With the Big Ten fall football season officially canceled, and an eye toward a spring start, Michigan State Spartans head coach Mel Tucker is using the extra time to focus on recruiting. Those efforts are already paying off, as Alex Okelo, a 2021 three-star defensive end out of Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville, Tennessee, announced his verbal commitment to MSU today.
“Michigan State, that’s the decision,” Okelo told 247Sports. “The coaching staff is great. They have great communication. I talk to coach (Ron) Burton either every day or every other day. When I went on my virtual visit, I already felt like part of the Spartan family. I had never been up there, but I already felt like I was Spartan off the jump. They’re all about winning and they care for the players. All the way around I fell in love with them.”
The process for adding Okelo to the 2021 class progressed rather quickly. The Nashville standout announced an offer from the Spartans on his Twitter account on June 12. There was then a lot of smoke leading into this weekend that MSU was favored to land Okelo, and was likely to happen very soon. It did.
Okelo had a quick rise overall in his recruitment. He is also a talented basketball prospect who didn’t even play high school football until his junior season in 2019. But he drew a lot of attention because of his size at 6-foot-5, 217 pounds, and his athletic potential. Okelo recorded seven sacks and 36 tackles in nine games last season for the Firebirds. He is going to need to add some weight to play on the defensive line in the Big Ten, but Tucker and company like the physical, albeit raw, tools that Okelo has to offer.
According to the 247Sports Composite, Okelo currently ranks as the No. 56 weak-side defensive end in the country, the No. 26 player in his home state of Tennessee and the No. 933 recruit overall in the nation.
The offers list Okelo has built up is impressive. In addition to MSU, he received scholarship proposals from Florida State, Louisville, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss, North Carolina, Indiana, Nebraska, Kansas and others. If the state of Tennessee allows high school football to happen this fall, that list is expected to grow as Okelo puts together more quality film.
Okelo’s commitment is about trust, and is bit of a leap of faith for both sides. As mentioned, Okelo is a relatively unproven, inexperienced prospect — especially if he has to miss out on his senior year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Tucker and the staff are taking a chance on him, believing in his potential. Meanwhile, Okelo has obviously not been able to physically visit the East Lansing campus during the dead period, and told 247Sports that he has never even been to the state of Michigan. Obviously without a fall season, Okelo also isn’t going to be able to see how MSU performs on the field with the new coaching staff, either.
Following the recent decommitment of tight end Jake Renda, this makes 12 members now in Michigan State’s 2021 class, which currently ranks 68th nationally. Okelo is actually the first verbal commitment since Renda’s initial announcement on July 4.
While recruiting has been a struggle for Tucker and company given his late hiring, the pandemic, the cancelation of the fall season and every other obstacle thrown at him in his short tenure, look for efforts to pick up now that Tucker has more time on his hands. Names to watch include a running back Audric Estime and offensive guard Geno VanDeMark, a pair of four stars from New Jersey. The two high school teammates from Montvale St. Joseph Regional reportedly took self-guided visits to MSU this weekend, along with current 2021 commit, Kevin Wigenton.