Michigan State lost out to Michigan on a number of the state’s best players. So Mark Dantonio ventured into Ann Arbor to deliver a top recruit to East Lansing.
Linebacker Antjuan Simmons announced his commitment to the Spartans on Saturday in Farmington, giving Dantonio his 18th player for the 2017 recruiting class.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior from Ann Arbor Pioneer had previously committed to Ohio State before reopening his recruitment last month. Simmons is ranked eighth in the state and the nation’s 20th outside linebacker prospect according to 247Sports.com. The four-star recruit picked MSU over Notre Dame, Arizona and the Buckeyes, among others.
“It was never like a pitch. It was just a right fit,” Simmons said Saturday about the Spartans’ staff. “They weren’t trying to sell anything to me like, ‘Oh, this is where you need to be,’ or anything like that. It was just, ‘This is us, this is what we do.’ And I fit in it.”
A two-time Free Press Dream Team member (linebacker in 2016, running back in 2015), Simmons ran for 1,112 yards on 148 carries for 18 touchdowns and added seven catches for 72 yards for Pioneer in 2015. He had 73 rushes for 433 yards and two TDs in 2016.
At linebacker last season, he tallied 73 tackles (43 solo, three for loss), two interceptions and blocked two field goals. In 2015, he had 65 tackles, eight for loss, and one forced fumble.
Dantonio made a visit Thursday to Pioneer to seal the deal with Simmons, who said the head coach and a number of his assistants all recruited him to play outside linebacker. One of the big reasons he said he picked the school over Notre Dame is because MSU offers both special education and kinesiology as majors, two areas he wants to pursue after graduation.
Simmons plans to make another visit to MSU on Jan. 29, when the Spartans play Michigan in basketball, and said staying close to home was important.
“It’s a lot more than what people thought,” Simmons said. “I took a visit out to Arizona, and there’s like no Midwest guys, maybe two. I kind of didn’t know anybody. Plus, my mom and my family want to be able to come to my games. If I was over on the West Coast, they would only come to like one game a year and that’s it.”
Simmons is the second player to commit to the Spartans since their 3-9 season began. Dantonio said in mid-December, after athlete Connor Heyward’s commitment, that MSU planned to add between four and seven more recruits to this year’s class.
The Spartans’ nosedive from the 2016 College Football Playoffs did not dissuade Simmons from choosing MSU, he said.
“Of course, it’s tough to see, being a home guy and seeing the home team struggle a little bit,” Simmons said. “But over the past five, six years, he’s won like 55 to 60 game, so it’s nothing to worry about.”
Rison, at No. 10, is the only other Spartan recruit in the top 10 of 247Sports.com’s in-state rankings. The Wolverines have landed seven of the 10 best in the state.
MSU did lose out on two recruiting targets on Saturday when wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey (Bishop Gorman High, Las Vegas) picked Nebraska and athlete Lynn Bowden Warren G. Harding High, Youngstown, Ohio) chose Kentucky.
MSU CLASS OF 2017
Here are the Spartans’ 18 committed players for their 2017 recruiting class.
Weston Bridges, RB, 6-1, 200, Akron, Ohio (Copley High)
*Jack Camper, TE, 6-4, 225, Bradenton, Florida (IMG Academy)
Matt Carrick, OL, 6-4, 320, Massillon, Ohio (Washington High)
Darien Clemons, ATH, 6-1, 210, Piqua, Ohio
Matt Dotson, TE, 6-5, 226, Cincinnati (Archbishop Moeller)
Connor Heyward, ATH, 6-1, 200, Suwanee, Georgia (Peachtree Ridge High)
Kevin Jarvis, OL, 6-5, 315, Park Ridge, Illinois (Maine South High)
Mustafa Khaleefah, OL, 6-6, 285, Dearborn
Rocky Lombardi, QB, 6-3, 220, West Des Moines, Iowa (Valley High)
Dominique Long, DB, 6-2, 185, Westerville, Ohio (Westerville South High)
Jacub Panasiuk, DE, 6-4, 260, Roselle, Illinois (Lake Park High)
Lashawn Paulino-Bell, DE, 6-3, 230, Fort Lauderdale, Florida (St. Thomas Aquinas)
Jordan Reid, OL, 6-4, 284, Detroit (Cass Tech)
* Hunter Rison, WR, 5-11, 190, Ann Arbor Skyline
* Josiah Scott, DB, 5-10, 165, Fairfield, Ohio
Antjuan Simmons, LB, 6-1, 215, Ann Arbor Pioneer
Cody White, WR, 6-3, 190, Walled Lake Western
Donovan Winter, DE, 6-4, 240, Orlando, Florida (Bishop Moore Catholic)
* Already enrolled at MSU