EXCLUSIVE: Elite Jonathan Smith, MSU Football 2026 Target Says Spartans Were First June 15 Contact

The Michigan State Spartans were one of many schools that reached out to 2026 recruits at midnight when the date read June 15. Cincere Johnson, one of the top linebackers in the class, was one of the targets the Spartans contacted first.
Oct 12, 2019; Madison, WI, USA; Michigan State Spartans logo on footballs during warmups prior to the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 12, 2019; Madison, WI, USA; Michigan State Spartans logo on footballs during warmups prior to the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports / Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Cincere Johnson is a four-star 2026 recruit, per 247Sports, the No. 10 linebacker in the 2026 class and the No. 127 player overall. Safe to say the Michigan State Spartans are aiming high with this prospect. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound linebacker has the tools and ability that match that rating.

I was one of many who reached out to Johnson on June 15, the day that programs are permitted to begin their contact and ostensibly build relationships with the 2026 class. Before that date, recruiters are to speak with coaches or just about anyone but the players. Now, the door is open for phone calls, direct messages, texts, mail -- name it.

Johnson told me he was with fellow teammates, fellow 2026 recruits, traveling to a camp. When the clock struck midnight, he said all the phones began "going off" and soon everybody was on the phone talking to coaches. The first contact Johnson had after midnight was Spartans defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Joe Rossi.

"I love Coach Rossi, he's a great coach," Johnson told me. "Obviously he's from Minnesota, and he's produced talent, he's a coach. He develops kids and amazing coach, high energy coach, somebody that develops ... What sticks out to me, from a game standpoint ... Obviously [he] loves the sport and loves what he do, he pushes the guys to be better every day. Another point for me, outside of football, develop me as a person and a player."

Johnson said there have been talks of visiting the Spartans sometime in the future, though there is nothing planned out as of right now. He said he's looking forward to going to a game, and experiencing the gameday atmosphere and how the coaches and players operate "when it's crunch time."

During a potential visit, Johnson said he would take into account "everything."

Johnson, one of the 125 best players in the class, would be the biggest defensive pickup for Rossi and head coach Jonathan Smith since their East Lansing arrival. Last season, Johnson registered 121 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and three forced fumbles.

Johnson recently stood out at an Ohio State one-day camp.

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