The Michigan State football program has experienced a great deal of success this year.
On the field, the Spartans rolled to a 13-1 record, a Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl victory. Off the field, head coach Mark Dantonio and the Spartan coaching staff brought in one of their best recruiting classes in recent memory.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi helped to aquire a wealth of talented defensive recruits, including five defensive linemen and three linebackers. Narduzzi, one of the best coordinators in the Big Ten, recently sat down with Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. to talk about the exciting prospects set to become Spartans.
Narduzzi and the defensive staff are excited to work with this next crop of Spartans, as 13 of the classâ€™ 22 recruits play defense.
â€œWeâ€™re fired up, we got some good guys and weâ€™re excited about what they bring to the table,â€ Narduzzi said. â€œWe canâ€™t wait to get our hands on them.â€
Many members of Michigan Stateâ€™s recruiting class committed early on in the process. The Spartan coaching staff brought in many of their initial targets, which is a sign of success.
â€œYou can get some good guys late, but you have to go find more and just keep digging them up,â€ Narduzzi said. â€œBut no doubt about it, we got guys who we had targeted early, thatâ€™s a tribute to our staff.â€
Perhaps the epitome of MSUâ€™s 2014 recruiting class is defensive lineman Enoch Smith Jr.
A highly touted and talented recruit, Smith brings a lot to the table. The 6â€™2, 272 pound prospect has all the tools to be successful at the collegiate level.
â€œHeâ€™s a great athlete. And besides what you see on tape, he is very intelligent,â€ Narduzzi said. â€œ[Mark] Scarpinato is one of those guys whoâ€™s very intelligent on the field. Enoch is another one of those guys who, when I sit down with him in a defensive meeting, gets it. Guys who are smart can pick up the schemes quicker and get on the field faster. I think thatâ€™s one of his big bonuses.â€
Smith officially committed to Michigan State in the spring of 2013, but many schools attempted to flip him before Signing Day. Notre Dame, Purdue, Indiana and Illinois were among the schools that pursued the youngster to no avail.
â€œHeâ€™s level-headed, heâ€™s humble and he knows what to do. Heâ€™s a great kid, we knew that last spring,â€ Narduzzi said. â€œHeâ€™s a super kid. Heâ€™s been loyal throughout this whole thing. Heâ€™s had people coming in, Notre Dame was banging his door down and he said no. Heâ€™s had everyone come through Mount Carmel High School trying to get him to flip and he didnâ€™t.â€
Smithâ€™s reaction to others schoolsâ€™ attempts to sway him impressed Narduzzi. Smith showed great maturity in staying true to his commitment and remaining a Spartan despite the temptation.
The Spartan coaching staff loves players like Smith.
â€œItâ€™s refreshing, no doubt about it. Thatâ€™s the kind of guys we want,â€ Narduzzi said. â€œIntegrity is everything. You have guys who are flipping back and forth. We had to take a guy today who wanted to come, but he wanted to take another visit, and we said, â€˜Hey, you need to sign today or youâ€™re done.â€™ That happens. And weâ€™re not going to tell you, â€˜Hey, you have one for another week,â€™ but sometimes you have to do that. Whether you have a good player or not, integrity is everything and Enochâ€™s got it.â€
Another defensive lineman that the Spartans are excited about is Craig Evans. A 6â€™1â€, 330 pound hulking monster from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Evans is a valuable recruit.
A space eater in the middle of the line, Evans will fit perfectly into Michigan Stateâ€™s defensive line.
â€œHeâ€™s a beast,â€ Narduzzi said. â€œAs I was telling someone else earlier, heâ€™s the type of guy weâ€™ve been trying to get for years here: thereâ€™s just not many of them around. If there were 15 of them, I think we would have taken all 15 of them because you canâ€™t get them. Next year you might get zero. This year, weâ€™ve tried to get that â€˜Aâ€™ list and weâ€™ve gotten a couple of guys that we really, really wanted. And itâ€™s refreshing because theyâ€™re going to have a chance to come in and be the men.â€
The Spartans also brought in several talented defensive ends. One of those young men is Montez Sweat.
A two-way player from Stone Mountain, Georgia, Sweat played tight end and defensive line at Stephenson High School. He also played basketball in high school, averaging 12 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Narduzzi was immediately impressed with Sweat.
â€œIâ€™ve watched him play basketball this year, but I went down in the spring and walked through that high school,â€ Narduzzi said. â€œThe coach threw about 45 guys at me and said, â€˜Hey, look at this guy, hey, look at this guy,â€™ as we went through the hallways. But as weâ€™re sitting there talking in the gym, the coach introduced him to me and all of a sudden, he went down and dunked and I said, â€˜Who was that? I want to know that guy.â€™ I ignored everybody else and he was the guy we targeted and liked. I saw a bunch of names but I remembered Montez when I walked out of that high school.â€
Part of the reason for the programâ€™s recruiting success is the dedicated MSU coaching staff, including defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett.
â€œHarlon is the salt of the earth. Again, I think our whole staff is,â€ Narduzzi said. â€œOur whole staff is underrated. But he does a great job with the kids, he works his tail off and they love him. We couldnâ€™t do without him, thatâ€™s for sure.â€
As Signing Day begins to fade into memory and spring ball approaches, the Spartan Nation has every right to be excited about the new crop of Spartans ready to strengthen an already powerful Michigan State defense.