Nine freshmen played in a football game for Michigan State in 2016. That would be nine real freshmen. You know, the ones that are in their first year at college.
We’re not talking about the ones that got two semesters of learning the ropes of college life under their belts as a redshirt before seeing the field. They’re still young and inexperienced, but not like real freshmen.
Nine is an awfully-high number for Michigan State. It’s the highest number of freshmen ever to play for the Spartans in 10 seasons under Mark Dantonio. Some – like wide receiver Donnie Corley and defensive linemen Auston Robertson and Josh King – were expected to play early, but injuries and ineffective play elsewhere opened the door for others.
What should Michigan State fans expect in 2017? Well, they should expect another rough season if another nine freshmen play next fall. That’s just not a winning formula for Dantonio and the Spartans. But several players in next season’s freshmen class can make their debuts in 2017 and be contributors.
Here’s a look at five freshmen who have a good chance to play next season:
WR Hunter Rison
Rison (6-foot, 195 pounds) brings with him a polished skill set. He’s more than just a legacy name; he is an excellent route runner and has good hands. Rison will be able to play on the outside, or inside as a slot receiver.
Michigan State lost its best receiver and route-runner in R.J. Shelton to graduation. Rison has many of the same qualities Shelton possessed and should fit in well with sophomores Corley and Trishton Jackson, and junior Felton Davis III.
WR Cody White
White (6-3, 200) won Michigan’s Mr. Football award last season at Walled Lake Western High School. He accounted for 27 touchdowns his senior year via receiving, running and throwing the ball. White played nine different positions last season. It will be tough to keep that kind of athlete off the field.
White also returned kickoffs and punts, among his multiple responsibilities. A redshirt season wouldn’t be the worst thing for White, but he’ll push for playing time.
TE Matt Dotson
Sense a trend here? Michigan State’s offense is going to start with its rushing attack, namely LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes. Opposing defenses know this and will force the Spartans to prove they can win by throwing the ball effectively. Dotson (6-5, 230) can be that kind of threat from the tight end position.
Matt Sokol is the only tight end on the roster who has played a snap for Michigan State. Whoever wins the quarterback job – be it Brian Lewerke, Damion Terry or Messiah deWeaver – they’re going to need as many receiving weapons as possible.
LB Antjuan Simmons
Michigan State’s linebacker room has quality depth, but Simmons (6-1, 210) has the speed to make an impact sooner rather than later. He also played running back at Ann Arbor (Mich.) Pioneer High School. Simmons has good instincts whether he’s carrying the ball or tracking down a runner.
Special teams is the quickest way to earn playing time, but the Spartans need more players who can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Simmons’ speed and aggressiveness give him that capability.
DL Jacub Panasiuk
Older brother Mike played right away last year and ended up starting the final three games of the season. That would be quite a feat to duplicate, but the defensive line needs depth. The competition is open for those spots.
Panasiuk has a blueprint on how to make this happen, but there are plenty of others competing for snaps. His older brother surprised many last season with his quick development. Don’t be as surprised next season if Panasiuk follows in his brother’s footsteps.
A look at players who have played as freshmen under Mark Dantonio at Michigan State.
|2007||6||P Aaron Bates, WR Mark Dell, DT Antonio Jeremiah, LB Greg Jones,|
|CB Chris L. Rucker, DT Oren Wilson|
|2008||5||CB Johnny Adams, WR Keshawn Martin, S Trenton Robinson,|
|WR Fred Smith, RB Glenn Winston|
|2009||5||RB Edwin Baker, RB Larry Caper, LB Chris Norman, TE Dion Sims,|
|DT Blake Treadwell|
|2010||5||RB Le’Veon Bell, LB Max Bullough, CB Darqueze Dennard,|
|DE William Gholston, S Isaiah Lewis|
|2011||1||LB Taiwan Jones|
|2012||2||WR Aaron Burbridge, WR Macgarrett Kings Jr.|
|2013||4||K Michael Geiger, CB Darian Hicks, WR R.J. Shelton, RB Delton Williams|
|2014||4||OL Brian Allen, LB Chris Frey, DT Malik McDowell, S Montae Nicholson|
|2015||6||WR Felton Davis III, LB Andrew Dowell, S Grayson Miller, RB LJ Scott,|
|CB Tyson Smith, S Khari Willis|
|2016||9||LB Joe Bachie, WR/CB Donnie Corley, WR Trishton Jackson,|
|DE Josh King, CB/WR, Justin Layne, OL Thiyo Lukusa, S Kenney Lyke,|
|DT Mike Panasiuk, DL Auston Robertson|