In the wild world of recruiting, the end of National Signing Day means it’s time to pack it up and move on to the next class.
But let’s just step back for a moment and consider the 2018 class for Michigan State. Twenty-one scholarship players are set to join the team in the fall, and the Spartans might not even be done.
It’s awfully hard to project what certain players will become, especially in a sport such as football where injuries are so prevalent. But if everything goes right, these future Spartans could find themselves in the running for Big Ten and national awards down the line.
Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year: Xavier Henderson
There may not be a single more impactful player for Michigan State in 2018 than Xavier Henderson. David Dowell, Khari Willis, Grayson Miller, Matt Morrissey and Dominique Long all return at safety, but there has to be a spot on the field for Henderson’s talent, even if just on special teams. With outstanding tackling ability and the versatility to play in all three phases, Henderson is going to make it hard for the coaches to keep him on the sideline. He might not win the award given to the Big Ten’s best freshman, but he likely has the best shot of all Spartans in this class.
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year: La’Darius Jefferson
He had a legendary high school career as a Muskegon (Mich.) quarterback, so why wouldn’t La’Darius Jefferson’s time at Michigan State be similar? He likely won’t be behind center, but the Spartans couldn’t put him at linebacker either, as they had once considered. They need the ball in his hands. At running back, he has a chance to use that 6-foot-2 size, vision and explosiveness to make big plays on offense for the Spartans. It should surprise few if, down the road, Jefferson becomes the No. 1 running back on the roster and the winner of the Big Ten’s top offensive honor.
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year: Chase Kline
Think Chris Frey. OK, Frey didn’t win this Big Ten honor, but Chase Kline could, and his game resembles the former Spartans linebacker’s style in quite a few ways. Namely, Kline plays at 100 miles per hour, as Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio put it, and he never takes a play off. His motor will serve him well at the college level. He’s an impressive pass rusher who could play defensive end if he puts on weight. But he looks primed right now to be the “money” linebacker, who blitzes and wreaks havoc in the backfield whenever he can.
Outland Trophy: James Ohonba
Let’s not crown him until we see how his skills and strength translate. James Ohonba was a dominant force at Woodland (Stockbridge, Ga.) High, pancaking anyone in his path beneath his 366-pound frame. He played a lot of tackle in high school but could very well find his calling at guard at Michigan State. The hype train shouldn’t get rolling quite yet, but if he develops into the type of player Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State saw when they offered, he could contend for the trophy honoring the nation’s top interior lineman. Just take a look at his 6-4 frame, size 18 shoes and uncommon athleticism and try to bet against him.
Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year: Jalen Nailor
With the bulk of its work done in the early signing period in December, Michigan State signed a single scholarship player on National Signing Day: Jalen Nailor. The 5-11 receiver doesn’t have the size of other Michigan State WR target Tommy Bush ― Bush signed with Georgia ― but he has speed to burn. Whether on offense, defense or special teams, he makes an impact. The Spartans coaches told him he will have a chance to contribute in the return game. He’ll be going up against some talented competition there, but there’s a reason his nickname is “Speedy.” When Nailor is in the open field, he’s lethal. This Big Ten award has existed for three years and hasn’t yet been won by a Michigan State player, but he could be the first.
William V. Campbell Trophy: Ja’Vez Alexander
If you don’t recognize the name of this national award, it’s often referred to as the Academic Heisman. And if you don’t recognize Ja’Vez Alexander’s name, he was an under-the-radar addition during the early signing period. A dual-threat quarterback from Sandusky (Ohio) who impressed Michigan State with his receiver skills at camp, he could earn himself some good playing time once he’s learned the position. And it’s tough to bet against a cerebral person like him. He enrolled early not just to learn the playbook, but also so that he can get ahead on engineering classes.
The last Big Ten winner of this award was Penn State’s John Urschel, who left the NFL in 2017 to pursue a Ph.D. at MIT. In a few years, Alexander could be next.