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Mazi Smith hasn’t spoken to T.J. Duckett lately, but he remembers the recruiting advice that the former Michigan State running back told him.
“T.J. told me that when you make your decision, you have to realize that you’re going to have to live there for four years,” Smith said. “And you’re not going to really be able to change where you’re going, so you’ve got to make sure it feels like home. You’ve got to make sure you’ve built relationships with the people, and it’s got to be a good program.”
Smith is an East Kentwood (Grand Rapids, Mich.) sophomore defensive tackle who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 290 pounds. Duckett, who grew up on the west side of the state as well, is his cousin.
Smith looks up to Duckett for insight on the process, but he doesn’t expect the 36-year-old to try to sway him. Not even after Smith’s big day on Feb. 26.
He visited Michigan State — a program he understandably supported growing up — for the fourth time that day. He and his mother took in spring practice, where the staff walked over and spoke to them.
“That’s pretty big because they’re talking to my mom,” Smith said. “My mom is the center of everything.”
Things got even bigger later on. One of the coaches brought him on the field, where he spoke with Spartans coach Mark Dantonio in person for the first time. Dantonio told Smith he had watched the 2019 prospect’s film and liked what he saw. By his own report, Smith has a good motor and is quick off the line of scrimmage.
Then Dantonio caught Smith by surprise with what he said next: “We’re gonna offer you.” It left him excited but a little confused.
“I didn’t know what to say because sometimes colleges say that they’re gonna offer you, meaning that they’re going to but they’re not yet,” Smith said. “Later during the day, I got it confirmed that it was an official offer. I was really excited. It’s always really exciting to get an offer from a big school like MSU.”
With the 2018 class at the forefront of many players’ minds, he didn’t expect the staff to move so quickly. But he was thrilled the Spartans did. Later that day at the basketball team’s senior day game against Wisconsin, Smith and his mother sat with defensive line coach Ron Burton.
All the schools that have offered Smith — Akron, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin — have made a point of introducing him to the defensive line coach. Burton left a strong impression.
“I like him,” Smith said. “I like the way he coaches his D-line. I got to sit down and watch a few drills. He definitely seems like a fun guy to be around and a good coach.”
Ultimately, what will matter is whether his mother likes Burton and the rest of the staff. She and Smith disagree on some things. She’d like him to go into physical therapy, while he’s partial to engineering. But they’ll have to be on the same page when it comes to a school.
She encourages a focus on academics, telling him daily that football won’t last forever. He takes that message to heart because he knows she has his best interests in mind.
“My mom has a big pull because she’s the person that’s ultimately gonna be able to help me make the best decision for myself because she knows me best,” Smith said.
Smith continues to build his offer list. He has visited Notre Dame, hopes to make return trips to Michigan and Wisconsin soon, and he plans to make a trip to see Alabama and Auburn during a break from school.
To this point, though, one particular aspect has stood out about Michigan State — besides the fact his cousin’s name is etched in the record book.
“Their coaching staff seems to be really close,” Smith said. “They seem all to be ready and willing to add new people to the family.”
In-state OT chooses Badgers
Another nearby offensive tackle has opted to leave the state over an offer from Michigan State.
First, it was Grand Rapids (Mich.) Catholic Central junior Jalen Mayfield, who followed new Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck to the Gophers. He previously had been offered by Fleck at Western Michigan.
And on Tuesday, another 3-star OT spurned the Spartans. Milan (Mich.) standout Michael Furtney announced his commitment to Wisconsin following a visit.
Proud to announce my commitment to the University of Wisconsin! pic.twitter.com/fCoLxhp72T
— Michael Furtney (@FurtneyMichael) March 14, 2017
The Spartans only showed “minimal contact,” per Furtney, before January, but since started putting on heavier interest and eventually offered. It proved to be too late.
Spartans to welcome 4-star prospects over the weekend
Smith picked up his offer more than two weeks ago, and now an East Kentwood teammate may be nearing one. Six-foot-6 sophomore lineman Logan Brown, rated a 4-star prospect by 247Sports, shared that he plans to visit Michigan State on Saturday.
— Logan Brown (@loganbrown53) March 14, 2017
Brown does not yet hold an offer from the Spartans, as he does from schools such as Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
A day earlier, the Spartans will get a visit from 4-star junior defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, who is from Owings Mills, Md.
Spring tour starting this weekend. I'll be visiting Michigan State this Friday and Saturday✳️
— Pj Mustipher (@KingPJ55) March 14, 2017
Mustipher already holds a Michigan State offer. Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State are among the schools that also have jumped into the mix.