The word that seemed to echo throughout Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio’s National Signing Day news conference was “early.”
He said it 12 times, sometimes in reference to how early his players committed during the 2017 cycle, but usually referring to his hopes for when incoming freshmen will begin to contribute.
“Look for him to play early in his career here,” he said of wide receiver C.J. Hayes.
“I think that Matt is a guy that’s going to play very early in his career,” he added of tight end Matt Dotson.
“We look for big things from him early in the process,” he predicted of offensive lineman Jordan Reid.
That has been the recruiting pitch lately. Michigan State, coming off of a 3-9 season, needs players to contribute immediately to help the Spartans get back on track.
And who better to play early than those who arrived on campus early? Michigan State has brought in three early enrollees — tight end Jack Camper, wide receiver Hunter Rison and cornerback Josiah Scott — who have been participating in workouts and taking classes since arriving in January.
They seem to be adapting well. Fellow signee Laress Nelson told Land of 10 that when he visited campus in late January, he didn’t even realize Rison was in the 2017 class. His maturity indicated otherwise.
So what can be expected of each early enrollee next season and beyond? Let’s run down the list.
Whether he’s touching the top of the square on a basketball backboard or completing a standing backflip, Camper leaves people awed by his athleticism. Standing 6-foot-5 and weighing 240 pounds makes his agility and explosiveness all the more impressive.
Having played tight end and defensive end for powerhouse IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.), he’s been groomed for this moment. He knew he would enroll early when he transferred there after his sophomore year, and it should pay dividends leading up to the 2017 season.
“He’s been exciting to watch in workouts and will have an opportunity to participate immediately,” Dantonio said, “and have an opportunity to impact this program very, very quickly.”
It’s difficult to imagine a freshman more mentally ready than Rison. The son of Spartans legend Andre Rison, he has had expectations heaped upon him for years and takes them in stride.
Now on campus, he regularly sees photos and plaques honoring his father. Both father and son want him to beat the elder Rison’s records. Given Michigan State’s dearth of experienced wideouts, he should have a chance to get going on those efforts soon.
“When you watch him at camp, you see a great football player that can get vertical very quickly,” Dantonio said. “He’ll play Z (lined up behind the line of scrimmage), slot receiver as well. He’s impressed us from Day 1 in his abilities (and) in what he will bring to this program.”
Michigan State often pursues cornerbacks with great size. Scott is not one of them. He is 5-foot-10 with a solid build. The Spartans’ other three DB signees are at least 6-foot tall.
But what he gives up in height, he makes up for with toughness and smarts. With a talented crop of players who were freshmen this season (Austin Andrews, Justin Layne, etc.), his chances to play immediately likely depend on the performance of those above him.
“We’ll look forward to him contributing here this spring, and seeing what he’s got,” Dantonio said. “I think he’s got great football IQ, as many of our players do. And we’ll look forward to that as he grows.”