Mustafa Khaleefah, Jordan Reid and Cody White shook hands, shared hugs and caught up on their lives like old friends.
In a lot of way, the three Michigan State signees already are close. They’ve been part of the same group text with each other since they committed before last summer.
They also watched the Spartans go 3-9 last season. And they all know there could be a chance for them to play immediately this fall as true freshmen.
“Everybody who goes in there has a chance to play,” White said Wednesday at the 2017 All-State Dream Team Football Awards Banquet, which is co-sponsored by the Free Press and National Football Foundation’s Michigan chapter. “But you gotta go in there and earn it. At Michigan State, they make you earn everything that you do.”
They were three of MSU’s five commitments on the Free Press All-State Dream Team. Linebacker Antjuan Simmons from Ann Arbor Pioneer could not make it, and defensive back Jack Mandryk will be a preferred walk-on for the Spartans this fall.
It’s the two offensive linemen in particular who could have the best chance to make a quick impact, which is rare for true freshmen at the major college level.
But coach Mark Dantonio and his staff showed a willingness to buck that trend in the fall, as Thiyo Lukusa worked his way into the lineup as a rookie and appeared headed toward a starting job as a sophomore. Lukusa, however, announced earlier this month that he has left MSU and football, leaving the Spartans with a vacancy at right tackle.
Reid could help alleviate that loss. The 6-foot-4, 280-pounder from Mount Clemens, who went to Detroit Cass Tech, is a physical force who offensive line coach Mark Staten said should start out on the right side. He’s already been working out with the plan MSU strength coaches sent after signing day.
“It’s go time,” Reid said. “When I sent that letter (of intent) in, I knew that it was from that point on was nothing but work. I’m definitely working on it and taking the off-season very serious to prepare myself to the best of my ability.”
Khaleefah will begin his college career at left tackle, and his 6-5, 280-pound frame looks to fit the blindspot protector position. The Dearborn High product has some veterans in front of him, namely rising sophomore Cole Chewins, but the Spartans don’t have a lot of depth right now along the line.
Khaleefah said he and Reid play “a lot of Xbox together,” and are shaping their goals for arriving this summer.
“There’s a lot of young people on the offensive line there, and I see opportunity,” Khaleefah. “If I work as hard as anybody else, I’ll have a chance to play.”
On Reid, Dantonio said: “We look for big things from him early in the process.” On Khaleefah, the 11th-year coach said: “He’s a guy that I believe will project very, very quickly in the offensive line situation as we go.”
White is a versatile, speedy 6-3, 200-pound wide receiver from Novi via Walled Lake Western. The Spartans took a number of receivers in the 2016 class and have plenty of depth there at the moment, but they continued to emphasize the position in this group. White was Mr. Football in Michigan this fall while playing eight positions, though he shined brightest by catching 102 passes for 1,853 yards and 18 touchdowns at receiver.
“They’ve got great players up there right now,” White said. “If I was gonna say I was going to go up and play right now, that would be unrealistic. But I’m gonna go up there and work and see how it goes.”
Dantonio hired White’s father, Sheldon, in July to serve as a program consultant for MSU. The elder White, who spent 19 years in the Detroit Lions organization and rose to interim general manager in 2015, believes Dantonio showed this season he’s not afraid to play true freshmen immediately. The Spartans used nine of them during the 2016 season.
“What you know about him,” Sheldon White said, “is if you’re ready and he thinks you’re ready, you’re going to go. … There’s some opportunity there.”