Michigan State, Notre Dame battling for recruits in Midwest

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

With Ohio State fresh off its national championship and Michigan honeymooning with new head coach Jim Harbaugh, laudatory offseason headlines are hard to come by for the Michigan State football program.

Yet no team in the country may be on a hotter recruiting streak than coach Mark Dantonio’s. The Spartans are grabbing early verbal commitments from all over the Midwest and beating out strong competition.

The latest commitment came Friday, when three-star safety Kenney Lyke chose Michigan State over Notre Dame, Baylor and Oregon. Lyke, from Palatine (Ill.) Fremd High, was the 10th commitment for the Spartans in the past five weeks, and likely won’t be the last prospect to pick Michigan State over Notre Dame.

Four-star defensive ends Josh King and Auston Robertson are set to make commitments in early June. Both have Notre Dame as one of their top schools, but many expect Michigan State to be their ultimate destination. Robertson said Friday he plans to be visit Notre Dame next week.

247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong credits Michigan State’s consistent run of success on the field (four seasons of a least 11 wins in the last five) and in the NFL Draft (two first-round picks in the last two drafts) as crucial parts of the Spartan recruiting pitch.

“They’ve become a household name program for kids,” Wiltfong said. “A lot of these high school football players aren’t historians, so their point of reference goes back four or five years, if that. Michigan State’s been good for as long as they’ve been paying attention to college football. On top of that, Michigan State is also sending kids into the draft, and (they're) getting drafted in the first round.”

The recruiting momentum builds on itself as more players join the class and start recruiting others. Michigan State’s class has been active on social media in trying to get top prospects to join them. But the Spartans will be challenged to keep their commitments.

In the past week, Notre Dame extended offers to a pair of MSU commits: cornerback Austin Andrews of Columbus (Ohio) St. Francis DeSales and safety Jonah Morris of Akron (Ohio) Archbishop Hoban. Both are three-star prospects who may have been under-recruited, but the Spartans didn’t hesitate in targeting them and adding them to their class.

A delayed offer may have hurt Notre Dame in the recruitment of Lyke. He visited South Bend in March, but left campus without an offer. He eventually landed an Irish offer in early May. Michigan State offered Lyke back in February.

The Irish and others will test the strength of some Spartan commitments. The timing might not be a coincidence, but most importantly they are players who could fit at Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame is offering those guys, because they’re good players and guys that can help Notre Dame,” Wiltfong said. “It’s a long way until signing day, and they’re going to extend a scholarship offer to a kid and see what happens.”

Flipping commitments has become an annual occurrence for the Irish. Six of Notre Dame’s incoming freshmen were committed to another school before signing with the Irish. Two of those flips came from Penn State — linebacker Josh Barajas and quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Michigan State could be the 2016 cycle’s recruiting rivalry for Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame has a lot to sell also,” Wiltfong said. “It’s not like they don’t have stuff to sell with the graduation rate, the tradition of playing at Notre Dame. Notre Dame’s certainly put guys in the league, too. They played in the national championship game a few years ago. It’s not like Notre Dame is selling chopped liver. It just so happens that Michigan State has a very exciting product to sell now, too, and five or six years ago it didn’t.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Mark Dantonio's Michigan State program is hot on the recruiting trail. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)