The end of a college football season can always be a hectic one as athletes decide what’s best for them going forward. In a normal year, athletes are choosing whether to return, play in bowl games or leave for the NFL Draft.
This year is a bit more complicated as athletes wrap up their season during finals week and signing day falls into the last portion of the season.
The first domino fell on Monday night as MSU cornerback Shakur Brown announced he would be departing Michigan State for the NFL Draft.
Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker, who spent years in the NFL in multiple roles, was incredibly supportive of Brown’s decision.
“I love the kid," Tucker said. "He's improved, and he's made a lot of plays this year. I think he's got tremendous upside. I really enjoyed working with him, and I wish him all the best. I'll support all the players, year in and year out and working with college guys when they're trying to make these decisions. I support them as much as I can and try to help them and help their families and be a resource for them.”
Tucker was a defensive coordinator for both the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Chicago Bears in the NFL and sees Brown’s versatility as a skill that will translate to the NFL.
“He's not tall, really long but he's not small, there's a difference,” Tucker said. “He's built pretty well. He's a willing tackler, he plays with toughness, he's very intelligent and he understands the game. So, I think that he could be an asset to an NFL team. I think he can have a nice career.”
Tucker, with all of his connections in the NFL, will be looking to talk with teams to make sure Brown and any other athletes who might want to make the jump are making the right decision.
“I call around to all of my friends in the NFL and GM’s, and I try to get a feel for what they think, what they have and where they think they're going to go,” Tucker said. “Then I provide them the information and say, ‘hey this is what I'm getting from these teams,’ and then they make a decision.”
That entire process will also be something Michigan State defensive tackle Naquan Jones will have to go through as he recently declared for the draft, forgoing the extra year of eligibility that athletes can get from the NCAA due to COVID-19.
Athletes who enter the draft early will submit paperwork and an NFL advisory board will give them a draft projection and help to decide whether they should make that choice. For Tucker, he understands the process and wants to make sure these guys make the right choice.
“I leave the door open for guys because there's a period of time there where they can change their mind based on the information they get,” Tucker said. “I want to help them as much as I can to make a good decision and then once they make a decision, then help them with the process, even if it's helping guys prepare for the interviews and things like that or talking to teams for them or tell them what to expect.”
With Brown’s likely departure, that leaves room for others to step up. While it is unclear whether Brown would play in a potential bowl and whether other players may opt out of a bowl game game, which Tucker said there have been discussions, they have gotten even thinner in the secondary as Chris Jackson's season appears to be over due to undisclosed reasons.
“Chris hasn't been with the team,” Tucker said. “I really don't anticipate him being back with the team this season. We'll assess everything with Chris after the season when we’re all wrapped up.”
The transfer portal has also been an avenue where players have opted out by leaving. Most recently, Michigan State offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs entered the transfer portal after not seeing the field this season for the Spartans. Dobbs was formerly a four-star offensive lineman recruit ranked 51 in his class and was the highest rated recruit in the Spartans’ 2019 class.
Michigan State has lost their top three rated recruits from the 2019 class with Julian Barnett and Luke Fulton each departing via the transfer portal.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jalen Nailor, despite all the things that are occurring right now around the school and program, feels the team is focused.
“I still love the togetherness,” Nailor said. “We heard about yesterday, but the locker room still stays as one unit. We have other guys that can play in those positions, so we try and we trust each other, and we wish nothing but the best for Shakur.”
Thankfully for Nailor, his finals were mostly done prior to exam week. However, he knows the trials and tribulations finals can bring for athletes.
“I'm pretty much done with all my finals and stuff, so I really just can focus on football this week when I don't have to worry about school and all, but I know in the past it's been rough,” Nailor said. “Finals are an important part of our grade, and there's a lot that goes into studying and doing all these study guides and stuff. You just got to find your boundaries for football and for school.”
To help out his players with finals week Tucker has made adjustments to their schedule by pushing back certain meetings later in the day as well as if they have to leave early for a final, giving them food and snacks before they go to ensure they can do the best that they can do.
“Finals is important, and we got to make sure that these guys can finish strong academically,” Tucker said. “So, we make accommodations from a football standpoint.”
With the Maryland game canceled, Michigan State will have to wait and see if they get an invite to a potential bowl game before they find out if their season is over.
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