| Detroit Free Press
Mel Tucker on Michigan State football 2021 recruiting class, transfers
Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker added 3-star WR Keon Coleman on Feb. 3, bringing his 2021 class to 19 players along with five transfers.
Michigan State athletics
The two Texas high school football stars live less than an hour from each other, so they would meet up together during the COVID-19 shutdowns this spring and summer. Fay, a quarterback, would throw to Allen, a tight end, with visions of taking that work to East Lansing in January.
Now, the early enrolled freshmen live just down the hallway on campus, going through the Spartans’ winter conditioning and getting to work on their timing inside MSU’s indoor practice facility.
“We both work out together,” Fay said Wednesday. “We’re part of the same lifting group, so we’re at the same rack. We spend a lot of time just motivating each other.”
Fay got to see MSU and meet Mel Tucker and the new coaching staff last winter before the COVID-19 shutdown of college sports and recruiting. Allen did not make an official visit, committing to Tucker in April four days after his future quarterback.
Allen had not even met his head coach in person until he arrived last month.
“It was kind of different. It definitely impacted recruiting,” Allen said. “I started getting recruited by Michigan State in March, and that was right at the COVID breakout — that’s when all the things really got closed. At this point, we didn’t know how long it was going to be closed. …
“You can’t BS with anybody that you want to go to because the opportunity can close just like that. I knew that I wanted to go to Michigan State, that’s where I wanted to be, so I wasn’t going to waste any time trying to hold out for any offers or see if I can get on campus or any of that. I knew that was where I wanted to be.”
Tucker so far has assembled a 19-player traditional recruiting class plus a six-player haul from the NCAA’s portal. Fay and Allen are among the four high school and five transfers who are working out and preparing for Tucker’s first Spartans spring practice, which was wiped out last March by the pandemic that arrived a month after his hiring.
“We’re in a dead period in recruiting, so we can’t host recruits on campus, we can’t leave campus to recruit,” Tucker said Wednesday. “Some of these guys, when they reported midyear and they checked into the dorms, when I met them, that was the first time I met them face to face.
“It’s a challenge to recruit during this COVID time now.”
Fay said the timing of his visit last March, days before the pandemic led to the NCAA closing down in-person recruiting, became “a blessing from God.”
“With the whole COVID and the virtual thing, it is definitely unfortunate that a lot of players haven’t been able to go on visits and stuff,” Fay said. “I think that does play a really big part, because you want to see what it feels like… the people, you wanna see the facilities. I was able to see that. Some of the other commits and signees will ask me, ‘Hey, what did you think of this or that?’ And I can give them an honest opinion and saying, ‘Hey man, the facilities are unbelievable. It’s everything you ever need.’”
Neither Fay nor Allen were prepared for the snow and cold when they arrived last month, each saying getting used to a mid-Michigan January was the biggest adjustment. But Allen’s arrival also made him realize the distance that is now between him and his family back in Forney, Texas.
“It probably hit me the moment my parents said goodbye and they were going back,” Allen said. “That was probably the moment it hit me that I’m out here on my own, and I have to be responsible and do what I need to do in order… to be able to come back.”
Tucker said enrolling early for Fay, Allen and safety Michael Gravely Jr. from Cleveland will help them “get a leg up” on their classmates who will arrive this summer and fall. The fourth midyear freshman, offensive lineman Ethan Boyd, doesn’t have quite the adjustment to make to town — he’s from East Lansing — but all four must adapt to the speed and demands of next-level workouts, playbooks and film study on top of the college classes and academic requirements. And they also will take part in the Spartans’ 15 spring practices after winter conditioning.
“It helps quite a bit,” Tucker said. “You get a chance to learn the playbook. You get a chance to get to know the staff, get indoctrinated to the strength and conditioning program and also nutrition. And academically, you get a chance to get your feet on the ground, and it’s an opportunity to get off to a great start academically without the pressures of having to play a game.”
It is different for the five veterans who transferred to MSU: defensive back Kendall Brooks (Division II North Greenville in South Carolina), defensive end Drew Jordan (Duke), quarterback Anthony Russo (Temple), offensive lineman Jarrett Horst (Arkansas State) and running back Kenneth Williams III (Wake Forest). They already know what balancing studies with football looks like in college.
Thanks to an NCAA blanket transfer eligibility waiver due to COVID-19, all of them will be able to play for MSU immediately.
“I think it’s important, and it helps,” Tucker said. “When you’re looking for immediate impact players, we take that into consideration. I think players also take that into consideration when they decide to go in the portal.”
Tucker’s first season started late. He was hired Feb. 12, 2020, eight days after Mark Dantonio’s retirement and typically two to three months later than most Power Five jobs get filled. Then came the NCAA’s shutdown exactly a month after Tucker took over, wiping out his spring workouts. Add in a COVID-19 shutdown in late July and the Big Ten’s postponement then resumption of the season in the fall.
The Spartans went 2-5, with two games against Maryland scratched. But Tucker says playing in the fall was worth it.
“We found out a lot about our team,” he said. “COVID was a challenge for all of us. We were very fortunate to be able to practice and to play. I said that every single week during the season, because we wanted to coach and we wanted to play. And we were able to get that done, and we were able to do that in a safe manner.
“So, from my point of view, it was very productive, and we got a lot out of it.”
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