Shields Raised: The Phenomenal Football Class of 2010

Commentary on MSU's football recruiting often notes that Mark Dantonio is one of the best in the country at outperforming the supposed 'talent level' of his roster, according to the recruiting services. That, combined with the team's history of players finding success after position switches and/or years of waiting their turn, has earned Dantonio his reputation as an unparalleled developer of talent. Let's take a look at the class which just sent the last of its members off with a Cotton Bowl win.

DE William Gholston, Southeastern, Detroit, MI, Rivals and 247 5*, ESPN 4*

The crown jewel of the class, Gholston was Mark Dantonio's first major recruiting triumph. He mostly lived up to his hype, playing a rotational role as a freshman before suffering a shoulder injury. As a sophomore, he was named second-team All B1G by the coaches and media, and in a 2-game stretch against Nebraska and Minnesota, he racked 29 tackles (an absurd accomplishment for a defensive lineman). His junior year, he again made second-team All B1G from the media and honorable mention from the coaches. He declared for the NFL draft after the 2012 season, went to Tampa Bay in the 4th round, and has since worked his way into the starting lineup.

ILB Max Bullough, St. Francis, Traverse City, MI, consensus 4*

The latest scion of MSU's first family in football needs no introduction, but I'll do it anyway. Bullough skipped the redshirt and backed up Greg Jones at MLB as a freshman, and then spent 3 years as the playcaller and on-field mastermind of the best defensive stretch in school history. Although he's not generally thought of as a stat-stuffer, he finished his career 11th in MSU history for TFLs and 18th for total tackles. He was a first team All B1G selection by both coaches and media as a junior and senior, and was a third-team AP All-American as a senior as well. Despite playing such an enormous role in leading the team to the promised land, Max never set foot in it, as he was suspended for the Rose Bowl as a senior. He went undrafted, got a free-agent deal with the Houston Texans, and then spent most of the 2014 season on their practice squad; as of this post, he is listed on their active roster.

OL Skyler Schofner (aka Burkland), Big Walnut, Sunbury, OH, Rivals and 247 4*, ESPN 3*

As is typical, Burkland started his OL career with a redshirt. He was pressed into action as a redshirt freshman in 2011, but was lost for the season against Notre Dame to a certain vengeful, now-extinct deity. In 2012, he returned as the starting right tackle, this time as one of the few survivors of said deity. He showed signs of major progress on the field, but following the 2012 season, Burkland was forced to retire from football due to many, many injuries (I think he said it was something on the order of 5 concussions and 10 surgeries). His Twitter feed indicates he graduated this winter.

DB Mylan Hicks, Renaissance, Detroit, MI, 247 4*, Rivals and ESPN 3*

Listed as a cornerback by the services that get that specific, Hicks redshirted his first year on campus, was injured for most of his second, and spent most of his redshirt sophomore and junior seasons on special teams as a reserve safety. Then, he seized his opportunity, becoming the pass-down STAR LB in a timeshare with Darien Harris. He then missed four games due to a broken arm, but returned to finish the season. Hicks ended the year listed as a co-starter, quite a nice rise from relative obscurity. He graduated in August 2014, and though he would be a longshot for a shot at the NFL, his history suggests he won't give up easily.

DB Isaiah Lewis, Ben Davis, Indianapolis, IN, 247 and Rivals 4*, ESPN 3*

Similar to Max Bullough, Lewis played as a true freshman in a combination of special teams and reserve snaps behind an established senior starter (Trenton Robinson), as well as playing some nickel. He took over the starting SS job as a sophomore and held it for three years, and was named second team All-B1G by both coaches and media as a sophomore, honorable mention by both as a junior, and first team by the coaches as a senior. He was slowed somewhat as a senior by offseason knee surgery, but his finest performance may have been the 2013 CCG against OSU, in which he notched 13 tackles. Lewis signed a UDFA deal with the Cincinnati Bengals but did not make the roster. He was recently signed to a futures contract by the Steelers, who could be looking for a Troy Polamalu replacement in the near future.

QB Joe Boisture, Saline, Saline, MI, Rivals 4*, ESPN and 247 3*

Joe is one of the more unusual stories of this class. After his redshirt season, he transferred, and at the time it appeared he might be retiring from football due to back injuries. He then transferred to Saginaw Valley, where it appears his playing career has continued. The most recent article I found on him indicated that last spring, he was part of a 3-man QB competition for the Cardinals. When he transferred, the QB depth chart at MSU had Kirk Cousins as the entrenched senior starter and Andrew Maxwell as a redshirt sophomore-to-be. He has stated he intends to join the Michigan State Police when his eligibility at SVSU is up.

ATH Keith Mumphrey, Dooly County, Vienna, GA, consensus 3*

Mumphrey's first two years on campus were spent redshirting and on special teams, behind the lethal triad of B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, and Keith Nichol. He got his opportunity with the Great Passing Game Turnover of 2012, and despite the massive struggles the receivers as a whole had that season, Mumphrey led the team in receptions as a sophomore. He settled into more of a complementary role alongside Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett, but made a number of big-play catches in his career; a 72-yard TD in the CCG win over OSU and the game-winning TD catch in the Cotton Bowl come to mind. It will be an uphill battle for him to find his way in the NFL, but if that doesn't work out, Keith is well-equipped for life after football, having been named Academic All-B1G three consecutive years, graduated in 2014, and begun work on his Master's in Communications.

OL Travis Jackson, St. Francis De La Sales, Toledo, OH, consensus 3*

Jackson's career arc initially looked like many of his snakebitten late-aught OL recruit fellows, but thankfully it had a considerably happier ending. After taking a redshirt, Jackson started 10 games at center in 2011 following injuries to Blake Treadwell. He began 2012 as one of the line's most promising players before being felled by his own season-ending injury after five games. The surviving line members gelled in his absence to such a degree that he was relegated to a reserve role for most of 2013, though he made his first start at RG in the Rose Bowl when Dan France was, you guessed it, injured. Jackson then stepped into Blake Treadwell's vacated LG spot in 2014. Jackson was named to myriad All-Freshman teams, and made his way back to some recognition as a consensus All B1G second team selection as a senior. His NFL future is unclear, but like Mumphrey, he also finished his bachelor's in May 2014 and has begun work on his master's. Oh, and he also gave us this, which should cement his immortality as much as the Rose and Cotton Bowls will.

RB Nick Hill, Chelsea, Chelsea, MI, consensus 3*

Initially, it looked like Hill might have picked a bad time to come to MSU if he wanted to carry the ball; while he redshirted, Edwin Baker, Larry Caper, and classmate Le'Veon Bell formed a very effective triumvirate in the backfield. As a redshirt freshman, Hill was dynamic as a kickoff returner, setting the second-best mark in school history for kick return yards. His sophomore season was much the same with Bell dominating the carries. When he couldn't forge a larger role than a change-of-pace guy behind another classmate, Langford, in 2013 and also lost his kick return job to R.J. Shelton, it looked as though his impact on the team might have been over. But as a senior, he showed marked improvement and became a useful complement to Langford, chipping in almost 600 rushing yards and 9 TDs as part of the best offense in school history. Hill, too, finished his degree in spring 2014. A cup of coffee in the NFL isn't out of the question, either, as he has good straight-line speed and is incredibly strong for his size.

DE Marcus Rush, Archbishop Moeller, Cincinnati, OH, consensus 3*

Everyone's favorite criminally underrated stalwart redshirted in 2010, and then seized the SDE position and made it his for the next 4 years, setting a new school record for games started while doing so, at a very punishing position no less. Despite never going higher than an honorable mention for all-conference teams, Rush inserted his name onto a number of top-10 school lists, including forced fumbles (T-6), sacks (7th), sack yardage (7th), TFLs (7th), and TFL yardage (6th). He also managed 16 career PBUs, a respectable number for a defensive back- and remember, Rush typically had the biggest dude on the offense, the RT, in his grill. Rush completed his degree in December 2014.

ATH Kurtis Drummond, Hubbard, Hubbard, OH, consensus 3*

Drummond redshirted in his first year, spent another backing up Trenton Robinson and playing special teams, and then muscled his way into the starting lineup during the 2012 season. He then started 2013 with a bang with dramatic INTs against WMU and FAU, and led that standout defense in tackles en route to first team All B1G honors from the coaches and second team from the media, as well as being named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year. As a senior, he was more frequently targeted and beaten in coverage, but still made a healthy contribution of big plays, and was named to various All-American teams by multiple outlets. Although he's got his degree as well, with a Senior Bowl invite in hand, he's very likely to find himself drafted come April.

P Mike Sadler, Forest Hills Northern, Grand Rapids, MI, consensus 3*

Aaron Bates, the passer in the now-famous Little Giants play, left big shoes to fill; Sadler laced those shoes up and pinned his own legacy inside the 20 (or something, metaphors are hard). Sadler did all the puntin' for 4 years following his redshirt. On the field, he was plenty good- he was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist as a junior, earned a mess of Freshman All-American and miscellaneous All-B1G and All-American honors over his career, putting 21% of his career punts inside the opponents' 10-yard line (thanks, MSU bio). Off the field, however, Sadler is a bona fide rock star. He is MSU's first 4-time Academic All-American, finished with a 3.97 GPA, and picked up his bachelor's back in May 2013. He was also snubbed for the Campbell Award, the academic Heisman, as a finalist this year. Meanwhile, he also runs the best Twitter feed this side of Faux Pelini and gives an uncommonly good interview. Whether he bothers with the NFL or not, his future is very bright.

ATH Tony Lippett, Crockett Tech, Detroit, MI, consensus 3*

A study in positional versatility, Tony Lippett looked like the next big thing at corner coming off of his redshirt, making five starts an an injury replacement. However, with a shortage of receivers, he moved to offense in 2012, where he struggled badly with drops as the whole offense sputtered. However, when Connor Cook took over at QB in 2013, Lippett's reliability and role gradually increased. By the end of that year, he was the go-to receiver on 3rd down. In 2014, he stepped up his play dramatically, becoming the clear-cut #1 receiver and winning the Big Ten Receiver of the Year Award. With the defense now scuffling, Lippett also reprised his role at CB, making two starts and playing extensively in a third game- and playing very well. Lippett put himself in the school record books for receptions (4th), receiving yards (6th), and receiving TDs (T-8th), and is a probable mid-round pick in the upcoming draft.

OLB Justin Wilson, Western, Davie, FL, consensus 3*

Wilson is one of those guys who, despite the abundance of online information, seems to have fallen into a wormhole. What is clear is that he failed to qualify academically after signing and appeared to be headed to Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. It is not clear if he ever went there, or what happened to him after that, as he never did make his way to MSU. Also, his fairly common name made it a little tough to filter out stories that were actually about him.

DE Taylor Calero, Southfield Christian, Southfield, MI, consensus 3*

Calero is another former player who vanished into the ether. After redshirting, the team moved him to fullback; on the eve of the 2012 season, he left the team, but remained enrolled in school. I found a LinkedIn profile that sure looks like him, so he appears to have moved on from football.

ATH Jeremy Langford, John Glenn, Westland, MI, Rivals and 247 3*, ESPN 2*

And now we move into the stories we love to tell. Langford was an afterthought as a recruit, and the first three years of his career justified that: despite good physical tools, the coaches couldn't figure out what to do with him. Wide receiver. Flip to defense. Back to receiver. And then, the 2013 tailback derby had an opening, and Langford sort of...found his way. Two seasons later, he heads off to a probable pro career with over 2,800 rushing yards, 39 total TDs and 16 consecutive 100-yard rushing games against conference opponents. He was often overshadowed by flashier conference colleagues- Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Tevin Coleman- but his reliable production resulted in far more team success than any of his contemporaries (with the recent exception of Ezekiel Elliott). He vaulted himself onto many of MSU's rushing lists despite starting for only two seasons, and with his sociology degree completed, he now takes his shot at the NFL.

OL Michael Dennis, Carey, Carey, OH, ESPN and 247 3*, Rivals 2*

After the customary redshirt, Dennis played sparingly on the OL as a freshman and sophomore, and then transitioned to a highly specialized position: the jumbo blocking TE. His play there was an underrated part of the 2013 offensive renaissance. Following the Rose Bowl win, Dennis opted to forego his final year of eligibility, perhaps realistically assessing his future pro prospects and choosing to go out on top.

DT Anthony Rashad White, Fort Scott C.C., Fort Scott, KS, Rivals and 247 3*, ESPN unranked

When Dantonio has turned to the JUCO ranks, it's typically to fill a need on the line when there's no time to wait for developmental players. White came in with three seasons of eligibility; he spent most of his first relieving Jerel Worthy, then rotated and made four starts at the nose as a junior. His signature moment came in the dramatic 3OT Outback Bowl win over Georgia, when he made the clinching FG block. He had a relatively quiet senior season, but did start 12 games at the nose. White bounced around some NFL practice squads, including the Steelers and Patriots. The most recent news I can find indicates he's now playing for the New Orleans Voodoo of the AFL.

ATH Darqueze Dennard, Twiggs County, Jeffersonville, GA, 247 3*, Rivals and ESPN 2*

Now here's a story everybody here already knows. One of the shiniest diamonds found in the scratchiest rough, Dennard was nearly missed by big-time college ball altogether until MSU happened to be scouting Keith Mumphrey and saw Dennard on the other team. The rest is history; he played some as a true freshman before an injury sidelined him. His role increased as a sophomore, and in the Outback Bowl he let Georgia know exactly what they'd overlooked with two interceptions that kept the game within reach. His junior season he was paired with Johnny Adams, expected to be a decent complement, and wound up outplaying Adams. And then, his transcendent senior season: consensus first team All-American, Jim Thorpe Award winner, Nagurski finalist, winner of just about every defensive back trophy under the sun, best yards-per-target season of anyone in college football since Deion Sanders, and then a first-round selection by the Cincinnati Bengals.

RB Le'Veon Bell, Groveport Madison, Groveport, OH, 247 3*, Rivals and ESPN 2*

And here's another afterthought-turned-superstar. As the third tailback in this class with Baker and Caper a year ahead of them, observers would have been forgiven for dismissing Bell's chances of making an impact. But, come fall 2011, there he was on the field, showing a weird combination of elusiveness and vision for such a lowly rated prospect in a crowded backfield. As a sophomore, the fact that he was a better fit with MSU's patchwork line became so obvious that Edwin Baker scampered for the league following the season instead of trying to hold Bell off. The team disappointed in his junior year, but Bell is the absolute last reason why, carrying the offense en route to his Big Ten rushing title and getting more than half of his yards after contact. He totaled almost 3,900 career yards from scrimmage, and his complete set of tailback skills earned him a second-round selection by the Steelers in the 2013 draft. Bell is now an All-Pro with Pittsburgh.

FB Niko Palazeti, Detroit Catholic Central, Northville, MI, Rivals and 247 2*, ESPN unranked

A once-promising fullback prospect, Palazeti's career was derailed by multiple injuries. He redshirted and then contributed in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but was forced to hang it up shortly before the start of the 2013 season.

Well, that's a lot to sort through. But here's what jumps out: in this class of 21, Mark Dantonio had:

-3 transfers/academic non-qualifiers

-2 medical retirements

-2 early entries to the NFL draft

-14 players finish their eligibility (counting Dennis)

When you combine that kind of retention with the conventional talent seen in this class and Dantonio's ability to find additional top-shelf players no one else recognized, the program's success while these guys were upperclassmen is easy to understand.

This is a FanPost, written by a member of the TOC community. It does not represent the official positions of The Only Colors, Inc.--largely because we have no official positions.