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Michigan State football loses highest-ranked 2021 recruit to transfer portal

He was Mel Tucker's first four-star recruit in East Lansing, but playing time was limited due to a crowed position group

Michigan State linebacker Ma'a Gaoteote, the Spartans' highest-ranked recruit in the 2021 class and the first four-star prospect of Mel Tucker's tenure, has entered the transfer portal.

Gaoteote was ranked No. 161 in the class of 2021 by 247Sports, and was originally committed to Southern California before flipping to Michigan State during the early signing period in December 2020.

While his recruiting ranking indicated Gaoteote could make an early impact when he signed with the Spartans, he found himself buried down the depth chart in what has become a loaded position group for Michigan State.

Fellow freshman linebacker Cal Haladay earned multiple Freshman All-American honors this past season, and Tennessee transfer Quavaris Crouch held down the other starting linebacker position. Gaoteote also found himself behind veteran backups Noah Harvey and Ben VanSumeren on the depth chart.

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Gaoteote made his way on to the field primarily on special teams. He appeared in eight games for Michigan State and recorded seven tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.

The Spartans have recently added to their loaded linebacker corps — which will return Haladay, Crouch, VanSumeren and, perhaps, Harvey. Michigan State has recently brought in transfer linebackers Jacoby Windmon (UNLV) and Aaron Brule (Mississippi State), as well as signing high school prospect Quavian Carter in the class of 2022.

Gaoteote becomes the 18th player to enter the transfer portal since the start of the 2021 season, and the fifth member of the class of 2021 — Tucker's first signing class in East Lansing.