Jacob Isaia was plenty familiar with Michigan State University and its football program during his lengthy recruiting process. Isaia, the grandson of Spartans legend Bob Apisa, obviously had a strong connection with the school and the Spartans have rostered plenty of legacy players throughout the years.
But a plethora of schools had interest in Isaia, and for good reason. Michigan State was not a lock. Those who are blessed enough to play college have tough choices to make, and Isaia and his family wanted to make sure that the school he suited up for at the next level was wholeheartedly his decision.
“I honestly didn’t know I was going to commit to Michigan State until I was on my official visit,” Isaia said. “It felt like home to me.”
Apisa was a two-time All-American fullback for Michigan State in the 1960s. At the time his Spartans career ended, Apisa was the all-time leading rusher in Michigan State history with 1,343 yards. He scored 19 total touchdowns as well, and helped the Spartans win two national championships in 1965 and 1966.
Apisa was very supportive of his grandson throughout the recruiting process, which can certainly takes its toll on high school kids.
“My grandpa has always told me to go where I felt most comfortable,” Isaia said. “It took me a while to decide on Michigan State because I needed to know that I was choosing MSU for myself, not just because of my grandpa’s legacy.”
And that’s an important statement. While Isaia obviously respects what his grandfather was able to do at Michigan State and cherishes the strong relationship he has with him, it is now his turn to build a legacy of his own at Michigan State.
As previously mentioned, Isaia was a highly-touted recruit. He plays at national power house Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. He’s currently ranked as the No. 17 offensive center in the 2018 class and No. 8 player in Nevada in the 247 Sports Composite Rankings. He is also listed as the No. 8 overall player in his state by Rivals.
Plenty of big name schools have shown interest in Isaia. Pac-12 schools were highly intrigued, with UCLA, Arizona, Washington State Utah and Oregon State all offering Isaia. In addition to Michigan State, Big Ten schools such as Minnesota and Indiana reached out with an offer as well. Additionally, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Ole Miss, Iowa State and countless others all wanted Isaia to join their programs.
Isaia offers versatility for the Spartans along the offensive line. He can play just about any position, but at 6-feet-3-inches tall and 280 pounds, he will likely slot in along the interior of the o-line.
“I actually play left tackle at Gorman,” Isaia said. “Because of my height and size, I’ll probably play center or guard at MSU. I have the most experience at tackle, but I’ll play wherever I can contribute the most.”
Isaia decided to commit to Michigan State in early October after taking his official visit in East Lansing for the Iowa game. He got to witness a special moment, as he saw his grandpa getting inducted into the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame.
That weekend also gave him a chance to connect with a couple of his fellow 2018 recruits ad future teammates.
“I took my official visit with Chris (Jackson), Parks (Gissinger), and Julian (Major),” Isaia told me. “They’re all great players and we all get along. I think we have a really strong class. If we stick together and work hard, we can achieve any goal we set for ourselves.”
The 2018 class has come along nicely. The incoming Michigan State recruiting class as whole seems to embody what Michigan State is all about — grit, determination and attitude. Head coach Mark Dantonio has perhaps gotten back to his recruiting roots of bringing in these gritty athletes who may not all be big name recruits, but are good players who can contribute right away.
The 2018 recruiting class currently ranks 28th nationally, according to 247 Sports, with an average rating of 0.8575. That mark is also good for fifth in the Big Ten, and Dantonio’s knack for developing and getting the most out of his players’ talent is top-notch.
Isaia is well aware of Dantonio’s coaching prowess. He has been in constant communication with his soon-to-be head coach and the other coaches throughout the process, and enjoyed his time in East Lansing on his official visit.
“I have great relationships with Coach Dantonio, Coach (Mark) Staten, and the rest of the staff,” he said. “We spent a lot of time together during my official visit. I can’t wait to start training with Coach (Ken) Mannie. I know he’ll push me to get better and stronger.”
The work with head strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie, who is currently in his 23rd season with the Spartans, is clearly something that Isaia is looking forward to. He knows exactly what aspects of the game he needs to improve upon, as well as his playing strengths.
“My strengths are my athleticism and my speed, Isaia said. “I need to work on improving my technique and using my physical strength better.”
To reiterate, Isaia’s versatility, athleticism and ability to move as a big offensive lineman are huge strengths of his game. His play in 2017 has gotten him noticed on a national level, and he was recently named as an Under Armour All-American.
Isaia is currently the only 2018 Spartan commit to be included on the roster for the Under Armour All-American game. He will get to share the opportunity with his Bishop Gorman teammates, quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (UCLA commit) and tight end Brevin Jordan (Miami FL commit). Kalon Gervin (four-star cornerback), another Michigan State target, will also play in the game.
“I’m really grateful to be an Under Armour All-American,” Isaia said. “It’s such an honor. Competing with the best will make me better and will help prepare me to play in college.”
Speaking of competition, that is another thing Isaia is looking forward to at the next level. The Big Ten has had another strong season as a conference in 2017, and it is one of the best conferences in the country.
The talent level at schools such as Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan and others have the young offensive lineman excited and he knows it will test him.
“I’m excited about the great competition (in the Big Ten),” Isaia said. “I have some former teammates from Gorman at Ohio State, and I used to train in Hawaii with a guy who now plays at Wisconsin. They’re all great players. It’ll be fun.”
Isaia believes that Michigan State can compete with anybody, in the Big Ten or otherwise. He is quite impressed with what he has seen so far from the 2017 Michigan State football team.
He has some pretty lofty expectations for both this year’s Spartans and future Spartan teams once he arrives on campus.
“I think (the Spartans) have a good chance to be Big Ten champs this year,” Isaia said. “I know that’ll be one of the team goals every year we play. The last time MSU was the National Champion was when my grandpa played. We’re due for another one.”
Isaia’s goals and expectations for himself are also lofty, and given his skill set, they should be. He is a confident football player who has all of the toosl to succeed at the next level.
If we have learned anything from watching the 2017 Spartans, it’s that Coach Dantonio is not afraid to play true freshmen and young guys, and that Michigan State has had success with it. Isaia wouldn’t mind seeing that trend continue.
“My goal is to get playing time my freshman year,” he said. “Coach Staten rotates guys, and I want to earn my way into the rotation. I want to learn as much as I can once I get on campus.”
One thing, however, that Isaia may not be looking forward to quite as much is the significant climate change he’ll have to deal with in East Lansing. Playing football in Las Vegas, and growing up in Hawaii, the Bishop Gorman star is entering brand new territory here.
“We moved from Hawaii to Las Vegas last year, so I’ve never played in the cold,” Isaia said. “My friends joke about it all the time that I’m always hot, so I think I’ll be OK. If not, just throw on another layer, right? I’m actually more worried about my family when they come to my games. My mom is always cold,” Isaia added laughing.
Welcome to The Mitten, Jacob!
Big shout out to Jacob for taking the time to speak with me. His Bishop Gorman team is gearing up for the playoffs this week and looking for its ninth consecutive state title. Good luck to Jacob and the rest of the Gaels!
Be sure to keep up with The Only Colors Commitment Spotlight Series, with interviews done by yours truly, to learn more about the incoming Michigan State recruits.
Here are Isaia’s junior year highlights (courtesy of Hudl), where he was selected to the 2016 All-USA Nevada First Team by USA Today
Check out Isaia’s Hudl page for more highlights.