EAST LANSING – Imagine the impact on football recruits if they were allowed to take the traditional game-day walk with Michigan State players and coaches, from Kellogg Center to Spartan Stadium, stopping to pitch a penny at the Spartan statue for good luck and entering the tunnel with screaming fans on both sides.
That’s not allowed by NCAA rules. But MSU can walk a group of recruits over before the team, giving them the full experience and access to the stadium before it starts to fill in advance of Saturday’s monster game between No. 5 MSU and No. 7 Oregon — then allowing them to watch the team do its pregame walk of the field.
And MSU can bring the early arrivers to ESPN’s GameDay set, and to hang out at the Breslin Center with Tom Izzo, a throng of MSU basketball targets and former MSU basketball stars such as Draymond Green and Steve Smith. And there can be facility tours and hype videos for recruits to watch, a wing-eating contest and video games in the MSU players lounge, meetings with MSU’s training and academic staff and three game tickets per recruit — that’s what the NCAA allows on unofficial visits.
MSU coaches and officials can’t talk about specific recruits, but director of college advancement and performance Curtis Blackwell — the football program’s recruiting strategist — can confirm that about 200 targeted prospects from several classes and 10 states will be on hand this weekend. And more could confirm as the week progresses.
“I may have to turn my phone off,” Blackwell joked. “This will be special, a surreal experience. A day in the life of a Spartan. This is the biggest recruiting event in the history of Michigan State football.”
And it’s a biggie for Izzo’s basketball program, along with other MSU coaches who will bring prospects to the game and the recruiting room on the north end of Spartan Stadium.
Izzo will have the top two remaining targets for his class of 2016 on official visits, point guard Cassius Winston of U-D-Jesuit High and small forward Miles Bridges of Huntington (W. Va.) Prep, a Flint native and a player most analysts expect to pick MSU or Kentucky. Winston has been considered an MSU-Michigan battle.
The class of 2016’s top-ranked recruit, Josh Jackson of Napa (Calif.) Prolific Prep via Detroit, has not made plans to follow up on an earlier visit to East Lansing, but several younger prospects have said they will attend — including 2017 forward Brian Bowen (La Lumiere, Ind., formerly of Saginaw Arthur Hill), 2017 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central forward Xavier Tillman and 2018 Belleville shooting guard Davion Williams.
It’s also the program’s alumni weekend, with former stars such as Green, Smith, Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, Travis Trice and others expected back. And MSU’s renovated Berkowitz Basketball Complex will be ready for a tailgate. Night games allow enough time for visiting recruits to play pickup ball with the current MSU players in the morning.
“I think it’s a great weekend for all of us — for Michigan State, period,” said Izzo, who likes to sit with recruits in the student section during football games. “That’s why it’s so important when football and basketball are good, because it kind of brings everybody together. … We’ll go over (to the stadium), tour our locker room. May get a recruit or two into the pregame talk, you never know.”
The football team also has official visitors on hand — official visits are fully paid for by schools — including top 2016 targets in receiver Donnie Corley (Detroit King) and offensive lineman E.J. Price of Lawrenceville, Ga., who has family in Grand Rapids and offers from virtually every major program in the country.
Three 2016 verbal commitments for a class currently ranked in the top 10 will be on official visits — running back Abdul Adams (Durham, N.C.), receiver Cam Chambers (Sicklerville, N.J.) and linebacker Joe Bachie (Berea, Ohio) — and the most of the rest of the class has announced plans to attend.
And the list of high-profile visitors from younger classes who have made public plans to be in East Lansing is sprawling. It includes 2017 athlete Jamyest Williams of Lawrenceville, Ga., who like his teammate Price has offers from just about everyone; 2017 quarterback Chase Brice of Loganville, Ga.; and 2017 athlete Brendon White — son of former Lions safety William White — of Powell, Ohio.
It includes 2018 running back Jaelen Gill of Westerville, Ohio, an early MSU-Ohio State battle, and 2019 Southfield quarterback Sam Johnson, already a prospect with ample attention.
Blackwell said he pushed for MSU to “put all its eggs in one basket” for a weekend like this. This is technically the second part of a yearlong push MSU is calling “Spartan 300,” which started with recruits visiting MSU’s first day of camp. An MSU basketball game, the 2016 spring game and a one-day camp next June also will be included.
This is the big one, though. And it’s designed more for a long-term impression than for instant verbal commitments.
“We’re trying to position ourselves for the future,” Blackwell said. “The best recruiting presentation is the product, in person.”
Up next for MSU
Matchup: No. 7 Oregon (1-0) at No. 5 Michigan State (1-0)
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing.
TV: ABC (Channel 7 in Detroit).
Line: MSU by 31/2.
This will be the sixth meeting between Michigan State and Oregon. The first five (all won by the home team):
1979: MSU won, 41-17, as Derek Hughes scored three times.
1980: Oregon won, 35-7, as the Ducks led in total yards, 474-137.
1998: Oregon won, 48-14, behind four Akili Smith TD passes.
1999: MSU won, 27-20, behind Amp Campbell’s fumble return for a touchdown.
2014: Oregon won, 46-27, led by Marcus Mariota’s 318 yards and three touchdowns.