After a college basketball team cuts down the nets, college sports fans' engagement tends to simmer down during the summer months as its two main spectacles — college football and college basketball — come to an end.
However, there is an undeniable buzz growing in East Lansing as Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker prepares for his first season as the lead man for the Spartans.
Despite all the uncertainty for the upcoming college football season, Tucker seems to have the program trending upward in his first few months as head coach. In a media teleconference April 29, former Spartan linebacker and current MSU football Director of Player Engagement Darien Harris said he feels the program is in good hands moving forward.
"It's in great hands." Harris said. "I feel great about the direction of the program. Like I said, coach Tucker has come in and done an unbelievable job of setting a precedent, setting a standard and giving us direction of where he sees the program going and where we want to see the program going."
The question is, how? How has the energy on the recruiting trail and in the fanbase continued to rise in the midst of a global pandemic?
The Spartans' social media campaigns have been a large part of the energy surrounding the program, and as Harris points out, social media engagement can be a measure of the energy that is building.
"I think that things are kind of gauged by social media nowadays, good, bad or indifferent," Harris said. "But there's an excitement around Michigan State football again, maybe that we haven't seen in the last few years."
The social media campaign for the Spartans has grown exponentially in recent months, starting with revamped recruiting graphics and a recruiting theme named "21 built strong."
Tucker and the staff have also been active on their individual social media accounts, engaging in Twitter and Instagram Live Q&A sessions with the fanbase. In those Q&As, Tucker has stoked fans' emotions by commenting on the rivalry between his team and the Michigan Wolverines, calling it "not a game" but "the game" of the season when asked on Instagram Live in late April.
In addition, Tucker has promoted local East Lansing restaurants, getting takeout from East Lansing favorites Pizza House and even the college student favorite, Harper's Restaurant and Brew Pub.
Lastly, the staff has even hopped on TikTok.
That excitement has translated onto the recruiting trail as well. After former coach Mark Dantonio’s sudden retirement, the 2021 recruiting class had zero commits. Today, the 2021 class now has 12 commits according to 24/7 Sports, 10 of those coming from the month of April.
Dantonio’s final recruiting class in 2020 was ranked 43rd in the nation by 24/7 Sports and Mel Tucker’s recruiting class for 2021, as of now, is ranked 25th in the nation.
For the staff that remains at MSU from the Dantonio era, it has been enjoyable to be a part of such a robust recruiting experience.
"Very enjoyable, it keeps you on your toes," Defensive Line Coach Ron Burton said in a media teleconference April 22. "It's just like shaving, you've got to do it every day, or you don't have the opportunity to be your best. I've really enjoyed learning more of the different aspects of the recruiting trail and how we go about it in this fashion. What I love about it is every day, it's all day, and I've really enjoyed it because it's consistent and, yes, the energy is there."
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Special Teams Coordinator and Linebackers Coach Ross Els, who is among the staff that followed Tucker to East Lansing, said he understands how important recruiting is going forward under Tucker.
"When you work with a guy like Mel Tucker that's going to be first and foremost on his list," Els said. "You're going to hear a lot of us this year, the next year, in the future, it's all going to start in the state of Michigan, no question about it. I'm excited about the things that we can sell here at Michigan State."
Tucker said he relates his recruiting philosophy to his favorite word: relentless.
"We're relentlessly recruiting electronically, with text, emails, receiving calls, making sure that our prospects understand that they are a priority for us, and that we care about their health and well-being also," Tucker said on the Spartan Sports Network.
Like Harris said, there is an energy around the football program that has not been there in a few years. When Dantonio was head coach, the momentum was built off of the team’s success, and it worked for a long time as the team won Big Ten titles, the 2014 Rose Bowl and made it to the College Football Playoff in 2015. As soon as the success began to falter, the momentum and energy around the program dropped quickly.
As Tucker prepares to, at some point, embark on his first season as head coach of MSU football, it is clear he has the energy, but whether or not it'll translate to success on the field is the question that will linger until the lights finally shine on college football once again.
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