Michigan State actually does have a 2015 football recruiting class, a fact shrouded for much of the spring and summer by the next wave — 20 commitments already for 2016, currently ranked in the national top five, extremely active on Twitter and elsewhere.
But now 2016 is looking at a slowdown — maybe a handful of additions until signing day in February — and 2015 is looking at Ken Mannie. The MSU head strength coach will welcome the freshman class in full Monday for the start of conditioning (veterans already have been working with Mannie), and the team reports for preseason camp Aug. 7.
Running back LJ Scott, junior college linebacker Drake Martinez, linebacker and early enrollee Tyriq Thompson and various receivers and cornerbacks could be factors for an expected preseason top-10 team. The Free Press’ Joe Rexrode caught up with a few members of the class before they arrived on campus:
Receiver, Richmond (Va.) Highland Springs
How have you been getting ready?
“Watching film, studying, lifting, running, the main stuff people do. I don’t really know the level of intensity it’s gonna be so I’m just physically trying to go to the level of exhaustion every time.”
Are you familiar with Ken Mannie?
“Yeah, he’s a very interesting guy, very energetic, I’m sure he’ll be intense in the workouts.”
What position will you play?
“I’m playing the X, which is basically the back-side receiver in the offense. Tony Lippett played it, Aaron Burbridge is the starter there now.”
What are your expectations for this first year?
“I want to just come in, get accustomed to everything, learn the playbook, learn from Aaron about what it takes. And other than that, I plan to let my play on the field speak for itself.”
What do you plan to major in?
“Psychology. I like the brain and how it works, the behavioral side of things. Why people act the way they act and do certain things. I’d love to be a psychologist some day.”
Why Michigan State?
“The coaching staff and the fan base. I went to the Ohio State game for my official visit (after committing last July) and it was just great.”
Anything you want to say to MSU fans?
“I hope everybody gets their seats and gets their popcorn ready. They’re in for a treat.”
Offensive tackle, Houston Kinkaid
What do people in Texas think about you going to Michigan State?
“I’ll go places and people will see how big I am and ask ‘You play ball?’ and I’ll say I’m going to Michigan State. And people in this state now realize what a good program that is.”
Anyone try to flip you?
“No, not at all. My two other finalists were Oklahoma State and LSU, and they were very respectful about it.”
I know you have family in Michigan, where do they live?
“My mom has two brothers in Detroit, I have cousins in Troy, an aunt in Midland, family in Bloomfield Hills, too. I’ve gone up there a couple times for vacation, stayed four or five days. And that’s how I got to MSU last summer. We’re spending some time in the state before I head to school, too.”
What are you doing?
“My dad’s never been to Mackinac Island, my mom and I have but he hasn’t, so we’re definitely doing that for a day. And then for the Fourth (of July) we’re going to the lake house of one of my mom’s field hockey players (at Houston Kinkaid), Julie Mackay, and her husband, Jeff Petry.”
Jeff Petry the former MSU hockey player? Did he help you with the MSU choice at all?
“He didn’t want to butt in on the decision, but Julie was pushing hard for me to go to Michigan State, she played field hockey for the Spartans. She’s known me since I was little and she told me all about the school.”
So it’s safe to say a former MSU field hockey player was the secret weapon in helping the Spartans land you?
Quarterback, Phoenix Pinnacle
I know you got in some conditioning work with the veterans in June, what are your physical goals for camp?
“I’m 200 pounds now and I’d love to be up to 215, 220 by the start of the season, that would be great. And then just learn the offense as best I can to be prepared. I probably will redshirt this year — Connor Cook’s the man — but then hopefully be ready to compete for the next season.”
How well do you know the playbook now?
“(Quarterbacks) coach (Brad) Salem came down (to Phoenix) about a month ago and we were able to study the playbook together a little bit. Formations, plays, nothing too intense but just getting a feel for it. There’s a lot to it and I think the pass blocking is the hardest thing — making the right (pass protection) calls in situations like that.”
How would you describe this offense?
“It’s pro style with a little bit of spread thrown in there. In the past two years they’ve done more zone-read stuff. That’s what I did in high school, so that’s awesome. So it’s staying updated, but it’s still an NFL offense and it’s 80-20 behind center.”
What are your plans for a major?
“Engineering, probably mechanical engineering. That’s one of the hard ones.”
What are the strongest and weakest things about you as a player?
“I’d say the best is that I’m a fast learner, I can have something given to me and I’ll learn it pretty quickly. And if something happens on the field, I can adapt quickly to it. Weakest, I’d say my height. I’m 6-2, 200, which isn’t bad, but I need to get a little bigger. Also, sometimes I get off my reads too quickly.”
Offensive tackle, Cincinnati Winton Woods
What do you expect from the conditioning sessions?
“I mean, it’s Coach Mannie so you don’t really know. I’m sure lots of yelling and pain and stuff. A good time. A good, hard time, but a good time.”
Are you ready for it?
“Yeah, I’ve been training at a place called Ignition. We run a lot of 300-yard shuttles, gassers, so essentially yeah.”
Who are you rooming with?
“Cole Chewins. We met at the spring game and we kind of hit it off. So I called him up and asked him to room with me.”
Who’s bringing what?
“He just texted a list, actually. I have a TV and a bunch of video games, because I’m a nerd. He also has a lot — not that we’re gonna have any time to play them. But he’s bringing carpet squares.”
What video games?
“I have a PS4 but I’m more of a computer games guy. I play a lot of ‘Bloodborne,’ it’s about this Victorian, gothic town with werewolves, sword fights and stuff.”
What do people in Ohio think about you picking MSU over Ohio State?
“A lot of my friends who really weren’t that much into football are Spartans fans now. Obviously a lot of people around here love Ohio State and say, ‘Why not Ohio State?’ People don’t understand the reason you choose schools. Most respect it but some still say, ‘Oh, you couldn’t (play at OSU).’ It’s just the blindness of fans.”
Where do you want to end up on the offensive line?
“Right tackle. I just love run blocking. I mean, I can protect the passer too but I want to be on the strong side.”
Safety, Georgetown (Ky.) Scott
What are you thinking for a major?
“I’m gonna do business. I want to coach, though. I want to be a coach. But we’ll see what business can do for me and the relationships I can make and I’ll just roll with it.”
Your dad, John Miller, was a great MSU safety in the late 1980s — what stands out when you watch that old footage, and have you always rooted for MSU?
“I’ve been die-hard Michigan State since he started taking me to games when Drew Stanton was playing. To this day Drew Stanton is probably my favorite Michigan State player of all time. Had his jersey, had a hat signed from him and everything. I just loved Drew Stanton, even though it was kind of the dark days of Michigan State and we weren’t all that good.
“With my dad’s career, I think what really stood out to me is he moved all around. He played corner, he played free safety, played strong safety, did whatever the coaches asked him. And then you can always go back to the four-interception game against Michigan (in 1987). That’s what everyone goes back to. That’s so amazing. I still show my friends that on YouTube. They see my dad every weekend and they’re just amazed that’s what he was doing in college. I really, really love that.”
Do you and your dad ever talk about how much things have changed at MSU?
“He told me, what will this be, Coach (Dantonio’s) ninth season? I mean, when my dad met him for the first time nine years ago, he told me back then that he knew that was the right hire for MSU. He knew he was gonna build it back up to the point he achieved, winning the Rose Bowl. And it’s just getting stronger and stronger.”
Safety, Jackson Lumen Christi
Where do you think you’ll end up playing at MSU and what kind of player are you?
“Boundary safety. A guy who makes plays, who’s always in the right spot, makes the big hits.”
Do you know your major yet?
“Social science and pre-law.”
What do you want to do with that?
“I want to get into the courts, work for a law firm. Right now I think I want to be a defense attorney. I grew up around a lot of people who did a lot of stupid stuff. Good people who got themselves into bad situations. I want to help people like that.”
What are you looking forward to most about your freshman season?
“I’m looking forward to getting into the pace of it, learning how to break down film properly, learning about the different offenses people run and how they’ll try to attack us — that and getting into the best shape of my life.”
Why Michigan State?
“The people, by far. Shilique Calhoun, Darqueze Dennard, guys like that were so welcoming to me when I was first looking at MSU. And I’m not even mentioning the coaches. It’s the people, and then obviously the results of it all. They’re eye-opening.”
Speaking of that, recruiting has obviously gone very well for MSU this summer, what do you think of the momentum the program seems to have?
“This is definitely something the coaching staff has been working for, and it’s gonna continue. Michigan State didn’t just pop up yesterday. Our coaches have stuck with their roots for a while, and we’ll keep flourishing as we go.”
Contact Joe Rexrode: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @joerexrode. Check out his MSU blog at freep.com/heyjoe. ___
This article was written by Joe Rexrode from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.