Antjuan Simmons can see the massive, yellow Block M that adorns the outside of Michigan Stadium’s scoreboard every time he walks out the front door of Pioneer High School. The Michigan presence wasn’t as in-your-face for Hunter Rison of Skyline High School, but he was still close enough.
Simmons and Rison will be teammates next season when they are freshmen in college, but it won’t be in Ann Arbor. They’ll be in East Lansing, two of the top-rated players in this year’s recruiting class for Michigan State and coach Mark Dantonio.
It’s more coincidental than ironical that two kids from Ann Arbor will be suiting up for the Green and White next season, but the storyline is a good one. As Michigan State seeks to rebound from the program’s worst season in 34 years, look where these two are from.
“It’s spectacular to think that,” said Rison, a 4-star wide receiver and son of Michigan State Hall of Fame member Andre Rison. “Just to know we are from Ann Arbor and we’re coming here, it’s a little added chip on the shoulder because when we go play there our teammates and our friends are going to be at that game.”
‘You never know what’s going to happen …’
Rison never received an offer from Michigan. The Wolverines did offer a scholarship to Simmons, a 4-star linebacker, but he committed to Ohio State last March. That commitment remained strong through the summer, but Simmons took a visit to Michigan State in early November and re-opened his recruitment later that month.
Simmons committed to Michigan State on Jan. 14 and made it official this past week when he signed his national letter of intent.
“The recruiting process was definitely up and down,” Simmons said. “You never know what’s going to happen, but the best thing you can do is take everything with a grain of salt and keep moving forward, keep chugging and find the best place for you.”
Rison, his crosstown rival and friend, let Simmons know his thoughts.
“Even while I was with Ohio State, he was DM-ing every other week. ‘Come on, man. I need you over here.’ ”
Rison is already on campus, having enrolled early to get a jump on classes and offseason conditioning workouts. Simmons will join him and the rest of the Spartans during the summer. The pair met last weekend at the Breslin Center for the Michigan State-Michigan basketball game.
Simmons downplayed the Ann Arbor-to-East Lansing angle: “Just because I go to school across the street or down the road doesn’t mean I’m obligated to go there.” But others questioned him.
“I’m sitting in class and somebody’s like ‘Man, you just don’t like Michigan, do you?’ It’s not like that,” Simmons said. “They’re great people, but it just wasn’t the right place for me. For the most part, the majority of people that speak to me, they’re happy for me. They’re happy to see me going places.”
Rison’s journey to Michigan State was more stable, by contrast. He committed to the Spartans in June 2015, but he re-opened his recruitment in November of that year. Rison re-affirmed his original decision last April.
Andre Rison left Michigan State after the 1988 season as the school’s all-time leader in receptions (146), receiving yards (2,992) and 100-yard receiving games (11) despite playing in a run-first, run-second, run-as-much-as-possible offense under coach George Perles. He was a member of the 1987 Big Ten championship team that beat USC, 20-17, in the Rose Bowl. Michigan State attempted just seven passes in that game. Rison caught two of them for 91 yards; a 55-yarder that set up a Lorenzo White touchdown in the second quarter and a 36-yard reception that set up John Langeloh’s game-deciding 36-yard field goal.
“I used to watch film with him all the time, and I was watching a Rose Bowl clip and they said they had run the ball 20 straight plays and then they threw a bomb and he caught it,” Hunter Rison said. “Just seeing that and seeing his success here, knowing it was a run-based offense with Lorenzo White, it amazes me.”
As big as his father’s name is at Michigan State, Rison could have chosen to go elsewhere. Andre Rison played 12 seasons in the NFL, earning five Pro Bowl berths and catching 743 passes for 10,205 yards with seven teams. He made as many headlines off the field as on it, not all of them positive. Father helped son make his decision, but he didn’t make it for him.
“He was straight-forward. He gave me pros about other schools that I agreed with. I love him for that,” Hunter Rison said. “He really did let me make my own decision. I love him for that. He’s been through the process himself. He was just like, ‘This is you. I’m going to let you have fun and go where you want to go. This is a big-time decision. It’s got to be your decision.’ ”
Once rivals, now teammates
Two kids from Ann Arbor have made their way to East Lansing. They played against each other the last two seasons, splitting those games. Simmons and Pioneer beat Skyline, 39-7, in 2015, while Rison and Skyline won last season, 21-20.
The next time they’re on the field together, it will be as teammates.