Michigan State recruiting: Spartans focus on 5-star prospects
EAST LANSING, Mich. — As recruiting coverage becomes more mainstream, every fanbase’s desire to land a five-star prospect grows more passionate. For Michigan State fans, the five-star drought has been a long one. The last 247Sports Composite, or industry average, five-star prospect to pick the Spartans was Malik McDowell in 2014, nine draft rounds ago. If McDowell being an in-state product makes that feat slightly less impressive, then one would have to go back to the early 2000s for out-of-state five-star engagements like Roland Martin and Jeff Smoker.
It looked like the end of the drought could come in the 2023 cycle, as coach Mel Tucker got several five-star prospects on campus in the spring and summer. Defensive linemen David Hicks, Jayden Wayne and Victor Burley, tackles Samson Okunlola and Francis Mauigoa and running back Rueben Owens were all five-star prospects at the time of their official or unofficial multi-day visits. All six are out-of-region prospects, making it an even more impressive feat for Tucker and his assistant coaches.
Hicks and Okunlola have always been the two most realistic candidates to pick the Spartans. Hicks’ interest stemmed from his longtime relationship with Michigan State pass rush specialist Brandon Jordan, who had trained Hicks in middle school and high school. Okunlola has MSU in his top three alongside Miami and Alabama due to the relationship he developed with offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic.
Hicks, however, appears to be heading to Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Okunlola appeared to be heading to Miami for a while, but then slowed his decision schedule, and MSU and Alabama maintained constant contact with the Massachusetts product. While it’s still possible for the Spartans to land one of those two, it’s much more likely that Tucker’s first five-star commitment will come from the recruiting class of 2024.
Let’s take a look at where the Spartans stand with each of the 2024 five-star prospects who have already visited Michigan State, in order of their 247Sports Composite rankings:
KJ Bolden is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound prospect from Buford High in Georgia. He played defensive back and wide receiver in high school, and the Spartans recruited him on offense and defense. It’s no secret that Tucker and his team like to lean heavily on Peach State after the Spartans landed seven commitments from Georgia in their 2022 cycle, more than the number of Michigan players that they signed. Staff are returning there well in 2024.
Bolden is a former teammate of real MSU freshman Malik Spencer, who will be signing the nation’s No. 3 player in droves, according to 247Sports. Bolden visited MSU for Spartan Dawg Con 2022 mega-event, when the coaches welcomed over 30 2024 rookies on the same weekend, they hosted over 200 former players for a reunion event.
Just prior to this visit, Bolden said, “I’m interested in Michigan State because of the movement Coach Tucker has brought to MSU. I love his passion and his will to win, and it shows. Coach Tucker really wants to win.
TJ Capers is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound prospect from Columbus High in Miami. The Spartans recruit him as a linebacker who can primarily play as a point rusher. Capers is the fifth prospect for 247Composite, making him the top prospect in the nation. Like Bolden, Capers visited MSU for Spartan Dawg Con.
He’s planning a return visit to Michigan State for Saturday’s game against Minnesota, and that goes along with the recent buzz that the Spartans are in a good position with Capers, as they’ve stayed in constant contact with him. since before his first visit to MSU.
Capers making his second unofficial visit to MSU just a month into his freshman year is a major indicator of his interest. Michigan State’s main competitors are Miami and Florida. That doesn’t make it any easier for the Spartans, but Tucker has secured commitments from nine Florida prospects since taking over at East Lansing.
Elijah Rushing is a 6-foot-6, 235-pound prospect from Salpointe Catholic in Tucson, Ariz., and Michigan State is signing him as an edge forward. The 247Composite ranked it third in the nation. Rushing traveled to Michigan State on July 31 for Spartan Dawg Con, citing Tucker’s energy and the coaching staff’s overall reputation as two main reasons for his interest in MSU.
He has 30 scholarship offers and the Spartans are solidly in, but his brother is a favorite in Florida. Rushing visited Gainesville earlier this year and also plans to return for a game in the fall. As a result, the Gators are probably MSU’s biggest competition early on. Since Rushing hasn’t taken many hits yet, watch for other teams entering the fold as his recruiting process unfolds.
David Stone is a 6-foot-4, 270-pound prospect who plays for IMG Academy in Florida, but hails from Oklahoma City. He is the 21st ranked prospect in the 2024 class and he is the No. 1 inside defensive lineman in the Top247. Stone also visited Michigan State for Spartan Dawg Con.
To follow up on that unofficial summer, Stone has scheduled a return visit to East Lansing for the Wisconsin game on Oct. 15. He expressed interest in MSU on social media, a trend that began shortly after 2023 four-star defensive end Bai Jobe committed to the Spartans in July.
Jobe, who is MSU’s highest-ranked non-Midwest commitment in 23 years, is good friends with Stone. The two Oklahoma products trained with Sean Cooper, the founder of C4 Training. Cooper emphasized his respect for Tucker and his staff, and he made a point of bringing his customers to East Lansing. That trend continued with the arrival of Stone on campus, along with another key prospect: 2024 four-star defensive lineman Xadavien Sims. Oklahoma and Michigan State appear to be leading for Stone and Sims.
Peyton Lumber Yard
Peyton Woodyard is a 6-foot-2, 188-pound prospect from St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Calif., and Michigan State is recruiting him as a safety. According to the 247Composite, he is the No. 2 safe in the nation and is ranked the 24th best player overall. It has 31 scholarship offers.
Notre Dame, USC and Oregon will be MSU’s biggest threats to Woodyard. Michigan State notably landed former Woodyard teammate Katin Houser, a four-star quarterback signed in 2022. Houser recruited Woodyard ahead of his April 21 visit to Michigan State.
Woodyard spoke about his thoughts on Tucker and the program after his visit to MSU: “Coach Tucker is highly respected and he really cares about the players on and off the court. He has coached championship teams and I think he can prepare me for the next level of football. I have a keen interest in their program and look forward to continuing to build a relationship.
Charles Lestre is a 2024 five-star defensive back who visited Michigan State, but hasn’t returned to campus since January. It’s unclear how much mutual interest lingers between the parties, but MSU made the Sarasota, Florida native’s top 10 in July. Michigan State’s chances with the defensive back will depend on whether he returns this fall or winter.
Samy Brown is another 2024 five-star that visited Michigan State. The Georgia linebacker was in East Lansing this summer and also made trips to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan. Although his trip is fairly recent, it’s reduced to a footnote due to Clemson and Notre Dame getting ahead of the pack. I don’t expect the Spartans to be in the thick of it at this point.
KingJoseph Edwards is the 35th ranked prospect in the 247Composite, so he just missed out on being a five-star prospect. But he is the 12th-ranked player in the Top247, which has the Georgian defensive end in line for a fifth star once 247Sports begins awarding five-star status to players ranked outside the top 10, a process that is rolling out around the end of the junior season of a recruiting class. Edwards is teammate with Bolden at Buford, and Michigan State is firmly in its top three.
Jake Merklinger is about to receive a fifth star from On3 despite not being in the five-star range according to the average industry composite. Other than that caveat, he definitely meets the notability and interest level thresholds needed to be on this list. The elite Georgia quarterback has a keen interest in Michigan State and has made four unofficial visits to East Lansing. Florida is the main competition right now.
(Mel Tucker top photo: Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)