MSU football wideouts navigate youth movement, look to improve
Around East Lansing, the Rison family name holds weight.
There is, of course, Andre Rison, a former All-American and a member of the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame as a wide receiver. Between his college and pro career, Andre’s accomplishments read like a long grocery list with no end in sight.
Then there’s his son, Hunter Rison. Similar to his father, he’s a Spartan, a wide receiver and was a can’t-miss recruit, evidenced by his composite four-star ranking, according to 247Sports.
But make no mistake, Hunter didn’t choose MSU because of his father — it was all him.
“It is different (being a legacy player),” Hunter said. “You handle it, it is what it is. I chose this school for me. I didn’t choose this school for my dad. He loves that I go here, but I didn’t choose it for him.”
Embarking on his true freshman season, though, Hunter finds himself in the middle of a youth movement. After 2016, graduation and departures have left the receiving core lacking any substantial experience.
R.J. Shelton, Monty Madaris and red-zone threat Josiah Price were all lost to graduation. Donnie Corley was dismissed from the team after his involvement in an alleged sexual assault.
The search for quarterback Brian Lewerke’s go-to target is on, and Hunter’s name is right there in the mix. The Spartans on the whole are young, its effects magnified among the wide receivers.
“We’ve got guys (at wide receiver), but they’re young,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “They’re in their second or their third year but they’re young players, but they’ve got talent, they’re talented guys.”
Among the first five practices the Spartans have held, Friday's had a different feel, a vibe caused by the addition of pads. From there, the physicality wracked up as contact drills were incorporated, hyping up a vast majority of the players.
For some true freshmen, it was part of their first taste of college football.
“I would say the intensity (of the college game is different),” true freshman Cody White said. “Everybody’s riled up, everybody’s going, everybody’s going 100 miles an hour, every practice, every play. The speed is a lot faster and things of that nature, so it’s just a whole another level from high school.”
The goal for the players is to make the travel roster, the select six or so players who play and feature in the away games. Underclassmen in a Darrell Stewart Jr. or a Cam Chambers, amongst others, have been mentioned. Then comes the veteran, older guys of the core — Brandon Sowards and Felton Davis III.
Purely from an eligibility perspective, Sowards and Davis are two of the more experienced players.
“It feels kind of weird (being an experienced member of the wide receivers),” Sowards said. “It’s a surreal feeling, but it feels good for my time to step up and lead the young guys.”
However, Sowards has seen the majority of his playing time on special teams. He led the Spartans in punt returns with 15, but amassed just 94 yards on the season. Davis, too, has a mere 14 receptions for 200 yards and one touchdown for his career.
While the dilemma of an inexperienced roster is a reality for MSU, the Spartans return key players despite their lack of playing time.
Sophomore Trishton Jackson has shown flashes of talent, especially in the spring game when he tallied eight catches for 168 yards. Elsewhere, Chambers, an early enrollee in 2016, has played in two spring games already despite having yet received playing time.
“We’re young, but we’re ready,” Chambers said. “All of us receivers, we’re all excited to get out there. We all understand we have to build, working together.”