February 7, 2007

Dantonio Verbatim: Transcript from signing day

The following is a transcript of Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio's address at the national letter of intent signing day press conference, held Wednesday at Breslin Center:

Opening statement:It's an exciting time for us here at Michigan State, this first recruiting class. And I guess the first thing we need to talk about is the time, the commitment that was made by our coaches I think and by everybody involved in the athletic department. We had a tremendous amount of support from everybody.

"President Simon was at every recruiting dinner that we had on a Saturday evening. I've not been anywhere - Ohio State, Kansas, anywhere I've ever been - where the president of the university has spent that much time with the recruits. She and her husband. So I think that was tremendous and that sets a precedent in terms of what we're about here as people and about the relationships that we're trying to develop.

"Also want to comment on our coaches. I was hired on a Monday and I think Sunday started that contact period. I was hired on that Monday, had a press conference, went back to Cincinnati that evening, got back about 9:30, and our coaches, the ones that were coming, met myself at the airstrip, left their families. I think some of them were at their homes, weren't even packed, just grabbed some stuff and came on over. Took a plane back to East Lansing and was processed, thanks to again our administration and the job that they have done. Got them processed and got them out on the road the very next day on Tuesday.

"So from that point on they were working. And it took a lot of time and effort. Mark Staten is our recruiting coordinator and he did a tremendous job, along with the rest of our coaches in just identifying players that were out there, the players that we had an opportunity for, getting new names onto the board, looking at other people, developing relationships in Michigan.

"So I want to certainly thank our coaches in all those regards."

On the process:
"We started a process much like anything that came on sudden. I was at Cincinnati coaching our last game; boom, two days later I'm at Michigan State. And took the job and really didn't know what we needed, what we needed to improve on, where we were at, what type of players we had. How many tight ends did we have? How many quarterbacks? And we grew as we went. We grew as we continued on. And tried to format our plan to decide how many we were taking at this position and how many we were taking at that position.

"We ultimately had 21 slots available and we signed 20. We could oversign in the Big Ten, but we chose not to at this point in time. As we move forward there may be some other additional people out there at the end of the game here who have not signed and chose not to sign; they are highly recruited young men. But we'll see how we do with that here this next week, week and a half, two weeks. So things are not necessarily over.

"But with that in mind we went about our business. First of all looking at the Michigan area, and Detroit and various other places in Michigan. We lost two commitments obviously, but we signed six players from the state of Michigan and went after some other highly recruited players in Michigan hard. And I think we made in-roads. And I think we made a definite statement that we were going to recruit Michigan and always start from the inside and work out. And that inside means first of all Lansing and its area and then work out to Detroit and west to Grand Rapids and north and east and everywhere else. We're going to first of all take care of our own business here and do the very best that we can do."

On recruiting philosophy:
"Recruiting is about relationships, I firmly believe that. And relationships are formed over a period of time. A lot of you guys here I don't know, and I'm sure I will get to know over the course of time. And there will have to be some trust involved at some point. And that's the same way recruiting is. It's about trust, relationships, finding out who's important in the process ... the head coach, the parents, the brother, the sister, the friend, the girl friend. It involves so many different people that when you first come upon the player I think that you first have to recognize who are the decision-making people in that family. Just like any business. So we had to go about that and we had a short time to do that.

"The recruiting schedule has changed a little bit in the fact that we went three weeks in December ... December 15th, which is really unusual, because December the 16th, I believe, started a dead period where there was no recruiting being done. So we could collect ourselves a little bit. And then we were out for another three or four weeks. That's the first time that that's ever happened with that length of time. So it was a little bit unusual, but it did give us a chance to sort of settle our thoughts a little bit.

"With that in mind, I thought we came in with an excellent recruiting class at the offensive line. I'll go through these people as we get more involved, but we signed four offensive linemen. One's from Knoxville, Tenn., one's from Kentucky, one's from Chicago, one's from Michigan.

"We took three of the tight end type players. One's from Ohio, one's from Georgia, one's from Michigan. Obviously those guys can be sort of move guys that can play different roles in our offense.

"We took one quarterback. We took three wide receivers; one from Ohio and two from Michigan. And then we took two tailbacks; one from Chicago and one from Michigan.

"And on the defensive side of the ball I believe that we took three defensive tackles, a defensive end, a linebacker, a defensive back and a punter/kicker.

"So I believe that's 20. We'll just start through the process here and then we'll comment on the players as we go."

On the players he inherits at Michigan State:
"First of all, the most important players we signed are the one hundred players over at the facility working out. That's important that I make that statement because we are still learning who those players are. We are still developing a relationship and trust with those players. Those players are the players that ultimately will be playing next year. This class should lay a great foundation for us as a football team and some of them will play and some of them may be impact players.

"But we will have an opportunity to go through winter workouts, 15 workouts with them of spring practice, summer conditioning and fall practice. We'll have a chance to sit and meet with them. I will start meeting with seniors next week in terms of developing relationships. Our coaches have already met with their position group. And it has to be about them somewhat too and I think on this day if we don't make that statement, then we are not recognizing the true fact.

"Sometimes I think recruiting has gone way … it's way out there, guys. The internet has created a monster. It's way out there. I think that because the Super Bowl was last week and we have so many different kinds of recruiting services now, and everybody is in the know, and everybody has their own opinion on recruits, that it has just become bigger than life.

"The main part of our football team remains right over there and the Duff and we want to acknowledge that.

"With that in mind, we will start our video of the players:

On runningback Andre Anderson:
"Andre Anderson is a tailback from Barrington High School in Chicago. He is one of the top prospects. When we saw Andre initially, he had initially committed to Minnesota. After that recruitment and a change of coaches, we were able to get involved with Andre. And he came for a visit and had a great visit.

"He is an outstanding running back. He is a 23-7 long jumper, which is extraordinary. He ran a 10.6 100 meters as a junior. He had over 2,000 yards this year, he has receiving ability also out of the backfield. A very, extremely explosive player.

"It came down to the end of the recruiting process and Illinois was still trying to get in on him in the last week, but he held off and remained committed to Michigan State University.

"Great family and he comes from a good high school. Good high school. Solid academics and we expect Andre to be a guy to play on return situations and get involved in tailback situations.

"We really have three tailbacks on scholarship currently here, so we felt like we needed to go out and recruit at least two at that position. You can't have enough running backs in your program, whether it's injuries or giving each other a good look as you go through the process.

"But he certainly is a back of the future and he is certainly one of the more talented players in the Midwest. Joe Sanchez was his coach.

"He has great ability to cut on a dime. He's a jump-cut guy. When he gets a crease he has great acceleration. He is 190 pounds so he is very strong in that respect. Like I said, he has the ability to break with his speed."

Aaron Bates:
"Aaron Bates is from southeast Ohio, about 30 miles from where I grew up and where I lived. As a matter of fact, his mom taught at the elementary school that I went to.

"Here is a 50-yard field goal. Aaron was offered by West Virginia, Ohio U, Notre Dame was coming in right before he committed to us. We like him as a punter. He can kick off. And obviously field goals. But we liked him as a punter.

"He is a three-sport athlete. He is an outstanding quarterback in his own right at that level, and he is the point guard on his basketball team and I believe he is a second baseman and shortstop on the baseball team, and he will be valedictorian of his class.

"He has great extension with his leg in the punting motion. Our former punter Craig Jarrett watched him a little bit and had some great things to say about him as a punter.

"You look at him here and you see the extension he has as a punter. When you put your knee to the chin like that, you have great power, great snap coming off. He is a guy we figure will vie for a job immediately. He will have to compete, but there is an opportunity there for him.

"I do think he is a very mature young man. He went through the recruiting process and was very mature in it and didn't just jump at things. It lends me to believe he will be mature on the field as well.

"We are very, very excited to have Aaron from John Glenn High School in Ohio."

On TE Garrett Celek:
"An unusual little story on Garrett. His brother played tight end for us at Cincinnati. His brother is the all-time leading receiving tight end at Cincinnati. He played at La Salle High School this year. He is 240 pounds.

"He came to (Cincinnati's) camp last year, and he also went to Ohio State's camp. When we brought him to camp, we used him as a tight end. He had great hands. He long jumped 9-feet-10. If you ever go to a pro combine, 10 feet is the measuring stick for the NFL. If you can long jump 10 feet, that gets you in the game. That gets you in the game as a defensive back [sic] (I'm not sure if he meant as a defensive back or as a tight end or a lineman in general. He said defensive back, but he might have mis-spoke himself, or he might have really meant defensive back. I didn't get a chance to ask him to clarify).

"And he ran 4.6 something or other. He had great ball skills and we were sold on him immediately. And then he went to his high school and they put him at tackle. So you do what you've got to do as a high school player because you have various players and various players that need to play relative to the offense.

"But he is tough and he stays after you. He is a 3.5 student at La Salle, which is an all boys school in Cincinnati. And he has tremendous upside.

"When I was talking to Jim Tressel when I was still at Cincinnati, he made the statement to me that they weren't taking a tight end but that Garrett Celek was the best player out of 2000 kids that came to their camp. So we are extremely excited about him and we feel like we got a diamond in the rough.

"A lot of times you measure things in the recruiting process in terms of how the guy looks, and you hear all of these different analogies on people, but the bottom line is what you do with players when they come to your program. And we are very, very excited about Garrett coming here and being a part of the Michigan State Spartans."

On quarterback Kirk Cousins:
"Kirk Cousins is a young man who was No. 16 in the Elite 11 selection. He probably just didn't have the stats as a junior that would allow you to jump into that top group of 11 (due to injuries as a junior).

"He was offered by quite a few MAC schools and then also Colorado came in at the end. We kept watching Kirk. He spent time with Dan Enos, who was coaching quarterbacks here. We had a great feel for Kirk Cousins as a quarterback. We evaluated him, watched him play basketball, watched his athleticism on the basketball court, saw what type of person he is. And really got excited about him.

"We played against Drew Brees when I was here before and he has a lot of those type of tendencies in being able to deliver the ball from different angles, different variations, quick release, good arm strength. I think he will be an excellent quarterback for us, an excellent player and a great person. Again, a valedictorian of the class. And will major in pre-med.

"Right here on this video you can see that rather than coming overhand with it, he cocks it sideways and zips it. Good arm strength. Excellent arm strength. Good throwing mechanics.

"Six-foot-2. I think he will add to a long list of quarterbacks who have been here.

"Quick release. Stays strong under pressure. Good eye control in terms of where he is looking. Great reads. He is an excellent student and a student of the game.

"The thing that you don't really understand is that as a football player, just like anything else like your job, you have to have great attention to detail. If you say to take a six-inch step, or any kind of mechanics that are involved in football, I think it is very important to follow those. Kirk is definitely one of those people.

"He is a very mature individual. He is very thorough in all of his evaluations of where to, what to do, how to do it and I think he will be an excellent quarterback here.

"Kirk threw for almost 2,000 yards, was a 43-yard punter."

On wide receiver B.J. Cunningham:
"He has only played football for two years. He is an outstanding jumper. Last year as a junior he was the MVP of his basketball conference in high school, which has about 16 teams in it and it is the best basketball conference in central Ohio.

"Tremendous leaper. He had 40-plus catches this year. He plays corner as well.

"The thing that I like as a defensive back/wide receiver is I like to recruit defensive backs who have ball skills, which means they were wide receivers. I like to recruit receivers who have the toughness to play corner because they will show up on special teams and all different areas.

"But B.J. is about 6-foot-2, he has great hand-eye coordination. He can take off from the foul line and go up and slam it. He is a tremendous basketball player and averages about 20 points per game or so.

"He will go get the ball wherever it's at."

On wide receiver Mark Dell:
"He is an outstanding wide receiver from Farmington Hills Harrison. He committed early on to the past staff and we were able to keep that commitment. He is an outstanding young person.

"It came down to the end of recruiting and it looked like Miami of Florida was making a push. He almost went on a visit there. But he made the decision to stay with his commitment and we are extremely happy.

"Mark is one of the country's top 150 players. An outstanding receiver, an outstanding basketball player. He is 6-2, 185, from an outstanding program at Harrison.

"I've heard John Herrington make the statement that he is one of the finest football payers he has ever had there. You can see him go up and you can see his body control. He is another guy that plays defensive back as well, so he is a guy that brings toughness to the offensive side of the ball.

"He is not a guy that is just going to play wide receiver and that's it. He could possibly play on special teams and do various things.

"But he is an outstanding receiver with good speed. He won the 400 meters, I think, as an eighth grader in the nationals as an AAU. He is an outstanding basketball player.

"He averaged 21 yards a catch as a receiver last year and he obviously has the ability to run away from people as well. Outstanding person."

On which assistant coaches recruited the above players:
"Andre Anderson was recruited by Dan Roushar, our offensive line coach. Aaron Bates by Mike Tressel. Garrett Celek by Mark Staten. Kirk Cousins by Dan Enos. B.J. Cunningham by Don Treadwell. Mark Dell by Dan Enos.

"Obviously it takes a whole staff to recruit these guys."

On offensive lineman Chase Dumphord:
"Chase is about 6-5, 320. He is playing basketball right now, averaging about 20-plus a game, about 18 rebounds. One of the nation's top offensive tackles by one recruiting service. He plays at a small school in Paris, Ky. He has an uncle or grandfather in Michigan.

"He is a big, athletic guy. His football is ahead of him. He is an outstanding student, a 3-point student.

"For a guy that big, he can run. He visited us and had visits to Auburn and Florida scheduled as well when he made the commitment to us. He has stayed strong with that commitment. He is from an outstanding family. Honor roll student."

On tight end David Duran:
"His high school coach, Irv Sigler III, has coached up here as well. David has played tight end, he has also played defensive end. He is a guy that we got onto at the University of Cincinnati and a guy that more we watched him, we really felt like he was an outstandin gfotball player in all respects.

"He plays in a good league in the Atlanta, Georgia area, Marietta, Ga. Excellent student as well. He has an excellent frame, will probably carry 250 or 260. Outstanding ball skills. Tough. Can run. In all respects, a very, very good football player.

"For a guy that size, can run, body control.

"Many of these guys are playing in all-star games. I know that B.J. and Bates are playing in the Big 33. Duran is playing in the Georgia all-star game. The Michigan guys are playing in the Michigan all-star game, I think almost all of these."

On offensive lineman Joel Foreman:
"He is 6-3, 291 from Milford High School. Pat Fox is the coach and Dan Enos recruited Joel.

"He is an outstanding tough guy. He is the MVP of his league as an offensive lineman. That's a huge statement.

"Joel is another outstanding student. He brings toughness to the table. They ran for 3,300 yards this year as an offense.

"Pat Fox is a guy who coached Aric Morris when I was here before and I have great respect for Pat Fox and what he says about his players. He is an extremely tough guy. Penn State tried to come in on him. That week that we offered him, Penn State was coming in as well, and then he committed to the Michigan State Spartans and this is where his heart is.

"He is a tremendous person and also a tremendous football player."

On defensive tackle Antonio Jeremiah:
"He is a four-star defensive lineman from Columbus, Ohio. He probably had 40-plus scholarship offers. He will play in the North-South game in Ohio, and he also played in the national all-star game in Fort Lauderdale.

"He is coached by Paul Jenne, who coached Trent Cole who plays for the Eagles. And he compared him a lot to Cole in a lot of ways. He is 6-5, 295.

"He was at Ohio State's camp when I was there last year when I was at Cincinnati - I don't think they'll let me come this year - and I saw this big guy running past me. He looked like a deer. And it was Antonio. And we are very, very excited to get Antonio. He is extremely strong. I think he has lost only twice in wrestling this year. He is a big guy that can run. He is a great person, with a great mother.

"He's from another program in Ohio that is a strong program. He had many various opportunities as a four-star defensive lineman. I'm sure he will have an opportunity to show up early in his career here.

"He is ranked one of the top prospects in the Midwest by SuperPrep, No. 25."

On DE Ishmyl Johnson:
"He is from Milford Academy, which is up in the mountains. You don't get much phone service up there. It's a little, small place.

"He is 6-5, 260. He figures to be a factor immediately. He has a tremendous motor. Various offers. The guy can run. A big, strong guy that can run. He gives us an edge to the defense.

"He is a guy with great power, great upside. He is ranked one of the top 50 prep school prospects by Rivals.com, top defensive ends by rivals … I don't know what that gets you sometimes, but it gets you nice print.

"Bill Chaplick is the coach, Pat Narduzzi is the recruiter. They did a tremendous job. There were a lot of people in on him early on, and then late as well. He stayed with his commitment and will be an excellent football player for us."

On linebacker Greg Jones:
"Greg Jones is from Cincinnati. He is a guy we had a relationship with. He originally committed to Minnesota. They had the coaching change. He made the decision to come to Michigan State.

"He is a very explosive player. He (standing) long jumped 10-8. We had him at camp at Cincinnati. He is a very explosive player who played for Bob Crable, who played in the NFL for a long time, at Moeller High School. That particular conference in Ohio high school football and produced four out of the last five state champions. So excellent football. All boys high school, about 1,200 people.

"A very explosive player and will figure in immediately, I think, for us at our linebacker position. He will also play in the all-star game, the North-South or the Big 33, I'm not sure. He led his team in tackles, and has power and will bring it.

"He has excellent lateral ability. He's a blitzer. We are excited about Greg Jones."

On RB Ashton Leggett:
"We recruited him as a tailback. He was with the state champions. He is a tremendous football player, and had quite a few people come in on him late and you guys read the internet so you probably know who (Michigan).

"He has great hands. He plays linebacker as well, so he has toughness. I've not seen anybody really tackle this guy in any of the films that I've watched. He has great ability to break tackles. We will use him as a tailback. I think he has power. He gives us that kind of guy that can run through tackles, great speed.

"He runs by people. State champion. Speed. Very exciting football player. Good, solid student."

On offensive lineman Jared McGaha:
"You don't get down to Knoxville very often to recruit, but I had the chance to be at Ohio State for their select camp, which is the top players probably throughout the Midwest, and I saw Jared pass blocking and that's about all you needed to see, when you saw the people he was going against.

"He has excellent feet. He weighs about 278 right now. He is an excellent student. He visited Michigan right after he visited us, the week after.

"He is an excellent football player. Power. He was rated one of the top offensive tackles in the nation. You can see. It doesn't take long to watch him as an offensive lineman in terms of his ability. He is very, very athletic for his size. Very athletic. Great feet. Great ability pass block. Finished down the field and he is going to continue to get bigger and bigger."

On Kevin Pickelman:
"He is a guy from Marshall that I watched his sophomore highlight film and his junior highlight film and his senior highlight film. He's a contact football player. A contact football player. He is going to play on both sides of the ball. He will start on the offensive side of the ball. We will give him a chance to play defense and see how it pans out for him.

"He is about 245 pounds right now. He beat me in ping-pong the other night, 3-0, so he's got skills beyond imagination.

"Great ball skills, great motor. Outstanding motor. Good student. Another guy that had numerous opportunities on where to go. He can catch the ball. And goes and gets after somebody. He is a middle linebacker here (on video) scraping to the quarterback and he can bring it. Recruited by Mark Staten."

On offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr.
"He is from Chicago Mt. Carmel, another Catholic school. He is an excellent student. He comes from a family that has huge size on both sides, there is 6-8 and 6-11 on both sides of his family. He is a guy that is going to grow.

"I found out something in recruiting the other day. They say if you don't shave, then you'll continue to grow. So I was looking for the whiskers and he had no whiskers. So he will be a guy that will even get bigger.

"He is an outstanding football player. He committed to Boston College early on, and then they had the coaching change and he re-opened the process. He is explosive, powerful, very well-coached. Dan Roushar recruited him.

"You can see his athletic ability here. He will be a very good football player for us. He is one of the top offensive guards by all of these people, and the Chicago Tribune, one of the top players in Chicago."

Chris Rucker from Detroit. Dan Enos recruited him, 5'10", 172. He's the 100?meter champion in the state of Michigan, good 500?meter guy. In the slot here. Excellent ball skills. He's a multidimensional player in terms of being a defensive back, a returner, obviously a wide receiver, and he's played tailback, as well, gets in the crease and can go. He's about 185 pounds. Excellent student at Country Day. You can see him outrunning the angles there. He ran the ball 62 times for 640 yards, 10.3 average, 21?yard average. With career receptions, he averaged 21 yards per catch, 72 catches. And as I said, 100?meter champion.
Again, here's a guy that can go on the outside and run past people.

Chris Rucker, 6'2", 185, a guy who's the state ?? he's the 60?meter champion, and he's qualified for the nationals in the 60?meter as a junior, very explosive player, about 6'2". Top corner, punt returner, kick returner, plays wide out, one of the nation's top cornerbacks.
He has size, toughness, coached by Thom McDaniels, a legendary coach in Ohio at Warren Harding High School, which is one of the top programs in the state of Ohio.
I think it's important that your defensive backs have deep ball judgment so when the ball goes up they can make the play when they're in position. We look for defensive backs who can play both wide receiver and DB in a kick returner, punt returner type mode, and with the idea that they'll be coming up with an opportunities for reception.
Same thing with wide receivers, looking for guys that will make tackles, can play on special teams and not just be one?dimensional.
Ryan Wheat, defensive tackle from Carman?Ainsworth in Flint. He's on the Dream Team, as well, I believe. Extremely powerful guy, big.
I think our three defensive tackles, we've got Jeremiah, Ryan Wheat and Oren Wilson are very, very good players. Obviously when you look at our offensive lineup situation, we have good, big people that are athletic, that can run.

In the recruiting process when the coaching change happened we needed to go back and recruit Ryan. A lot of people were involved with him. He made the decision to stay with his commitment. But again, you had three established relationships there with him, but an outstanding football player and another Michigan guy. We're extremely pleased with him.
Oren Wilson is from Jersey, and he went to Harmony Prep School, 6'3", 290. To the left, he's a nose tackle there coming off. Ability to run, runs for a big guy. I think he's very similar to OG for us. Powerful guy who's played center as well as defensive tackle. He has played center in the past. Very athletic, a good athletic guy.
Those are our 20 recruits this year, and we're extremely happy with these guys because they come from great families. I think that you cannot estimate the value of character in your recruiting class, also the value of what type of competition that they're playing against, who they play against.
I think a lot of times you see a guy making plays trying to look at ?? when we evaluate the film, we have categories that says competition level, who are they playing against relative to the success that they're having. I think you have to evaluate things from the top to the bottom. A lot of those things are character issues, how they handle adversity, what is his background as a person, has he been into problems and what kind of football player he is. We're building a foundation. This will give us an opportunity to move forward, I think, and we're extremely pleased with that.

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