When a program like Michigan State has the success that it has had and maintained, there are big reasons. Obviously it is about great players and Mark Dantonio has made a living on recruiting character, but there is more.
When Dantonio arrived, at some positions if you could put steam on a mirror you could play. I even had one coach on his staff tell me at the time, “If you can play a football video game we might use ya.” As Dantonio’s success on the field and in recruiting continues to reach high levels, Dantonio is getting hammered in recruiting. There are good players, players who will play in the NFL, that aren’t seeing the field until late in their career for any prolonged amount of time.
While that is a good problem, it doesn’t mean when a millennial hears another coach tell him ‘come here and play now,’ and Dantonio says, “Come here and compete, but remember you might have to wait your turn behind a guy who has been here four, three and two years in the weight room anticipating their shot.” So how does Dantonio deal with this emerging and real problem?
The biggest criticism that Dantonio is now getting hammered on in recruiting is the depth and talent of his roster. Take a second and really think about that Spartan Nation.
I asked Dantonio about that. Can he point to the success of a player like Donavon Clark whoplayed sparingly until late in his career, but still got drafted?
“Well, I think if you have success, if your football team has success, you're going to get looked at. Obviously everybody gets looked at. It's extremely competitive out there. But when you have an opportunity to play and you have a lot of film, you get thoroughly evaluated. I think the key thing is get on the field, keep working, but Donavon started as a redshirt freshman for us at times throughout that -- I guess it would have been the 2012 season. So he's got a history with us. He's played a lot of football, and he understands the game at a high level.”
Another big deal that helps Dantonio is pro day. When nearly all of the NFL shows up to see the MSU players work out before the draft on campus, Dantonio encourages his younger players to come watch.
He said of pro day being so significant to his younger players that, “Well, I think when our guys come and they see our players and they know that they're -- they know how successful they've been both as a team and individually, and then they watch the draft and see how competitive it is, I think it sends a number of messages to them. Nothing is guaranteed, never forget where you came from, and continue to work hard. Your next play is the most important play. If we can just keep those things in mind as we move forward, we're going to continue to have success.”
So while Dantonio has the Spartans at a new level, he faces tough criticism for his depth chart and roster. One recruit recently was told by another Big Ten school that, “Mark (Dantonio) is a good man and that is a good school, but look at their roster. Where will you play before your junior year? They don’t need you. We do,” according to the recruit who shared that story on the condition of anonymity.
Dantonio simply points to the NFL. Both the success of the teams keeping a keen eye on pro day and by the fact that you might not play as much, but when you do people will see it. Think back before Dantonio came to MSU. A player with pro potential would have never sat the bench. Now they don’t have to be potential to sit, they can be solid prospects who will reach the league like Clark, but have to sit and wait.
Dantonio’s commitment to the process and doing things the right way is working. For a young man with eyes on the NFL, MSU is a great place to be. Nothing is given, but everything is earned. Like real pros like it.