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MSU signs 18, gets transfer QB, RB in early signing period, what do they bring?

December 18, 2020
<p>Temple quarterback Anthony Russo drops back for a pass against Cincinnati in 2019. Russo announced on Dec. 16 that he would be transferring to Michigan State after playing in 31 games for the Owls. Photo courtesy of Zamani Feelings/Temple Athletics.</p>

Temple quarterback Anthony Russo drops back for a pass against Cincinnati in 2019. Russo announced on Dec. 16 that he would be transferring to Michigan State after playing in 31 games for the Owls. Photo courtesy of Zamani Feelings/Temple Athletics.

The first day of the early signing period for Division I recruits and transfers was a wild one.

It always is, especially when you are Mel Tucker trying to build a football program up from a 2-5 regular season, even if the two wins came against teams who were ranked in the AP Top-15 at the time.

On Wednesday, Michigan State landed an ESPN Top 300 recruit and one of the better transfer quarterbacks in the portal.

"I would like to congratulate our 2021 MSU football recruiting class," Tucker said in a press conference Wednesday. "We are proud of your hard work, both in the classroom and on the field. And we look forward to getting you on campus very soon. Our general goal in recruiting is to fill our needs. ... We are not just collecting players or chasing stars. We are building a team."

Here is what each player who signed with Michigan State today brings to the table as the MSU coaching staff looks toward the future of the football program.

All star-ratings are from 247Sports Composite Rankings.

Quarterback Anthony Russo

Russo is a grad transfer from Temple.

Russo is a 6-foot-4 quarterback with two things MSU needs desperately: Experience and talent. With a relatively inexperienced QB room, Russo brings veteran expertise after spending five seasons with the Temple football program before deciding to transfer to Michigan State, which he announced Wednesday evening on Twitter.

Russo finished his 31 game career at Temple finishing in the program's top four all-time for passing yards (6,292), completions (536), attempts (899) and passing touchdowns (44).

He helped lead the Temple Owls to an 8-5 record and bowl game appearances in both 2019 and 2018 before the 2020 season when he suffered a shoulder injury and had COVID-19 issues.

Four-star Ma'a Gaoteote, outside linebacker

Rated a four-star by both Rivals and ESPN, the 6-foot-1, 230 pound Gaoteote is a No. 93 recruit in the nation according to ESPN.com and brings speed and upside to a linebacking group that is thin outside of Noah Harvey and Antjuan Simmons.

Gaoteote tallied 61 tackles his junior season at St. John Bosco High in California. Prior to that, he played in Hawaii and then went to Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) this past season but was unable to play with the season being put on hold due to COVID-19. His brother, Palalie, is a linebacker that was five-star in the class of 2018 and is in the transfer portal after leaving USC.

Running back Harold Joiner III

Joiner is a transfer from Auburn that was a top-five running back in the class of 2018 when he originally went to the Tigers program. At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, you get shades of Derrick Henry when looking at his measurables. Joiner will immediately help boost a run game that struggled immensely in 2020, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry.

The rest of the signees

Three-star Kameron Allen, tight end

6-foot-5, 220 pounds — Forney, Texas

Allen is rated a three-star according to 247Sports Composite Rankings and is a top-100 tight end recruit in the country. At his size, the recruit brings the athleticism and height necessary to play the position at the Big Ten level. He scored eight touchdowns and had nearly 750 receiving yards his senior year at North Forney High in Texas.

Three-star Brandon Baldwin, offensive line

6-foot-7, 315 — Southfield, Michigan

Baldwin spent last season at Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas, before choosing MSU. The OL recruit was one of the JUCO prospects for his position and seems to fit the mold of height and size that Tucker has looked for in every recruit. Baldwin is also a Michigan native.

Three-star Antoine Booth, cornerback

6-feet, 185 pounds — Jessup, Maryland

Maryland has one of the top schools in the country for college football prospects: DeMatha Catholic High School. Chase Young, who's crushing lineman for the Washington Football Team is an alumnus. Not to liken Booth to an NFL first round pick, but Booth possesses the obvious talent and is the son of former NFL defensive back Tony Booth, who played for the Carolina Panthers.

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Three-star Ethan Boyd, offensive tackle

6-foot-7, 285 pounds — East Lansing, Michigan

An East Lansing graduate, Boyd is staying close to home after choosing the Spartans over offers from Cincinnati, Toledo, Iowa State and more. Again, size is a big factor here and Boyd was a part of a talented East Lansing team that was 8-0 before the MHSAA High School Football Playoffs were put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. There's a lot of upside with Boyd, and his speed and feet have been talked about as the major pros of his ability.

Three-star Charles "Chuck" Brantley, cornerback

6-feet, 160 pounds — Sarasota, Florida

Rated a four-star by Rivals and a three-star by 247Sports, Brantley is one of two defensive back recruits from Venice High in Florida. He's long, athletic and provides the height needed to play the position on top of the speed. His uncle, Herb Haygood was a four-year member of the MSU football team from 1998-2001 and Brantley, with the aforementioned speed, is one of the better track athletes at his school.

Three-star Carson Casteel, linebacker

6-foot-3, 210 pounds — Florence, Alabama

Casteel is the No. 77 inside linebacker in the nation according to 247Sports and had 66 total tackles during his senior season at Florence High in Alabama. MSU has struggled with tackling all season and the prospect averaged 11 stops across six games during his 2020 season. Casteel may not be expected to contribute right away but could as he progresses through college.

Three-star Hamp Fay, quarterback

6-foot-5, 210 pounds — Hudson Oaks, Texas

Fay is quite possibly the quarterback of the future for the Spartans. That's a huge positive for Tucker and his staff as the addition of Russo creates a gap-year for Fay to develop in Jay Johnson's offense for the Spartans. At 6-foot-6, Fay is also a good height and size to play Big Ten football. It might be a few years, but Fay could easily be MSU's future quarterback.

Three-star Michael Gravely Jr., safety

6-foot-1, 193 pounds — Cleveland

Gravely fills a need for MSU as the Spartans have struggled all football season with secondary depth. Harlon Barnett is one of the best defensive backs coaches in the country and could make a lot out of this 2021 class, which Gravely can be a big part of as he is already nearly above the 200-pound threshold as a safety.

Three-star Derrick Harmon, defensive tackle

6-foot-5, 359 pounds — Detroit

This prospect is a graduate of Loyola High in Detroit. He joins several Detroit-area recruits in the '21 class that Tucker has signed, the main being Rayshaun Benny. In a few years, Benny and Harmon could provide a formidable duo in the run defense, and Harmon's already well into Division I size range with a 300+ pound, 6-foot-5 body.

Three-star Steffan Johnson, cornerback

6-feet, 160 pounds — Venice, Florida

Johnson comes in at almost identical size to his high school teammate Brantley. He and Brantley both started at DB for Venice High in Florida and Johnson also collected nearly 3,000 total yards of offense. His utility-knife skill set and electric athleticism will be key to him contributing early on in college as a DB and maybe kick returner.

Three-star A.J. Kirk, safety

6-feet, 200 pounds — Columbus, Ohio

Tucker has a familiarity with Kirk's family: His older brother Mike was coached by Tucker at Ohio State. The three-star brings size, speed and physicality to a position that needs all three. To play safety in the Big Ten is a tough ask, but Xavier Henderson is a great upperclassman to learn from if you are Kirk and the incoming freshman is used to playing in Midwest weather.

Three-star Alex Okelo, defensive lineman

6-foot-5, 217 pounds — Nashville, Tennessee

Okelo is the No. 1 defensive end prospect in Tennessee, according to Rivals.com. Another 6-foot-5 prospect, Okelo has a natural bend, length and speed to play on the edge and if he can put on weight, could be a force in the pass rush for MSU. Okelo had seven sacks as a junior, his first season playing high school football. So, there is a lot for Okelo to learn about the game as he's only played at a competitive level for a few years.

Three-star Davion Primm, running back

6-foot-1, 205 pounds — Detroit

The first commit of the 2021 class, Primm, was a part of an Oak Park High team that despite being winless during the regular season won its district in the MHSAA playoffs. Primm has been highly spoken of on and off the field and had 137 rushing yards and two scores on the ground against Grosse Pointe South, who Oak Park upset in the first round of the playoffs. In 2019, Primm had 1,123 yards and 10 scores on 95 carries.

Three-star Tyson Watson, defensive end

6-foot-6, 270 pounds — Roseville, Michigan

Watson is a strongside defensive end that plays for Warren Mott High in Michigan. His massive size and competition level in high school have prepared him for the next level. It's unclear where on the defensive line Watson will play in college, but he is among the best edge rushers in Michigan coming out of high school.

Three-star Kevin Wigenton, offensive lineman

6-foot-5, 290 pounds — Colts Neck, New Jersey

Interested in pursuing a pre-law/business degree, Wigenton comes in as one of the top offensive line recruits in New Jersey. He transferred to The Hun School in 2018 and quickly has improved under coach Todd Smith. He was one of the first recruits in the 2021 class and is likely going to play guard in college.

Three-star Geno VanDeMark, offensive lineman

6-foot-5, 295 pounds — Montvale, New Jersey

VanDeMark is the second highest-rated recruit in the class of 2021 for Tucker and Offensive Line Coach Chris Kapilovic. He's one of the top O-Line recruits in New Jersey and was high school teammates with Audric Estime, who committed to Notre Dame on Friday afternoon. Size, length and athleticism are coveted at a position that needs all three. He chose MSU over offers from Arizona State, Georgia Tech and Louisville.

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