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October 24, 2008 - Image 12

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48 -Football Saturday - October 24, 2008

October 24, 2008 - Football Saturday - 5B

STATE OF THE STATE
Michigan and Michigan State battle every year on the gridiron, but the programs'
competition for in-state recruits is starting to heat up.
By Dan Feldman I Daily Sports Editor

walked up to the podium for his weekly
press conference Tuesday.
"The day we've all waited for has
arrived, huh?" Dantonio said.
Michigan-Michigan State week.
Across the Great Lakes State, people will take
sides. Families, friendships and workplaces will be
divided.
But this year's game may be one of the most piv-
otal in the rivalry's history, with both programs
at a crossroads. As Dantonio and Michigan coach
Rich Rodriguez develop relationships inthe state of
Michigan, Saturday's result could have a long-term
impact on in-state recruiting.
As many steps as he has made in in-state recruit-
ing, Dantonio has yet to earn the credibility that
comes with beating Michigan. The then-unranked
Spartans nearly beat the Wolverines in Danto-
nio's first matchup lastyear. Michigan State led
by 10 with seven minutes left but fell to then-No.
15 Michigan, 28-24 - its sixth straight loss to the
Wolverines.
Several Wolverines held a moment of silence at
midfield of Spartan Stadium after the game. And
Michigan running back Mike Hart rubbed in the
Wolverines' dominance over the Spartans in the
postgame press conference.
"I was just laughing," Hart said. "I thought it was
funny. They got excited. Sometimes you get your
little brother excited when you're playing basketball
and you let him get the lead. Then you just come and
take it back."
In his press conference the following Monday, a
visibly agitated Dantonio fired back about Michi-
gan's postgame antics.
"They need to check themselves sometimes,"
Dantonio said. "Just remember, pride comes before
the fall"
A lot of Dantonio's frustration can probably be
attributed to the importance of the rivalry.
"All across Michigan, people are choosing sides as
they grow up," Dantonio said at Big Ten Media Days
in July. "They just are. It's just a fact."
Saturday's game could have big impact on which
side Michiganders pick.
The traditional power, the Wolverines, are 2-5.
The Spartans, who have seemingly been up and
down forever, are 6-2.
Saturday will mark just the ninth time in 101
meetings Michigan will enter the game with more
losses than Michigan State. Although he Wolverines
won five of the eight such games already played,
they've never had three more losses.
Dantonio has made no secret about the impor-
tance of his team's rivalry with the Wolverines.
Shortly after Michigan State hired him last year,
Dantonio installed a clock at the Michigan State
football facility counting down to the Michigan
game.
"There's a measuringstick there, and we want to
measure up," Dantonio said.
THE PRESENT
Thomas Gordon, a senior quarterback and safety
at Detroit Cass Tech High school, said last summer
he would accept a scholarship offer if the Wolver-

ines offered him, calling Michigan his "dream."
But when the offer to play for the Wolverines
came in September, Gordon waffled. Michigan
State had offered a scholarship first, and that
meant alot to Gordon, ranked a three-star athlete
by rivals.com.
Still, Gordon chose Michigan over the Spartans
in late September. He described what came to mind
when he though of each program.
Michigan: "winged helmets."
Michigan State: "hard work."
For years, the Wolverines could stockpile local
talent because they were the only consistently suc-
cessful team in the state.
But Dantonio's aggressive in-state recruiting has
given players like Austin Gray, a junior linebacker
at Warren Fitzgerald High School who has drawn
interest from Michigan and Michigan State, a viable
alternative to the Wolverines. Gray describes him-
self as laid-back, which doesn't exactly mesh with
his image of Michigan.
"A lot of tradition, alot of tradition," Gray said.
"It's kind of intimidating actually when you start
thinking about it because some of their ways, they're
so set in."
Hart's "little brother" comments cast the Spar-
tans in a negative light, but they also gave Dantonio
a chip on his shoulder. In emphasizing his displea-
sure for Hart, Dantonio has set Michigan State up as
foil to Michigan.
"By Rich coming from West Virginia with a new
staff, it kind of opened the door," Oak Park High
School coach Timothy Hopkins said. "But you need
the right kind of coach to take advantage of that
vacuum."
In addition clearly displaying his disdain for the
Wolverines, Dantonio had the right qualifications to
take control of the state.
Entering this season, the Michigan State coaching
staff had 30 combined years of coaching and playing
college football in Michigan. It seems almost every
high school coach has a good relationship with Spar-
tan running backs coach Dan Enos. Every coach had
at least one year of experience in the state, and Dan-
tonio has seven after serving as a Spartan assistant
from 1995 to 2000.
The Wolverine coaches had 21 years of in-state
experience, but 16 of those came from running backs
coach Fred Jackson, the only holdover from Lloyd
Carr's staff. And he primarily recruited the South
under Carr. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez had
never coached in the state before.
Each year from 2002 to 2005, the Wolverines
signed a higher percentage of their recruits from the
state of Michigan than the Spartans. But Dantonio
has changed that.
Dantonio and his predecessor, John L. Smith, put
together a class that had a slightly higher percentage
of in-state players than Michigan's in 2006. In 2007,
Dantonio's first full class, 13 of Michigan State's 21
recruits were in-state. It was the only class for either
school since 2002 that featured a majority of in-state
recruits, but it probably won't be the only one for
long. Of the 16 verbal commitments rivals.com has
listed for the Spartans' 2009 class, nine are from
Michigan.
Unlike Smith, Dantonio has emphasized recruit-

ing in the state, especially in Detroit. The six high- in 2004 and coached there for three years. The
est-rated in-state recruits who have committed to Bearcats played Rodriguez-led West Virginia teams
either Michigan or Michigan State in the 2009 class twice. The Mountaineers won both games - 38-0 in
chose the Spartans. 2005 and 42-24 in 2006.
Even though many expect Cass Tech senior During that period, the two coaches also com-
lineman William Campbell, the highest-rated peted in recruiting.
recruit in the state, to commit to Michigan, Rodri- In the time Dantonio was at Cincinnati and
guez hasn't shown a similar commitment to in- Rodriguez was at West Virginia, nine recruits com-
state recruiting to this point. The 10 recruits who mitted to one of those schools and had interest in the
committed in the class of 2008 after Rodriguez other, according to rivals.com. Eight of them picked
was hired were all from out of state. And just two the Mountaineers.
of the Wolverines' 17 verbal commitments in their Dantonio was at a disadvantage for much of that
2009 class are from Michigan - Gordon and his time. Cincinnati didn't join the Big East until the
teammate, running back Teric Jones. 005 season, having previously played in the less-
"To me, being a prospect from Michigan, it prestigous Conference USA.
sort of feels like Michigan is being disrespectful He faces a similar disadvantage now. Even though
toward the recruits in this state by going outside Michigan and Michigan State are both in the Big
the state," Reid Fragel, a senior tight end from Ten, the Wolverines enjoy a much higher profile.
Grosse Pointe South High School who's commit- "State's never really recruited itself, and U of M -
ted to Ohio State, told The Columbus Dispatch. it's U of M," Gray said.
"I've heard some things saying they might be And that advantage isn't going away anytime
looking to the South more, while Michigan State soon.
is looking in-state. I think that's really benefiting "You bring a recruit to the Big House and put him
(the Spartans), with their recruiting class this at the SO-yard line with over 100,000 people in the
year especially." place and the traditions that's there and how they do
Edwin Baker, a senior running back from Oak things - it's pretty impressive," said Livonia Clar-
Park High School who's committed to Michigan enceville High School coach Ryan Irish said.
State, agrees.
"Michigan is not looking in-state," said Baker, THE FUTURE
rivals.com's No. 2 in-state prospect. "They want to As the Wolverines warmed up for their practice
go down South and get away from (Michigan), and Wednesday, Rodriguez paced between the lines of
that's going to pull all the talent toward Michigan his players and warned them about what was loom-
State's way." ing.
Hopkins would like to see both teams heavily "Big, bad Michigan State," he said. "Big, bad Spar-
recruit in-state. ties."
"Kids grew up - they grew up wanting to be He was talking about Saturday's game, but
a Spartan, they grew up wanting to be a Wolver- Michigan State is obviously becoming a challenge in
ine," Hopkins said. "To take care of that lineage recruiting, too.
and history, make sure that you don't forget about But does it matter?
where your bread is buttered." Michigan's 2009 class is still ranked higher than
Rivals.com's recruiting rankings go back to the Spartans'. And if the Wolverines are successful,
2002. In that time, Michigan's class has been fans probably won't care where their players are
rated higher than Michigan State's every year, by from, especially considering Michigan has a national
an average of more than 27 spots, in the national fanbase. But to some in-state fans, local talent helps
rankings. establish a connection.
But for the yet-to-be signed 2009 class, the Wol- "One thingI've always liked about Michigan State
verines rank 11th and the Spartans are 13th. If those is I can go on their roster and look at, 'OK, I know
rankings hold, itwill mark the closest Michigan that kid, that kid, that kid, that kid' just because
State has come to Michigan and the highest rank- they've played at certain schools in the state," Irish
ings the Spartans have earned nationally since the said. "They have more homegrown kids than what
start of those rankings. the University of Michigan has."
"The winds of change are coming," Hopkins said. With their high exposure, the Wolverines have
an easier time recruitingonationally. And Rodriguez
THE PAST plans to take advantage.
Rodriguez and Dantonio have very different per- "I think wherever you coach, you don't specifi-
sonalities. cally say, 'Well, I'm in this state soI recruit this
Dantonio often speaks with the same tone. Rodri- guy,' " Rodriguez said. "We try to get the best qual-
guez changes his inflection like a professional sto- ity student-athletes we can. If you're in a state or
ryteller. area where you're surrounded by more, like when
The closed-off Dantonio doesn't give injury we're in an area surrounded by more than I was at
updates. Rodriguez freely discusses his players' West Virginia because of population, then that's a
health. bonus."
Frankly, Dantonio is plain and Rodriguez is inter- There's definitely a perception that players from
esting - at least publicly. Michigan are good fits for Michigan State's power
Saturday will not be the first time the two have schemes. But many think Rodriguez will have
gone against each other on the field. to look out of state for players that fit his spread
Dantonio became the head coach at Cincinnati offense.

"If they want speed - OK, Florida, down South,
Texas - that's the areas where a majority of the
speed comes from comes from in college football,"
Irish said.
But not everybody agrees.
"I just find it hard to believe our kids are slower
than kids down South," Grosse Pointe South High
School coach Tim Brandon said. "I mean, kids are
kids."
Rodriguez's in-state recruitingmay pick up once
he settles in and begins to make the connections
with high school coaches Dantonio has a head start
in developing.
Donald Spencer, a rivals.com four-star wide
receiver from Ypsilanti High School who's commit-
ted to Michigan State, thinks it important Rodriguez
makes that jump.
"You've got the pride of, 'This is Michigan. This
is my state. I'm playing for a Michigan college, a Big
Ten Michigan college,' Spencer said. "It's a lot of
pride. It's more than just Michigan State. It's like,
'This is my home. This is the state I was born and
lived at."
Michigan junior defensive end Brandon Graham,
a Detroit native, grew up rooting for Michigan.
Although Hart hadn't made his little brother"
remark yet, Graham said it summed up his feelings
for the Spartans when they were recruiting him.
Graham was offeredby both Michigan and Michi-
'gan State, but he had no doubt about what he would
do.
"Michigan was always my childhood dream,"
Graham said. "My dad, my mom, they grew up
Michigan fans, so that's all I've known. When they
came knocking at the door, I was just proud that .
everything was coming true."
Nick Hill, a junior running back at Chelsea
High School, also grew up a Michigan fan and
wasn't too fond of the Spartans. Both schools have
shown an interest in him, and he sees Michigan
State moving toward turning the tables on the
Wolverines and is by no means the Michigan lock
Graham was.
"Without a doubt," Hill said. "I'm going to give
everybody a fair shot of who I'm looking at."
SATURDAY
The Wolverines say they're playing for their
"state championship" Saturday, and a crowd that's
still playing for actual state championships will be
watching.
Eight official visitors and more than 24 unofficial
visitors, many from the state, will attend Saturday's
game, according to the Detroit Free Press. And all
across the state of Michigan, potential future Wol-
verines and Spartans will be watching.
"Michigan State doesn't consider themselves to
be the little brother anymore," Hopkins said. "But
until you get in there and beat big brother and com-
mand the respect from bigbrother, bigbrother's still
going to assume that, no matter what happens, we
can beat you.
"The plots and subplots and the dramas that's
going to unfold with this game coming up this
weekend are going to be great because Mark has
everything to gain and Rich has everything to lose
in-state - just on one game."

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