Dantonio Sacks Big Ten Competition Early for 2009 Recruits

Hondo S. Carpenter

Dantonio Sacks Big Ten Competition Early for 2009 Recruits

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There was a lot of discontent when Mark Dantonio released his list of 2008 recruits. People speculated if the new man at the helm of the Spartan Nation football program was a “Great coach, bad recruiter?” In defense of my colleagues in the media you didn’t see that written or spoken about by anyone who knows this program.

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The dividends of what Mark Dantonio is doing are now fully paying off early in 2008 for the new crop of recruits. Mark Dantonio has quickly made his mark by snagging three highly recruited and sought after youngsters, and all from the Southeast part of the State, and all three from traditional UM strongholds.

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How did this happen? Why did it happen? You have to go back to Mark Dantonio’s first week on the job at MSU. As time passes youngsters are making up their minds earlier and earlier and Dantonio took over his role at MSU very late in the process. Although I disagree with some prognosticators about this year’s (2008) recruiting class, many had already made up their minds or had at least built relationships with schools that were hard to ignore.Â

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The 2009 class was started that first week. Dantonio told me February of 2007, “Sure we have already started on 2008, but we have also already identified 2009 guys. I think we have to. I think we need to get on those kids early and have them help us. This isn’t about me, it is about the program and we need those kids to see what we are all about and get them on board so they can help us fix it. This is a group effort and our staff is always looking with our heads down the field.” These kids were relationships built over more than one visit.Â

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This staff doesn’t take vacations during their camps and ignore talented kids that are on campus like has happened in the past. This staff sees recruiting as a 365 day a year job (366 in 2008 for leap year) and it is paying off.

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One young man that I know personally that went to UM in the 2008 class told me, “I committed early. I knew I wanted to be a Wolverine. I grew [up] a die hard, but wow does he have that program turned around. If I hadn’t made up my mind early I would have really taken a much harder look, but I am a man of my word.” That was the mentality that Dantonio had to fight early. Kids had already made up their minds. Even though he arrived in very late 2006, many of the so-called, “Blue Chip” recruits had already made their choice. Well, now they are making their picks and much to the chagrin of UM and the rest of the Big Ten, Dantonio is making a big splash for 2009 while some schools were asleep at the wheel.

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The Spartans have already reeled in three prize recruits and are EXTREMELY close on at least three others that we know of. Here are the three that have already committed:

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  1. Chris Norman LB Detroit Renaissance: There is an old adage that speed kills. Well, how about speed and power. Norman was already much sought after by Ohio State (I think Tressel knows a thing or two about recruiting LBs), Alabama and most of all by UM. He has superior technique and great peripheral vision. He sees the field and is explosive at the point of attack. He is incredibly strong and will compete to get on the field immediately even with what will be some upper classmen to contend with when he arrives. He is a great kid and applies his dedication to football in the classroom. I am not saying that he will have the best GPA of the 09’ class; I am saying that no one will work harder at his grades than Norman. Norman has a chance to be the best player in the State of Michigan for the 2009 class, and more importantly will be a tremendous Spartan. He needs to improve on keeping his head up during the tackle. Norman is explosive and his tackles are a lot like a train wreck. At the next level he can’t lower his head. Guys are too talented and he will still be able to deliver the monster hit, but he has to keep his head up at the point of attack. Ike Reese was a lot like that when he came to MSU.Â
  2. Donald Spencer WR Ypsilanti: Spencer is big, 6’2”. Once again, Dantonio went out and secured the best receiver in the State of Michigan; he has Dell, Smith, and now Spencer. Spencer is unique in that he can play outside, but also has the toughness to play the slot. In high school, especially, you can read a receiver’s potential not on good thrown balls, but bad. Spencer had a very unique ability to adjust his body mid-air and, more importantly, he has a knack for putting his body between he and the defensive back. One quality that he has is that he doesn’t catch the ball with his body. The number one adjustment for a new recruit when they get to big time football is learning to catch with their hands and not their body. Spencer already has that. He should play immediately when he gets to MSU. All three of the MSU recruits were wanted by UM and I can tell you that when Dantonio got him this one shocked them the most. He is literally in the shadow on The Big Hole and he didn’t hesitate to play for Dantonio and don the Green and White. He needs to improve his maintaining a block. He isn’t lazy or selfish, but at the next level (especially in the Dantonio system) he will be called upon to block more and in doing so he will need to engage and maintain a block for a longer period of time. He will get his touches, but he can learn from Devin Thomas. The coaches really worked with Devin and one of the many things that has Devin rising up NFL draft boards so fast is that he blocks so well down field. Something that he was not gifted at in early 07’.
  3. Edwin Baker RB Oak Park: Baker is a big time back. In fact, back in early August of 2007 I was having a conversation with a division one coach (not at UM or MSU) that mentioned Baker to me. When I called him to remind him this week of that conversation, he mentioned it first. Baker has all the tools and, in fact, that same coach said to me, “Let Charlie have Jonas. I think Mark would have made that trade any day.” He has blazing speed and when he gets to the corner he is gone. You can’t knock him down. You have to wrap him up and that makes him even more dangerous. He has a nose for the down marker. Some guys have a nose for the end zone and that is great, but Baker understands the game of football and is blessed with a high football IQ. He has the ability to know what his team needs for a first down and gets it. He hasn’t had to catch a lot of balls out of the backfield; definitely an area he needs to improve. If he can master that with his speed and ability to shed blockers he will be a complete back. He reminds a lot of scouts of Maurice Clarett, but has to improve catching the ball out of the backfield. When he does do it, he looks downfield too fast and tries to take off. He has to trust his ability and speed to break tackles once he secures the catch.

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When Mark Dantonio arrived at MSU many Big Ten teams (read UM) told recruits and more importantly their parents that he would run the “George Perles” offense. They told recruits how this wasn’t an offense that featured skill positions. Well, the staff has tape now and they used it. They are showing running backs how Javon and Jehuu worked together. They are also showing them the MSU aerial attack.

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Armed with proof and catching a new UM staff flat-footed, they were able to pull ahead early in the race and sack a lot of expectations. Another thing that the Spartans have done by getting three highly respected and vocal kids early, they now have turned these three kids into recruiters. Trust me they are already working the phones to get other kids to join them.

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One thing I do know is Mark Dantonio’s ability to evaluate talent and to more importantly develop it. That talent along with a highly skilled staff already has put a huge glowing ray of hope back into MSU football. With the start to recruiting for 2009, it can only get brighter.

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