There aren’t many bright spots for Michigan State football right now.
Expectations have dropped from a championship level to just trying to make a bowl game. There is enough blame to go around, but are there any positives coming away from these five games?
The answer is ‘Yes’, and it’s the reason why Michigan State’s fanbase needs to be patient.
While they are still young and growing, the players that head coach Mel Tucker has recruited out of high school are already making positive impacts on this football team.
Tucker was hired after National Signing Day in 2020, which makes the 2021 recruiting cycle the head coach’s first with the program. Now in his third season, Tucker has two full classes of underclassmen to work with, as well as 22 players that he added from the transfer portal.
The incoming transfers have had mixed results. Some, such as junior tight end Maliq Carr, had multiple years of eligibility left and will make an impact for three years. Others, like junior Itayvion Brown, haven’t been what they expected, but still add depth and help on special teams.
But the high school recruiting classes that Tucker has brought in have already yielded positive results, with several guys having already secured starting spots on the depth chart.
2021 Recruiting Cycle
Wide receiver Keon Coleman has been the best player for Michigan State on offense in 2022. A late addition on signing day in 2021, Coleman has made the biggest impact amongst Tucker recruits so far.
With senior receiver Jayden Reed battling injuries, Coleman has been the top receiving target for quarterback Payton Thorne. The true sophomore has taken the flashes of athleticism he showed in 2021 and has quickly made a big jump into being a top-playmaker for the Spartans.
Another 2021 recruit who has taken a big jump is redshirt freshman defensive tackle Derrick Harmon. With senior Jacob Slade out, Harmon has stepped up in a big way on the interior D-line. While his stat sheet production won’t jump off the page, Harmon has been a force to be dealt with for opposing offensive lines. Harmon has consistently applied pressure in the pass game and has closed gaps against the run. As the season progresses, production such as tackles, tackles for loss and sacks should climb. Currently, Harmon has 0.5 sacks, a fumble recovery and one pass deflection.
Cornerback Charles Brantley has played a meaningful role since he was a freshman in 2021. When healthy, he has been Michigan State’s top cover corner, and he is a sure tackler.
Other 2021 prospects that have contributed are linebacker Ma’a Gaoteote, long snapper Hank Pepper and offensive lineman Brandon Baldwin. While they all haven’t cracked the starting lineup like Harmon, Brantley or Coleman, they’ve worked their way into the rotation and gaining the necessary experience to become starters in future seasons.
While this 2022 season has not gone the way many hoped it would, the 2023 season’s success will depend on how well this class continues to develop. With several seniors and graduate transfers playing their final year of eligibility, next season will be the first in which Michigan State fields a team with nearly all Tucker recruits.
The most important position for development will be the offensive line. Alongside Baldwin, 2021 prospects Ethan Boyd, Geno VanDeMark and Kevin Wigenton will be the first options to replace nearly the entire starting offensive line for the Spartans.
2022 Recruiting Cycle
Ranking No. 23 in the country for this recruiting cycle (via 247Sports), the 2022 class has high expectations, and it has already produced several early contributors.
Wide receiver Germie Bernard has been the most notable player in this class so far. Immediately contributing in Michigan State’s first game of the year, Bernard is the fifth-leading pass-catcher so far this season for the Spartans. He’s already played more than Coleman did in his freshman year, and has the potential to be better.
Defensively, there have been many contributors up front. Michigan State’s top player in this class, tackle Alex VanSumeren, has been in the defensive lineman rotation already. For how large he is, he moves quickly and has an instinct for finding the ball. Defensive end Zion Young has also been a part of MSU’s two-deep rotation, with the majority of his snaps coming near the end of games thus far.
On the back end, safety Jaden Mangham got his first collegiate start against Maryland. With senior Xavier Henderson out, he’s gotten more of an opportunity to play and has taken advantage.
Kicker Jack Stone has also gotten game experience. While he’s just 1-for-3 on field goals so far, he is still a freshman, and has made every extra point this season.
Future Recruiting Cycles
While the current state of the 2022 team has put a damper on the excitement in East Lansing, the future still looks bright.
Tucker’s $95 million dollar contract extension wasn’t meant for just this year, but for the next ten years. Building a championship-level roster doesn’t happen in one year, and these first two recruiting classes are the foundation that the program will build on. Developing the high school talent that Tucker has added is more important than bringing in new transfers to try to plug holes in the roster.
Building relationships with recruits and high school coaches takes time, but it’s trending in the right direction for Michigan State. The Spartans’ 2023 class is off to a better start than 2022’s Top 25 class, and the start of the 2024 class has already yielded two Top 175 players.
Programs are built through recruiting, and while the on-field results this season don’t match the standard that Tucker has talked about, help is on the way.