Blake Bueter’s complex college choice came down to a simple decision: take the money or chase the dream.
The Novi Detroit Catholic Central offensive lineman from Howell followed his heart. He turned down scholarship offers to play football and instead accepted a preferred walk-on spot with Michigan State.
“It feels a lot better to know what I’m going to do next year,” Bueter said Tuesday. “My grandma and my dad went there. I was brought up a Michigan State fan. When I was a little kid, I started playing football in second grade, so it was always a dream of mine to go play football at Michigan State.”
Bueter became the third high school senior to accept a preferred walk-on spot in the Spartans’ 2017 class. It’s the same path NFL All-Pro Jack Conklin (Plainwell) and current MSU sophomore Cole Chewins (Clarkston) took in working their way to a scholarship and into the offensive line rotation.
Conklin wasn’t ranked by any of the recruiting services, did not have a Division I offer and had planned to attend Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia for prep school in 2012 when coach Mark Dantonio offered him the chance to join the Spartans as a preferred walk-on.
“Coach D invited me up in his office and said, ‘Hey, instead of going and paying at Fork Union for a semester, come here, walk on, and then if everything goes well, we’ll put you on scholarship that next semester,’ ” Conklin told the Free Press last year before the NFL draft. “I was just so happy that somebody wanted me at that point.”
The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Bueter had scholarship offers from Division I Central Michigan and Division II Grand Valley State and Ferris State, as well as interest from a number of Ivy League schools. He was a two-way starter for Catholic Central the past two years on the offensive and defensive lines, but he thinks his future will be at either guard or center for MSU.
“My main decision came between Grand Valley and Michigan State,” said Bueter, who plans to major in engineering. “Grand Valley is really good in football, and I would be able to succeed there right from the start. It was kind of that jump to Division I and just following the dream. I’m never going to know if I can do it until I actually try.”
Bueter joins 6-3, 205-pound linebacker Brent Mossburg from Airport High in Carleton and 6-1, 180-pound quarterback/safety/punter Jack Mandryk of Hudsonville as players who receive a priority spot in MSU’s program without having to go through tryouts once they arrive for classes.
Signing day is Wednesday, and the Spartans have 21 players lined up as verbal commitments. However, Dantonio’s program has turned a number of preferred walk-ons into contributors over the years alongside those scholarship players.
Some — Chewins, Matt Macksood, Brandon Sowards, Dillon Alexander among others — held key roles last season and earned scholarships. A few, such as Kyler Elsworth and Trevon Pendleton, became legends for their big-game heroics. Two others who arrived under John L. Smith, safety Travis Key and former receiver Blair White, turned themselves into college stars and NFL players under Dantonio’s watch. And, of course, there’s Conklin’s rare and well-detailed path from 0-star recruit to a first-round draft pick and All-Pro right tackle.
“They have a reputation with preferred walk-ons earning scholarships and being successful,” Bueter said. “I figured I could fit into that group and really earn that scholarship and maybe earn a start later on down the road, which would actually be the dream come true.”