EXCLUSIVE: Big-Time Jonathan Smith, MSU Football Target Has Eye-Opening Take

Michigan State Spartans 2026 linebacker target Cincere Johnson is a four-star talent who is as driven as they come.
Glenville High School football quarterback Deonte Rucker holds his helmet high before kickoff against Wyoming High School in the OHSAA State Division IV Football Championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.  Saturday, December 3, 2022.

Community 27
Glenville High School football quarterback Deonte Rucker holds his helmet high before kickoff against Wyoming High School in the OHSAA State Division IV Football Championship game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Saturday, December 3, 2022. Community 27 / Julie Vennitti Botos / USA TODAY NETWORK

2026 linebacker Cincere Johnson is one of the elite players in the Midwest. He is a tough player for a blue-chip recruit. Chalk it up to his having come from a family of competitors.

Johnson holds himself to a very high standard. What drives Johnson is simple. He puts in work, he loves contact and he wants to create his own legacy.

The Glenville High School star said something to me that I found incredibly insightful.

"Dreams happen when you asleep, goals happen when you awake," Johnson said.

Johnson's brother, Frederick, is a class of 2024 recruit currently at Louisville as an offensive lineman. Cincere said his brother helped foster his mindset.

"Growing up, he pushed me to be who I am," he said. "Create a mindset, be a dog, even if you do mess up, come back and do it 110 percent the next play. And if you mess up again, just keep competing. ... Just the stuff like that, it motivates me."

Johnson is a four-star recruit, per 247Sports' composite rankings. He is the No. 10 linebacker in the 2026 class and the No. 117 recruit. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker has a 94 grade, which puts him near five-star territory.

Johnson was clear to me about his mindset for his crucial upcoming junior season. It doesn't seem like he feels the pressure of a four-star entering what could be his most important year as a high school player.

"Going in and be dominant," Johnson said. "Lot of eyes on No. 8, lot of eyes this year. So, my mindset this year is, excuse my language, but nobody can f--- with me. That's just how it is, how I feel. You know, so it's a big time, big time. Gotta show people who I am, who I really am. So that's just my mindset. Be a dog."

Johnson wants a coach who will develop him as a person and as a player. He also wants a team and environment that can match the energy he brings to the field.

Johnson said he wants to see the "real game atmosphere" when he attends a Spartan football game, something he hopes happens in the future.

"Coaches in that mode, players in that mode, just [see] how things operate when it's crunch time," Johnson said.

Johnson said Michigan State was the first school to reach out to him when coaches were allowed to contact class of 2026 recruits this past weekend.

Michael France is Sports Illustrated's Michigan State recruiting beat writer, covering all things Big Ten recruiting for Spartan Nation. Be sure to follow him on Twitter/X@michaelfrancesi for exclusive Spartans recruiting coverage.

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Michael France

MICHAEL FRANCE