he wraps up and does all of the little things coaches love. We wanted him badly and felt he was the best LB out there.” Dantonio’s take: “Darien Harris is an extremely quick, powerful and explosive linebacker who played tailback, as well, for DeMatha Catholic. Darien is a very mature individual who made his decision during the summer and we saw him play in 2010. He has outstanding ball skills and has excelled at the highest level of high school football in the Mid-Atlantic area.”

4.           DONAVON CLARK OL • 6-4 • 305 • Cincinnati, Ohio Finneytown Clark is a superb OL and has all the tools to be elite. Not good, elite. Dantonio was drooling over him on signing day and that should tell you about this young man. He will play and play early at MSU. He has all of the tools to be an NFL lineman and he broke a lot of hearts coming to MSU. Coach’s take: “We wanted Clark in a bad way. All you had to do was watch him to see how talented he is. What made him even more special was his coachable attitude. He just loves the game. You can’t teach a love for all of the little things that it takes to be a great football player and he has it.” Dantonio’s take: “Donavon Clark is an outstanding player out of Ohio who was an early commitment. He is a very exciting and powerful player who should provide depth to the offensive line next season. We saw him play in 2010. Donavon also plays on the defensive line, which gives you a great indication of his overall athletic ability. He runs well and is an extremely talented young man who has both the size and speed to be a difference maker.”

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5.           JACK ALLEN C • 6-2 • 262 • Hinsdale, Ill. Hinsdale Central Allen is the other steal of this class. A true center, he has great hands, feet, and strength. His greatest attribute is his mind and ability to play smart. Once he wins the C spot he won’t give it up. He looks like a true NFL center and Dantonio agreed with me when I mentioned that to him. There is no doubt he was the best center in the nation and for a team that runs first, he is like an early Christmas present. Coach’s take: “We thought Jack was just a multi-dimensional and multi-talented player who could do it all. He has great passion and leverage and is going to be an all Big Ten player before he is done. Dantonio’s take: “Jack Allen is an outstanding football player who shows great effort. We saw him play in 2010. He has a great motor and is an extremely explosive player with great lateral movement and power. He is one of the top wrestlers in the nation, and certainly the top wrestler in the state of Illinois. He is a very exciting player to watch. We will look to build an offensive line around him in the future. He is one of the most outstanding centers in the country.”

6.           FOU FONOTI OL • 6-5 • 295 • Lakewood, CA Cerritos College Fou will arrive on campus this summer and as long as he can grasp the playbook should be the starting LT by the time the Big Ten season begins. He has three to play, two being a JC transfer. If he isn’t starting that means another player stepped up. We know what he can do. Even though it wasn’t at a Big Ten level of competition he did it and did it well. The reciprocal can also be said that if he is starting it doesn’t mean anyone failed. He is that good. A real deal LT. Coach’s take: “We really liked Fou a lot. He is a super kid, has a deep faith and isn’t impressed with himself. Just wants to be a great football player and with all the talent and size he has what we teach is the best talent a football and person can have and that is being teachable.” Dantonio’s take: “Fou Fonoti was an outstanding junior college offensive lineman who is capable of playing either guard or tackle. He should be an immediate contributor. He plays with great feet and great aggressiveness, and is an outstanding technician. He’s very close family friends with former Spartans Domata and Tupe Peko. Fou comes from an outstanding junior college program with great structure.”

7.           RJ WILLIAMSON DB • 6-1 • 190 • Middletown, Ohio Dunbar Imagine if you would, this young man hits like Nehemiah Warrick with great hands to catch the ball. He will play like an extra LB from the S spot and not be afraid to blitz and dismantle QBs, but also come up and play the run. He has what this MSU staff craves and that is pure, raw football ability. Coach’s take, “Roger was a young man that we thought could play both ways. As a big wide out catching fades in the corner and as a safety who could come up and give you that eighth man in the box stop the run. A sure tackler, he’s got the it factor coaches love.” Dantonio’s take: “RJ Williamson is an outstanding player who had an impressive camp this past summer. He will play at safety for us due to his great awareness on the field and ball skills. RJ played multiple positions for his high school throughout his career as well as being a kick and punt returner. He is an outstanding tackler with big play ability and has great toughness.”

8.           JUWAN CAESAR WR • 6-4 • 205 • Miami, Fla. Coral Park I first learned of Caesar from a friend of mine who has an NFL background that lives in South Florida. He told me at the time about a big WR that had such long strides that reminded him of Calvin Johnston of the Lions and the hands to match. Big, fast, and strong Caesar has all the tools and in this offense MSU run’s he is a no brainer. Coach’s take, “Solid player with an NFL body and talent. He is faster than he looks and having come on strong late, we thought we had a chance because we were in there early.” Dantonio’s take: “Juwan Caesar is a big body wide receiver at 6-4. He had an outstanding senior year and has the ability to make big plays. He runs very well and his size and speed remind me a lot of Michael Jenkins. Juwan is very exciting to watch and has the ability to go up and make the difficult catch. In the future, we look forward to him being in a position to compete for the starting job.”

9.           MATT RAMONDO DT • 6-4 • 285 • Las Cruces, N.M. Mayfield When you talk to Ramondo and watch him, you see a high motor young man that is so talented. At MSU they love to substitute in and out a lot so he won’t have to conserve himself knowing he has to go the entire game. He will play all out when on the field and blows up his opponents. Coach’s take, “Matt plays football like the Tazmanian devil. He creates chaos and destruction. He is the complete opposite off of the field. Great kid.” Dantonio’s take: “Matt Ramondo was one of the highest recruited players in the Southwest. We saw him play last spring. He’s powerful, explosive, and comes from a state champion high school. Matt also boasts great hands and feet for his size. He has the ability to sustain and shed blockers and become a dominant and exciting player at MSU.”

10. TAIWAN JONES LB • 6-3 • 220 • New Baltimore, Mich. Anchor Bay Jones reminds a lot of people in the way that he hits and plays with reckless abandon of Greg Jones. A sure tackler, Jones is a physical player that makes you cringe at times the way he hits opponents with no thought of the damage he is doing to his own body. Coach’s take: “We loved Taiwan and the way that he plays football. His style of play makes every single snap look like a demolition derby.” Dantonio’s take: “Taiwan Jones is a very exciting player who shows up in all areas on the football field. We saw him play in 2010. He shows up at wide receiver, running back, linebacker and even played a little quarterback. He is an outstanding athlete who is a great tackler in space. He has great ball skills and is very fluid. Taiwan is one of the higher recruited players in the state who we were fortunate to see in camp. He committed this summer and will have an exciting career as a Spartan.”

11.       CONNOR COOK QB • 6-3 • 197 • Hinckley, Ohio Walsh Jesuit Cook has superb feet, a great and accurate arm, and the size you covet from a Big Ten QB. He will be the #3 QB as soon as he arrives with the departure of Joe Boisture, but the thing you will love about Connor is that he is a competitor and will tirelessly do the little things like film and weight room that aren’t always seen. Coach’s take, “Connor possesses the thing that you want all quarterbacks to have and that is the ability to think and react with no hesitation. Likes to run, but knows to stay in the pocket until the last second. He is fortunate to not have to play immediately, but I look for him to have a big impact at MSU before all is said and done.” Dantonio’s take, “Connor comes from an outstanding program in Walsh Jesuit. He has excellent running ability, along with a great arm and accuracy. We really liked what we saw from him in camp this year and also when we saw him play in 2010. Connor makes great decisions down field and will be a quarterback of the future. He’s an outstanding young man and shows excellent leadership ability, which will serve him well as a quarterback at MSU.”

12.       ED DAVIS LB • 6-3 • 214 • Detroit, MI Southeastern Davis is perhaps the most gifted of this entire class with pure football smarts. He sees things, anticipates things, and gets in position to make plays. He makes it look easy because of those talents and one shouldn’t see what looks like effortless at times play with not caring. He, like a gifted painter or artist, simply has so much talent that others can perceive it as easy. He reminds me a lot of a Shane or Chuck Bullough and what I also think we will see a lot of from Max this year. He understands the game and it is slower for him because of that gift. Coach’s take, “You see so many recruits, but Davis was fun to watch. His anticipatory skills are astonishing. He can see things and perceive things including offensive blockers that are trying to stop him.” Dantonio’s take: “Ed Davis is extremely tough and runs very well. He is another young man who we saw in camp this year and we also saw him play in 2010. Ed is a very talented player who hits with power and is extremely quick. He has great knee bend, explosiveness, and ball skills. He also possesses the size and speed to be an outstanding player early in his career at MSU.”

13. TRAE WAYNES DB • 6-0 • 165 • Kenosha, WI Bradford This defensive back has speed, more speed, and finally some more speed. He can stop on a dime and give you nine cents change. He can move forward and back, side to side, and can jump and leap. His ability is that no one can out run him and he has great technique. The Spartans went into WI to get this future star and he is a great addition to the Spartan Nation. Coach’s take, “Coaching against Waynes wasn’t fun. He was so fast and had such good hands that we just told our QB to find him on each play and take the passing play away from him. Not only a good football player, but always one of the best young men we competed with each year. He respects the game, his opponents and his team. I was disappointed he didn’t end up in red.” The red he was referring to was the Badgers of Wisconsin. Dantonio’s take, “Trae Waynes came to camp this year and was one of the fastest players we have ever had. He was very coachable when he was in camp. We also saw him play in 2010. Trae possesses great ball skills as well as great running ability. He has great acceleration and is a great tackler who will hit you. He has nice size for his position, great change of direction and burst. He reminds me of Renaldo Hill, a former Spartan who has spent the last 10 seasons in the NFL.”

14.       MARK SCARPINATO DT • 6-3 • 270 • Milwaukee, WI Marquette A high character young man, Mark truly plays on the DL with divined inspiration. He wanted to be a priest until one day sitting in chapel he felt that God could use him as a Dr. and football player and that he was being led that way. Scarpinato responded to that divine direction and is on his way to MSU. He has a ferocious motor and plays with a child like love for the game. He will not be a good DL at MSU; he will be great. Coach’s take, “I love the way that young man played football. As a high school coach, he clearly belonged at the next level and dominated people. I ain’t just talking high school kids, he did it against guys going to play at the next level. He has a lot of talent and a lot of character.” Dantonio’s take, “Mark Scarpinato runs extremely well for his size. We had him in camp and he displayed great balance and power, and we saw him play in 2010. Mark is a very active player and has great toughness. He plays with great effort and is constantly working his hands and feet as he performs.”

15.       ONAJE MILLER ATH • 5-10 • 180 • Lansing, MI J.W. Sexton I love watching Onaje play and watched him many times. The thing that stands out with him is that even if you don’t specifically watch him, you just know where he is because he makes plays. You can’t have enough athletes as we saw against Alabama and he is a true athlete. Coach’s take, “I think with Miller you see that he has a nose. He can perceive a hole, or a play and he doesn’t duck a collision. He can play in so many places and do so many things.” Dantonio’s take: “Onaje Miller is a very exciting kick returner, punt returner, running back and defensive back. He plays at every position and makes plays all over the field. We saw him play over the past two seasons and he boasts track-like speed. He possesses outstanding ball skills, COD (change of direction) and tackling ability.”

16.       ANDRE SIMS, JR. WR • 5-9 • 170 • Snellville, Ga. Brookwood Sims is fast and Sims has the hands and talent to make plays. Not big at only 5’9” he plays at a fast pace that causes guys to miss. Coach’s take, “We were surprised Sims went up north. He has the speed and ability that you often hear people saying is lacking up there and he will mesmerize some of you folks with the talent to make them plays.” Dantonio’s take, “Andre Sims Jr. makes plays all over the field. He is very explosive and has the ability to make people miss in space. Andre comes from a state champion in Georgia and has great pass catching ability in the crowd. We saw him play in 2010. He has great instincts as a runner and is very explosive with quick bursts as kick returner as a punt returner, kick returner and wide receiver. He does it all with great effort and athletic ability.”

17. JOEL HEATH DE • 6-6 • 250 • Cincinnati, OH Mount Healthy The first thing you notice with Heath is his size. For a DL, you love that tall and athletic frame. He can get up and down with ease. He has the frame and mindset to play at this level and make the plays that you want from his position. Like so many high school players you have to conserve yourself because you have to play so much. That won’t be the case at MSU and what will free up Heath to do more. Coach’s take, “We liked Heath a lot. He has what many big guys lack and that is athleticism. He isn’t going to burn up a stop watch in the 40, but he has very good football speed.” Dantonio’s take, “Joel Heath is big, rangy and athletic. He runs extremely well and is very quick and has a great first step. Joel also has great size and speed for his position. He has the ability to become a dominant defensive lineman for us in the near future. His performance in our camp this summer was outstanding. We also saw him play in 2010.”

18. DAMON KNOX DE • 6-5 • 265 • Muskegon, MI Knox is going to be putty in the hands of Coach Gill. He has such raw talent with a monster upside. He came on strong because of that raw talent. At MSU he won’t have to play early, but don’t count him out. I mean this with all respect, but he has freak athletic ability and once he truly learns how to use his body the sky is the limit. Coach’s take, “There are some young men you watch play and you think if you could put another guy’s heart in him or put his heart in another body how good they can be. Knox has the want to and the physical abilities. He has the heart and the talent, he just has to learn how to play within that body and talent. He is a real good one and will he a real great one. He just needs reps.” Dantonio’s take, “Damon is a very powerful player, which we saw in camp this summer and also watching him play in 2010. He’s a very exciting defensive lineman who has great explosiveness and athletic ability. He has the ability to jump and bend his knees. He reminds me a lot of Robaire Smith, a former All-American here at MSU. He is a contact player in all respects.”

19. PAUL LANG TE • 6-5 • 235 • Pittsburgh, PA Mount Lebanon Lang is a sure-handed and aggressive young man that plays with an offensive lineman’s mentality that the staff loves. There is no doubt that to play TE at MSU you have to be willing to block. Lang does that. He can catch, but he can deliver devastating blocks like a tackle with the mobility of movement like a guard. Coach’s take, “Paul Lang is just a super kid and a great football player. I can tell you that he got into the heads of our kids because you had to fear him as a blocker. I bet in the Big Ten he will get to catch a lot of footballs. We have had a lot of young men from this part of the country play ball in college. A lot of them good players and people and none finer than young Mr. Lang.” Dantonio’s take, “Paul Lang is an excellent tight end who committed last summer after camp. He certainly looks to be a great one. Paul has great hands, is very fluid, a very good blocker and is extremely tough. He comes from very a disciplined program in Mount Lebanon. We saw him play in 2010. He’s also an outstanding basketball player who was very fluid on the court.”

20. ARJEN COLQUHOUN DB • 6-1 • 180 • Windsor, Ontario W.F. Herman Arjen pledged to the Spartans early who have had success in Canada before and had some very storied programs take a look after including Notre Dame. In the end he stayed true to the green and white and is a big, fast attaching DB. He has speed to burn and the ability at 6’1” to still get up in the air. Coach’s take, “We took a long hard look and would have liked to get Arjen. Unfortunately for us he had already committed to Mark (Dantonio) and we won’t go after kids who have pledged. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him playing early. He is big at over six feet and with his speed, he has all the intangibles to be a real star.” Dantonio’s take, “Arjen Colquhoun is a very outstanding player out of Windsor. He is extremely fast and showed great ability at camp this year. We also saw him play in 2010. Arjen has great ball skills, great running ability and has size and speed for his position. He also is an outstanding leaper. He enrolled in school this spring and will be an exciting player to watch this spring.”

21.       SHILIQUE CALHOUN DE 6-5 • 225 • Middletown N.J. Middletown North Very athletic and very talented, he should play right away at MSU. He has a nose for the football and his biggest issue to watch is simply going to be getting on a team with so much talent. Will he compete and win playing time or get frustrated? If he can fight frustration and go hard all the time I expect to see him on the field early. Coach’s take: “Shilique can play the game and play it well. God didn’t hold nothing back from that youngster when he was handing out the tools to play football and he will be a good one in college.” Dantonio’s take: “Shilique Calhoun is an outstanding athlete in every respect. We saw him play in 2010. He has tremendous jumping ability, has great acceleration, and is very fluid. He is an active defensive end who should provide immediate help as a pass rusher. Shilique also has the ability to play tight end. When I watch him, in every respect, he reminds me of Julian Peterson, a former Spartan All-American and All-Pro in the NFL.”