21 recruits commit to football team
It’s one of the only days of the year when a fax machine is relevant: national signing day.
Head coach Mark Dantonio and the MSU football program officially introduced one of the best classes in recent program history Wednesday with the commitment of 21 players.
“I don’t mean to disrespect our other classes, but this is a very powerful class in terms of players that can get on the field early and make a name for themselves,” Dantonio said. “We addressed some issues across the board based on graduation.”
A couple players, like five-star defensive lineman Malik McDowell of Southfield. Mich., have committed to the Spartans, but have yet to officially send in their National Letters of Intent.
This is one of the most intimidating defensive line hauls of the Dantonio era, made up of Montez Sweat, Enoch Smith Jr., Robert Bowers and Wisconsin defector Craig Evans.
Dantonio said Evans, a defensive tackle, could be an immediate contributor to what was the second-best defense in the country a season ago.
“It’s a dominant class on the defensive line,” he said. “(They’re) going to continue to be one of the top defenses in the country.”
The extra attention of the No. 3 team in the nation was boosted when defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi won the Broyles Award for top assistant coach.
Narduzzi said there are some times when he needs to lay on the prestige that the program has earned, but they give the recruit space to make their decision.
“You go into your daily business and do your job and you don’t worry about clout,” he said. “Right now we’re 0-0 and trying to work on the first win. Spartan nation has always been with us. They’ve got the bigger chests right now. Spartan nation is fired up about this season and where this recruiting class is going.”
Other than the strong defensive line prospects, the Spartans signed four offensive linemen, four linebackers, three members of the secondary and a pair of running backs.
A few players garnered comparisons from Dantonio to former Spartans, like Gerald Owens to T.J. Duckett, Vayante Copeland to Darqueze Dennard and Matt Morrissey with Blair White.
Also officially joining the Spartans is linebacker Byron Bullough, who follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, uncle and two brothers.
Two recruits enrolled at MSU early, tight end Matt Sokol and linebacker Chris Frey.
After taking part in 5 a.m. workouts, the first few weeks of college have been an eye-opening experience for Sokol.
“Since I’ve been here, I realized what it takes to be a football player,” Sokol said. “From day one, every single guy is giving everything he’s got. The toughness factor is an aroma in the air. It’s something that every guy is trying to meet. There’s no room for anything else than that.”
Sokol played quarterback in high school, but is making the transition to tight end and getting in preseason receiving reps with quarterback Connor Cook this spring.
Dantonio said he brings an added dimension to the tight end position due to his knowledge of the offensive playbook.
“He threw the ball around right off the bat, and I immediately knew he was going to be a tight end,” he said. “He’ll understand offensive concepts down the field relative to the passing game. He can be that mismatch guy as a tight end.”
ESPN ranked the Spartans’ class No. 29, fourth best in the Big Ten behind Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Dantonio and Narduzzi both said the rankings don’t matter, and they’re excited for the guys they got and how they perform on the field.
For Sokol, Dantonio was the only coach he wanted to play for.
“When I was being recruited, I was being treated not just as a player but as a person,” he said. “The reputation MSU had was the reason I committed. This is a college atmosphere like nothing else I’ve experienced. This is a dream school for me.”