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Michigan State’s list of early enrollees is chock-full of standout signees.
Quarterback Theo Day and defensive backs Kalon Gervin and Xavier Henderson are all 4-star recruits in the 247Sports composite ratings. Linebacker Edward Warinner is the son of the Minnesota assistant coach who shares his name. Offensive lineman Dimitri Douglas has seen his stock rise after a strong senior season that catapulted him to No. 14 among seniors in Michigan.
On that list you also can find a pair of projected wide receivers who haven’t garnered as much attention — and apparently haven’t sought it out, either. Ja’Vez Alexander and Julian Major‘s plans to arrive on campus in January was confirmed by their coaches, as both players have seldom done interviews with recruiting sites. Soon enough those requests will stop coming and they’ll officially be Michigan State freshmen.
Barring unexpected departures, Michigan State won’t lose much production at wide receiver after this season. The lone senior receiver on the roster, walk-on Brock Mackaric, has never seen game action. It won’t be easy for either Alexander or Major to break into the rotation, but the Michigan State coaches expect them to compete as hard as anyone.
Alexander, who accounted for more than 2,300 yards of offense and 30 touchdowns as a Sandusky (Ohio) senior quarterback, never played a snap at wide receiver. But when Alexander showed up at a Michigan State camp in June, co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman had him work out at the position and liked what he saw. His athleticism checked out, and his 4.125 grade-point average caught Bollman’s eye.
“As we’ve had some success with guys in the past, when they have a feel as a quarterback — and he’s obviously been a very successful quarterback, not just an average one on a very successful team — running routes is a little bit different,” Bollman said. “You have a different understanding of getting open and what you’re trying to do. A guy as special and intelligent as he is, he’s got to be a fun guy to coach.”
Michigan State wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel compared Alexander to Cody White, who had 32 catches for 449 yards and a pair of touchdowns during the regular season. White also played a lot of quarterback as a senior in high school because of injuries, and he possesses a similar build to the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Alexander.
Alexander suffered a fractured fibula and ligament damage in his ankle in the first round of the playoffs last month. Sandusky ultimately suffered its only loss of the season. Bollman doesn’t know how long the injury will keep Alexander out, but he said the early enrollee has remained positive. Once healthy, Samuel feels it will be a smooth transition to receiver.
“I can say that it’s the skill set and the knowledge,” Samuel said of what stood out about Alexander. “He’s got the skills. He’s got the change of direction. He’s got the ball skills because we were able to see that in camp. I enjoy the knowledge the guy brings, the insight that he has from playing quarterback. It transfers pretty quickly.”
Major, a 6-1 standout from Penn Hills (Pittsburgh), has also been recovering from an injury. He suffered partial tears to both of his hamstrings, and though he missed four games he fought through the hindrance and earned all-conference honorable mention.
Samuel saw Major at practice as he battled the injuries and saw most of the tools he wanted: ball skills, quickness, smarts. The top-end speed was the only thing missing, and he still stood out at defensive back. Samuel has high hopes for Major, just like he knows the young wideout has high expectations of him.
“He just has that, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do, Coach, but I expect to see something on the back end,’ ” Samuel said. ” ‘I should get better. I’m going to trust you. I’m going to do everything that you tell me to do. I’m expecting to see myself getting better.’ And I love that. I love those types of guys that will follow it to the letter, but they’re squared away. They’re good people. They take care of business.”
Samuel liked how Major committed quietly in July and didn’t care about the limelight. Dantonio liked his physical tools. It seemed like a natural fit. Now the shifty receiver just has to take his recovery slowly, and once he gets to Michigan State he’ll have the opportunity to get a head start on learning the playbook and building chemistry with his teammates.
“He’s a very athletic, very smooth player with great hands,” Dantonio said. “He catches the ball fluidly. … He’s the type of player that can really stretch the field, another guy that was targeted early in the process, committed I think sometime early fall or late summer. He’s maintained his commitment throughout to be here early.”
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