EAST LANSING – While Michigan State was headed to an 11-2 record and top-10 finish in the national rankings last season, coach Mel Tucker and his staff identified needs.
That led to the Spartans signing 23 players to a 2022 recruiting class that ranked 23rd in the nation in the 247Sports Composite.
Now coming off a massively disappointing 5-7 season marred by injuries and suspensions, the weaknesses are even more glaring heading into next year. Despite falling well short of expectations on the field this fall, Tucker put together another solid recruiting class for next season.
“It’s a pretty complete class, well-rounded,” Tucker said on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period. “We looked at the needs that we had at every position, including special teams, and we were aggressively intent on signing the players that we need to help us win.”
Meet Michigan State football’s 2023 recruiting class
Michigan State signed 15 players to its 2023 recruiting class with 14 high school prospects and one from junior college. That group ranked 25th in the nation as of Wednesday night and includes nine four-star prospects, which is one more than the Spartans had in the previous three years combined and their most in a class since nine in 2016.
In addition to those players, Michigan State also announced eight transfer portal additions, highlighted by Texas A&M defensive lineman Tunmise Adeleye, a former four-star and top-40 overall prospect in the 2021 class. The Spartans also have commitments from three other transfers they haven’t officially announced.
The early signing period lasts until Friday and there’s also the traditional signing period beginning Feb. 1. Tucker said the Spartans may add to their class but this is clearly the bulk of it.
“This recruiting class is very strong, as you can see,” Tucker said. “We’re adding these guys to the guys that we already have. Some of these guys are going to make an immediate impact in one way, shape or form and just continue to build the roster so that we can close the gap with some of the other teams in the country. And close the gap between the starters and the next guys, which was a big issue for us this past season.”
Mel Tucker not planning on making changes to the coaching staff
The work Michigan State did adding talent up front on both sides of the ball stands out. Among the 15 players in the 2023 class, there are a trio of four-star defensive linemen in Bai Jobe from Oklahoma, Andrew Depaepe from Iowa and Jalen Thompson from Detroit Cass Tech High School. There are also a trio of four-star offensive linemen in Stanton Ramil from Alabama, Cole Dellinger from Clarkston High School and Keyshawn Blackstock from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.
Linebacker Jordan Hall from Florida, tight end Brennan Parachek from Dexter High School and quarterback Sam Leavitt from Oregon round out Michigan State’s four-star prospects. The other signees are three-star recruits in defensive backs Chance Rucker, Eddie Pleasant III and Sean Brown, receivers Jaelen Smith and Aziah Johnson and running back Jaelon Barbarin.
“We were looking for guys that were tough, disciplined and unselfish and every single one of these guys has those core values,” Tucker said. “This class, from top to bottom, is very, very strong. We have a really good mix of experienced guys and high school guys that all have the potential to be NFL guys.”
Mel Tucker says trio of veteran players plan on returning, others still undecided
Tucker, who has coaching experience as an assistant in the NFL and SEC, expanded Michigan State’s recruiting footprint. He has pursued some top targets the program wouldn’t have chased in the past while winning and losing some battles. The Spartans have eight decommits in the 2023 class, including five four-star prospects.
“We’re just trying to improve our team,” Tucker said. “When players commit, we don’t stop recruiting them or other players at their position because guys do flip. You get a lot of commitments early in the summer, around June, July, but it’s a process. … We’re not taken by surprise when guys flip or decommit. We always continue to recruit at that position so we don’t get caught flat-footed.”
Massive changes to college football in recent years, including the portal and one-time transfer rule, have complicated roster management and recruiting. There’s also the ability for athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, which was adopted last year.
Tucker said those developments have altered conversations with recruits and there’s not much he can say to them about NIL, other than letting players and parents know Michigan State provides support. He believes in adapting to the changes and thinks the effect of NIL will settle in the future while highlighting relationships built in the recruiting process.
“I see this ’23 class as being the first full, kind of like national class across the board, NIL, where there’s so many schools involved participating in some way, shape or form,” Tucker said. “We have seen some guys that have been affected by NIL and maybe promises kept or promises not kept.”
Michigan State’s rise last year under Tucker helped elevate recruiting. Although there was an obvious downturn for the team this season, he didn’t see that as a major negative in landing players.
“It’s very interesting because when you talk to the recruits and their parents and their coaches, we’ve been recruiting some of these guys for over a year so they know us and they know our program,” Tucker said. “They can see the change of events and they understand why we ended up where we were from a record standpoint. They see us as a program on the rise and they also see the opportunity to come in and have an impact right away.”
Tucker is now three seasons into his tenure leading the Spartans and just signed his third recruiting class. The first class was wildly challenging and done almost completely virtually due to the pandemic. The last two have been more conventional with the return of official visits and in-person recruiting and that leads to Tucker having a better feel for the players and the long-term stability of the program.
“It’s important for us with the portal, NIL and everything that’s going on in college football,” Tucker said, “it’s important for us to sign players who want to be Spartan dawgs, who are coming here because they want to be here and not for any other reason.”
Related Michigan State football stories:
Texas A&M DL Tunmise Adeleye transferring to Michigan State
USF RB Jaren Mangham transferring to Michigan State
Liberty DT Dre Butler transferring to Michigan State
Top JUCO OL Keyshawn Blackstock signs with Michigan State
Florida State DT transfer Jarrett Jackson commits to Michigan State