In his fifth year, head coach Mark Dantonio has resurrected Michigan State's winning ways.
Aiding the upward movement, football recruits that would have never considered the Spartans five years ago are jumping at the chance to don the Green and White.
Dantonio placed a premium on securing regional talent, and he is winning battles at a greater frequency against traditionally stronger schools. Michigan and Ohio have been his primary battleground and over 75 percent of his roster originates from one of these two states.
Let's take a look at the most impactful recruits during the tenure of Coach Dantonio.
Edwin Baker (2009), Skyler Schofner (2010) and MacGarrett Kings (2012) just missed the cut, but their commitments were significant for different reasons.
Baker, a major component in MSU's offense the past two seasons, chose State over Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Texas. Remarkably gifted, players of his caliber didn't commonly go Green at the time of his selection.
He was the 57th ranked player in the country and sixth overall running back, according to Rivals.com, the top-rated member of State's best class in recent memory.
Asked why he dressed as the Flash for Halloween a few years back, Baker answered, “When you have been timed at 10.5 in the 100 meters, what other superhero is there?"
Schofner, the 6'7" offensive tackle from Sunbury, Ohio, changed his last name to Burkland in May.
More significantly for Dantonio, this 4-star recruit marks the first player from Ohio who elected not to play for Ohio State despite fielding an offer. Though his OSU offer came after he committed to the Spartans, he dragged out his decision until late in the process to give the Buckeyes more time. When Tressel and finally crew offered, however, it was too late. He stayed Green.
Despite recent offers from Auburn, Georgia and in-state power Florida State, current recruit Kings pledges to hold true to the Spartans. But why is Kings (a moderately ranked wide receiver prospect out of Florida) such a major score?
From day one he made it known "Go Green, I love Michigan State." With no family or friends connected to the university, the fascination appears to have developed out of thin air. What causes a kid from Fort Lauderdale to grow infatuated in a school 1,400 miles away in East Lansing, Michigan?
It's quite obvious Michigan State is making a name for itself on a national level.
Dozens of Detroit Public School League (PSL) players earn scholarships to play Division I football annually, but it was a territory left unchartered under former MSU head coach John L. Smith.
Dantonio bulldozed the Detroit wall.
“Michigan State didn’t come into the city as much (under Smith) as Coach Dantonio. Actually, they really didn’t come into the city at all,” said Detroit Southeastern Coach Donshell English.
When Fred Smith committed to the Spartans in 2007, it signified two firsts for Dantonio:
1) He was the first of many PSL players in the Detroit pipeline.
2) It was his first recruiting victory over in-state rival Michigan, a team who up until that instance, dominated them on the field and pulled nearly every top player in the Great Lakes State.
Though Smith never met the lofty expectations placed upon him, he paved the road from the PSL to East Lansing.
A bombshell dropped on July 28, 2008 when Barrent switched his commitment from the Iowa Hawkeyes to Michigan State.
Earning scholarship offers from the Hawkeyes, Nebraska and Wisconsin, three of college football's top offensive line schools, he chose Michigan State simply because it was a better fit. Strong engineering and football facilities, combined with the allure of a rising Big Ten power brought him to East Lansing.
Barrent was the first top-100 ranked player and Army All-American from outside of Michigan or Ohio to commit under Dantonio.
A Big Ten All-Academic selection in 2010, Barrent sadly decided to retire in May due to chronic back issues.
"I've made lifelong friendships, but I'll definitely miss being on the field competing with my teammates. I'm thankful for the opportunity to remain close to the program while pursuing my bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering."
To sustain success in the Big Ten, a coach must stack up talented class after talented class.
Thomas was the centerpiece of another fine incoming group in 2011. For the second consecutive year, the top high school player in Michigan committed to the Spartans.
Spurning offers from Florida, Miami, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Southern Cal, he chose to follow former high school teammate and current Spartan Chris Norman to East Lansing. "They showed me the most love, and there are three former (high school) teammates I can look up to there, and that was part of my decision."
The 55th ranked player in the country brought more credibility to the rebuild/reload effort. Projected to play linebacker or defensive end in college, his securing allowed fans to once again dream of a "Mean Green" defense.
The first of six consecutive 4-star recruits to commit in a 45-day span, Norman kick-started the highly decorated 2009 class.
A half dozen Detroit area players chose MSU on National Signing Day, including the aforementioned Baker.
Norman made going Green fashionable.
Ranked eighth best nationally at outside linebacker and 118th best overall, the Renaissance senior began to recruit other Detroiters after his pledge. Michigan State finished 17th in the Rivals.com team rankings, their highest finish since Rivals evaluating began in 2002.
He was also the first in the class to cite Dantonio's "family atmosphere" as a reason for his pledge.
Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Bob Stoops and Jim Tressel all came calling for Gholston in high school. They even continued contacting him months after he finalized his decision, gauging whether or not his commitment to MSU was solid.
But Gholston had made up his mind.
In fact, he said he spent the remainder of his evening “calling other guys to come help me win big at MSU.”
Perhaps the most dominant defensive end ever to play in the state of Michigan, the Under Armour All-American logged 115 tackles, 27 sacks and 10 forced fumbles as a senior at Southeastern. Dantonio's most highly regarded recruit ranked 21st in the nation and best in Michigan, according to Rivals.com.
In his second year at MSU, Spartan fans are seeing much more than flashes of brilliance. Gholston has been flat-out dominant since the Big Ten schedule began. Racking up linebacker tackle numbers from defensive end, his statistics justify all the noise surrounding him in high school.
If he continues to develop as quickly as he did his freshman and sophomore seasons, expect Gholston to be a high round selection in the NFL draft whichever year he decides to enter.