Everyone talks about a “family atmosphere.”
Everyone just felt most comfortable on the campus of the school whose colors they will wear on the football field. Everyone loves their future coaches and teammates. They saw a chance to contribute early, believe championships are in their future and just want to get to the next level — and soon enough, they’ll be taking it one game at a time.
There’s something else going on at Michigan State, though. Clichés don’t fully cover the most frantic recruiting stretch under Mark Dantonio — 10 commitments in three weeks — and perhaps the most overall recruiting momentum since the 1960s.
Yes, results are being sold and bought here, with MSU coming off consecutive top-5 finishes and consecutive first-round selections in the NFL draft. But the secret weapon is a marriage of sorts, of technology and personality. And there’s been a plan among the recruits for months.
“People talk about brotherhood and they’re just saying it for publicity. With us, it’s real,” said Cam Chambers, a “four-star” receiver from Sicklerville, N.J., who was MSU’s first 2016 commitment, back in August, and is now working hard to bring in more. “Coach Dantonio, that’s how he recruits, he finds people that fit the mold, fit the chemistry. It’s like he’s running Match.com or something.
“Everybody gets along and everybody talks — it seems like morning to night, every day. It’s pretty cool.”
Chambers came up with the idea for and name of the Twitter account —@MSUDreamTeam2016 — that is now 12 days old, has more than 3,000 followers already and is devoted to chronicling and aiding the building of this class. He runs it along with running back commitment Abdul Adams (Washington, D.C.) and quarterback commitment Messiah deWeaver (Huber Heights, Ohio), whose April 22 choice of MSU sparked this run.
Chambers and offensive lineman Matt Allen (Hinsdale, Ill.) were MSU’s only commitments at that point. Now the class stands at 12 verbals, is ranked in the top 10 nationally by every major recruiting service and appears poised for more prominent additions soon.
Receiver Donnie Corley (Detroit King), safety Kenney Lyke (Palatine, Ill.) and defensive ends Josh King (Darien, Ill.) and Auston Robertson (Fort Wayne, Ind.) are among the celebrated targets close to decisions and viewed as MSU leans by some analysts. Some may have privately chosen MSU already.
That was the case with deWeaver, long before his announcement. And all who pick the Spartans are added to an ongoing group text deWeaver started. That’s where the “real” talk happens, not on the Twitter account.
“It seems like we’re adding people to it every night,” deWeaver said.
“I think people are not talking enough about the big story here, the group text message that is going on,” said Steve Wiltfong, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com. “The Twitter account, other people do that and that is what people see publicly, but this is different. You want to go to college with people you enjoy being around. I believe recruiting is a game of inches, and this is another way Michigan State is capitalizing on every inch right now.”
This kind of communication helping committed prospects recruit others “has predecessors,” said Josh Helmholdt of Rivals.com, but “Michigan State is in the mold where they’re perfecting it.”
Chambers said he calls Curtis Blackwell, MSU’s director of college advancement and performance — unofficially, MSU’s recruiting strategist — often to keep up on MSU targets so he and others can get in touch. In most cases, relationships already are in place, and that’s no accident.
The first MSU event Blackwell organized, in the summer of 2013, included current targets such as Corley, Lavert Hill (Detroit King) and Daelin Hayes (Ann Arbor Skyline). MSU prefers smaller gatherings of prospects than some — there’s one planned in June to unveil MSU’s new locker room and training room at the Duffy Daugherty Football Building — to maximize their interactions.
“That’s how things pick up steam, that’s the key, getting guys together,” Blackwell said. “They watch each other more than anything else.”
Blackwell can’t speak about specific recruits until they sign letters of intent, which they can’t do until February. But he acknowledged that things are going very well for MSU — “We’re the place people want to be,” he said — and that committed prospects are making a difference.
“We’ve got guys in this class who are really charismatic and communicate very well,” Blackwell said. “And that carries a whole lot more weight. It’s unusual to get this many kids like that.”
Chambers and deWeaver first met in Ann Arbor. Chambers took an unofficial visit to MSU last July and left knowing he wanted to be a Spartan, despite offers from U-M, Ohio State, Alabama and many others.
He still visited U-M the next day as planned and made a friend in deWeaver, then a Wolverines commitment. They kept in touch over the next few months, mostly with some rivalry smack talk.
A few days after U-M fired Brady Hoke on Dec. 2, MSU had deWeaver and several other prospects up to watch a bowl practice and an MSU basketball game. DeWeaver left town thinking he would end up in green. He said he knew in February and contacted Chambers.
“I thought he wanted to talk some more Michigan stuff,” Chambers said with a laugh. “But that wasn’t it.”
They both started contacting others, such as King and Robertson, and told them deWeaver would be choosing MSU.
“We built those relationships,” deWeaver said. “So when I actually committed, they knew I was for real.”
There’s not one personality type on any team, but there are personalities that fit together. Chambers and deWeaver both are accomplished students — deWeaver with a 4.0 grade-point average, Chambers with a plan to get an education degree in less than four years — who will enroll early at MSU.
And they’re both having a lot of fun right now, as high school juniors-turned-salesmen.
“It’s definitely crazy how fast things are moving,” Chambers said. “I know of a couple more commitments right now. But sorry, I can’t tell you who.”