Juniors paths to NFL leaves MSU stronger
Their paths couldn’t have been more different.
The no-name, two-star high school running back with less than a handful of scholarship offers.
The two-sport athlete determined to play both football and basketball at the college level.
And the high profile, five-star, All-American recruit with offers from seemingly every big-name program in the country.
Le’Veon Bell, Dion Sims and William Gholston each traveled different roads before arriving at a common destination — NFL bound after just three seasons in green and white.
And while their focus lies on the journey ahead, the impact each had on Mark Dantonio’s football program extends beyond the field.
Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and Marshall.
Those were the choices Bell was faced with before Dantonio and the Spartans came along with a scholarship offer.
The transformation to Heisman Trophy contender and the nation’s leader in rushing attempts was one few could have thought possible and symbolizes the critical skill Dantonio has mastered.
The resurgence of Michigan and Ohio State places a greater emphasis on Dantonio’s ability to mine Ohio’s hidden gems, for MSU to continue contending for conference championships.
Now, when Dantonio visits his next recruit, he can tell them they could become the next Le’Veon Bell — and the name will mean something.
All Dion Sims wanted was another chance.
After his involvement in the theft of 104 computers from Detroit Public Schools resulted in a year-long suspension, Sims hoped for the opportunity to fulfill the potential he’d been told about for years.
In 2011, Dantonio made the unpopular decision to give Sims the opportunity to prove he could be trusted, and Sims didn’t disappoint.
After finishing with the third most receptions in a season by an MSU tight end this year, Sims now will have the chance to earn a living playing the sport he once didn’t know if he’d get to play again.
And Dantonio showed that a player committed to change can have an opportunity at redemption.
The calls wouldn’t stop.
But as soon as the ink had dried on his letter of intent, Gholston had done what many couldn’t believe — he committed to MSU.
With a 6-7 season and player suspensions following a fight in 2009 at Rather Hall looming over the Spartans’ football program, Dantonio needed an elite player to believe in him.
One year later, MSU captured its first Big Ten title in 20 years and followed it up with a second-consecutive 11-win season for the first time in program history.
In the years that followed, high-level recruits would follow Gholston to MSU, giving the Spartans a chance with the type of talent they hadn’t had before.
And now, as MSU sees multiple underclassmen leave early for the NFL Draft for the first time since 1999, Dantonio can show high schoolers that their NFL dreams can come true in East Lansing.
Three different players took three different routes to reach the same destination — a trip to the NFL and dreams fulfilled.
And now, as Dantonio prepares to turn the key in the ignition with Bell, Sims and Gholston no longer in tow, many more are ready to hop in the backseat.
Josh Mansour is the football reporter for The State News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org