Enemy of the State

By Kyle Rowland on September 27, 2012 at 10:00a

The University of Michigan's football history would look remarkably different without Ohio-born players. From Rob Lytle to Desmond Howard to Charles Woodson, Ohio Men turned Michigan Men have lifted the Wolverines to prominence while also being pests to Ohio State. 

Ohio has been a recruiting hotbed for Mark Dantonio.

The same can be said about Michigan State’s up-and-down football program, albeit on a lesser scale. Now trending upward under former Ohio State defensive coordinator and Zanesville native Mark Dantonio – the Spartans have won 11 games in consecutive seasons – Ohioans have played a major role in the resurgence of Spartan football.

They'll also have a major say in whether Michigan State beats Ohio State on Saturday in East Lansing.

“I think it makes it an even more exciting atmosphere because when you are from that state or you are from this state, then you have your entire families,” Dantonio said. “There's a lot going on there in terms of a lot of people that you know, things of that nature. You sort of play for respect from those areas. I'm sure it will be exciting on both sides.”

Javon Ringer, a Dayton Chaminade-Julienne graduate, became Michigan State’s first 1,000-yard rusher in six seasons when he accomplished the feat in 2007. Two-time All-American linebacker Greg Jones, a Cincinnati Moeller product, became the Spartans’ first Big Ten defensive player of the year honoree in 2009.

Westerville South grad BJ Cunningham caught an acrobatic 33-yard touchdown pass against the Buckeyes last season and also had a 52-yard reception in the Spartans’ 10-7 win at Ohio Stadium. Cunningham had nine receptions for 154 yards in his homecoming victory. In that same game, defensive end Jerel Worthy, a Huber Heights Wayne grad – the same school that produced Braxton Miller – had one of Michigan State’s nine sacks.

Before the success of those four Ohioans, a little-known quarterback out of Warren Howland broke the hearts of Buckeye fans beyond repair. In 1998, Bill Burke led a spirited second-half comeback as the unheralded Spartans knocked off No. 1 and 28-point favorite Ohio State at home. Dantonio was a defensive assistant on that Nick Saban-coached team.

This Saturday 28 Ohioans, including seven starters, will be on the home sideline, many hailing from Central Ohio. The Buckeye State has been a talent pipeline for decades. Aside from the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State has been the biggest recipient of that talent. But Dantonio took it to a new level due to his roots and deep connections inside the state borders.

“I think it's an important game from a conference perspective and all the different things that go along with it,” Dantonio said. “I think it's always been a rivalry game up here for Michigan State. I felt that when I was here before. I felt that back even growing up when Levi Jackson was running the whole deal (in 1974).

“But recruiting has become so accelerated now that 2014 players are making their decision, you're recruiting 2014 players, some 2015 players. I do think obviously we've always had a good relationship with many of the high school coaches in Ohio. We got a lot of people from Ohio on this staff. There's been a tradition of Ohio players coming here. We had 29 on our team in 1998 when we played down there. So it's always been like that. I think it's obviously important for us to play well and do the different things. I don't know if it's the end game.”

Denicos Allen introducing himself rudely to Joe Bauserman.

If you think this is just another game for the 28 Ohioans, guess again. It’s the same for Michiganders on Ohio State. Johnathan Hankins, one of two Buckeyes (Reid Fragel) who hails from that state up north, did not receive an offer from Michigan State coming out of high school. He said this is a game he’s been aiming for since the summer. There is the home-state factor, his family and friends being in attendance and high school friend and teammate William Gholston playing for the Spartans. Hankins said he and Gholston talk every week, except when they play each other.

The goal for the two Detroit Southeastern standouts was to go to East Lansing together. But the lack of an offer for Hankins stifled that plan.

“Reid Fragel and Hankins are both guys from the state of Michigan,” Dantonio said. “I'm sure they'll be ready to play. I think it goes back the other way, as well.

“Probably 70 percent of the guys that are starting on their football team are guys that we've recruited, guys we've known about through the recruiting process.”

Of the 28 Ohio players on Michigan State, a majority were not recruited by the team they grew up rooting for – Ohio State. Motivation should not be an issue, as the Spartans aim to beat the Buckeyes for the second consecutive season, something that hasn't been done since back-to-back wins in 1998 and ’99.

“We have a lot of Ohio players on our football team, so it will be a special time for them,” Dantonio said. “I'm sure we'll be energized and ready to go.”

Linebacker Denicos Allen, from Hamilton, is one of the 28 and he, like others, did not receive a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes. In fact, of the seven Ohioans starting for Michigan State, none were offered by Ohio State. That list includes star running back Le’Veon Bell (Groveport-Madison), three of his blockers – Skyler Burkland (Big Walnut), Dan France (North Royalton) and Travis Jackson (DeSales) – and cornerback Johnny Adams (Akron Buchtel).

Allen made Ohio State pay last season when he finished with two quarterback sacks. Two other Ohioans – Worthy and Adams – also had sacks in that game.

“I kind of took it personal back then,” Allen told the media following the Spartans’ win over Eastern Michigan. “But now I realize I found a better place to be at, Michigan State.”

Buckeye Nation scoffs at comments like Allen’s. But a closer examination shows maybe Michigan State is the better place, at least right now.

Allen redshirted his true freshman season of 2009, a year Michigan State finished 6-7. Ohio State went 11-2 that year, capping things off with a win in the Rose Bowl. The past two seasons for Michigan State have ended with 11 wins. The Spartans won a share of the 2010 Big Ten championship, as did the Buckeyes, but it was later vacated. Michigan State advanced to the inaugural Big Ten championship game last season, and its 11th win came against SEC foe Georgia, a conference Ohio State has struggled mightily against. The Buckeyes went 6-7 in a year everyone inside the state borders would like to forget.

Saturday’s game marks the first time Meyer has been an underdog at Ohio State – the Spartans are favored by 2.5 points. It’s the first real test for the Buckeyes, and the first game in a season that Ohio State is trying to restore order and the hierarchy of the Big Ten. It had been the league’s gold standard for a decade before taking a step back. The Buckeyes are attempting to end the days where a Michigan State player can say he’s at a better place and have credibility doing so. 

“This is a rivalry game,” Meyer said. “This is a game that's going to have an instrumental impact on the Big Ten conference.”


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Boxley's picture

For both teams this is a season make or break game. For us we can only win out and then sit. For MSU  it willl dictate the rest of their season and post season hopes. This may be the toughest game all season for both teams.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

Hoody Wayes's picture

For us we can only win out and then sit.
Or...if we win out in conference, we preside as champions-in-exile, of the B1G.

Doc's picture

Why wasn't LeVeon Bell recruited by us?  He seems like the prototypical B1G running back Tress would have loved.

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bassplayer7770's picture

I think this has been touched on recently.  I think I recall Hyde and Smith had committed leaving Bell without an offer.

Kyle Rowland's picture

He was going to have to play defense at OSU. Bell wouldn't do it. 

Doc's picture

Thanks for the info, both of ya.  LeVeon seems to have made the right decision for himself.

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larzdapunk's picture

Was just about to ask what was the deal with his OSU recruitment ... good thing I read the comments! 

OurHonorDefend09's picture

in hindsight, I would definitely taken Bell over both... Especially Hyde. I know everyone seems to love him around here, but he seems like he runs with a deuce in his pants. Forget his 40 time, he looks SO SLOW when he's on the field. The Nebraska game was probably the only time I never saw him go down on first contact either.
If Rod can hold onto the football, I think he has the upside of Hyde + a lot more athleticism and speed.

Don't give up... Don't ever give up.

osu07asu10's picture

I think that Dantonio and MSU are going to prove to be Meyer's biggest rival and biggest pain to deal with as well too.

Dantonio is Dantonio but part of me feels he has even more of a vendetta against tOSU and Meyer for how things happened with Tressel. Dantonio is a Tressel guy and a loyal one at that. I think there is some real personal tension between Coach Dantonio and the program he helped win a national championship.

It is good. I like it, I like rivalry and I like ratcheting up the intensity too. I'll hold to my early week prediction though. Ohio Statate jumps out early...we roll 27-13

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Doc's picture

Rivalry is good and makes for better games.  Having Sparty step up and fill the "void" State Penn left in our rivalry slot would be fun.  Dantonio does seem pissed about something.  You would think he would have a soft spot in his heart for us, but with the way JT was shown the door you might be on to something.  Meyer had nothing to do with it, but he is the face of the program now.  Hopefully we can get the best of them this weekend.  Losing to Sparty never feels good, but losing never does.

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SonOfBuckeye's picture

I think that Dantonio and MSU are going to prove to be Meyer's biggest rival...

Considering the current state of MSU recruiting (ranked 41st by Rivals in 2012, and 41st so far for 2013, too), I doubt they live up to that prediction.  Would be hilarious to see them continue dominating Michigan, though.

Denny's picture

part of me feels he has even more of a vendetta against tOSU and Meyer for how things happened with Tressel

I can understand frustration with OSU and the folks in the Athletic Department, sure. But a vendetta against Meyer, who was completely a third party with respect to the Tressel fiasco? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.


BuckeyeinExile's picture

Don't forget about the recruitment issues or nonissues he had with Meyer this spring with "flipping" Pittman. I think deep down Dantonio is such a tough competitor and he simply sees Meyer as his biggest competition.

Denny's picture

Recruiting issues with Meyer are totally fair game, I agree. But Dantonio not liking Meyer because Meyer followed up the interim coach who was in place for a year after Dantonio's mentor was fired? That's a stretch no matter what else is involved.


Run_Fido_Run's picture

“I kind of took it personal back then,” Allen told the media following the Spartans’ win over Eastern Michigan. “But now I realize I found a better place to be at, Michigan State.”
Buckeye Nation scoffs at comments like Allen’s. But a closer examination shows maybe Michigan State is the better place, at least right now.

I don't know. We were told in 2006 - 2008 that a team was only as good as it performed in BCS bowls. In those three years, the Buckeyes went 33-6 and yet because of four losses in "marquee" games, it was non-stop "Slohio Suckeyes!"
Okay, so what has MSU actually accomplished during this Golden Age of Sparty? Zero Big Ten championships; zero BCS appearances. In 2010, a 6-37 pasting at Iowa and a 7-49 loss to Alabama. In 2011, a 13-31 loss to a mediocre ND team and whoopee! an Outback Bowl win over 3-loss UGA. 
Regardless of what happens this Saturday, there was a one-year windown of opportunity when MSU was the better place than Ohio State and that quickly closed when Urbz arrived in C-Bus.

Boxley's picture


"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

tennbuckeye19's picture

Zzzz...Zzzz...Zzzz... Has Dantonio stopped talking yet? That dude is about as boring as they come. 

German Buckeye's picture

I like Dantonio due to his Ohio roots, and am glad to see him have some success up north, but beyond that, want to see a smack down and revenge from last years embarrassment.  Love to see us post a 20 point victory Sat...

BoFuquel's picture

To me Sparty is still That State Up North State,And we don't give a...... well you know the rest.GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

BuckeyeinExile's picture

My dad always told me when I was growing up that we should always like Michigan State(except when playing them of course) and respect them because they are the only team that hates TSUN more than we do. Not to mention we can thank Dantonio's skill as a D-Coordinator for our National Championship in 02.

STRAWMAN's picture

You have to really respect what Dantonio has been able to do up there. I really would like to see there not be a drop off in talent. It's bad for the league (on a national level) when Michigan State is in the top 2, but if they can play as well as they have the league is in pretty good shape if they are 3-5. I think the key is for Hoke and Meyer to continue to recruit nationally. If Dantonio can still pick up quality Ohio/Michigan guys for the first 13 spots of each class, then they can do well enough elsewhere to be able to compete for the Big Ten title each year. 

TMac's picture

Don't you think these next two Saturday's are huge for tOSU as far as national perception and recruiting? National coverage on ABC in the 3:30 slot and Gameday this week, and Primetime national tv (ABC or ESPN) at home next week. Two Ws and the conversation is all about tOSU being back and ready to compete for the NC in 2013; 1-1 and tOSU is a work in progress and we aren't in many conversations outside the B1G;  God forbid, 0-2, and the converstion is how far we have yet to climb to get back into the B1G championship conversation rather than the NC for 2013.

ONE Not Done!

tommrkr's picture

I don't mind Dantonio, but I still can't forgive Sparty for 1998.  I hope we beat them by a hundred and the scoreboard explodes.

OurHonorDefend09's picture

I used to like him a lot until he started crying about Urban in the off season. I agree with your statement and hope for a victory even more since I'll be in East Lansing. There's nothing more depressing than being around people celebrating sports when it was your team that lost. I couldn't even have fun on Bourbon St. after the Final Four loss.

Don't give up... Don't ever give up.

20sider's picture

/shudders at the '98 Sparty game.


southernstatesbuckeye's picture

Ole Sparticus has a surprise coming this week if Urban is the gameplanner I think he is. A few wrinkles, a juke n slip, and a little woofle dust of wang (magic powder, just not fairy powder), and we walk out with "the best thing about 5-0 is getting a chance to be 6-0".

That is all.

I like cookies.

Grayskullsession's picture

I have always respected Michigan State, especially after the way they have beat on their older brother TSUN for the past several years. Im sure its nothing personal that some of these recruits did not get offers.
In an unrelated note why does Dantonio always look pissed off?

"if irony were made of strawberries, we' d all be drinking a lot of smoothies right now."

BrewstersMillions's picture

I hate Michigan State infinitely more than I hate Michigan. There isn't a fanbase out there more delusional than Sparty. I lived in EL for a year and it is Jersey Shore West. SO.MANY.BROS.
Plus, most Michigan State fans like to think things that aren't true. Like for example that the rivalry with Michigan is now in their favor-despite this unheard of run, M flat out owns them and the 'little brother' comments are %100 true.
Plus Dantonio is a stroke.

tennbuckeye19's picture

I thought he'd had a heart attack not a stroke...

hodge's picture

"In an unrelated note why does Dantonio always look pissed off?"

Dantonio was Saban's d-coordinator at MSU in the late '90s.
Saban was Bellichick's d-coordinator for the Cleveland Browns in the early '90s. 
Bellichick was Bill Parcells's d-coordinator for the New York Giants in the mid '80s.
None of these men are coaches that I'd classify as "happy" folk.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Or you could take it an OSU route and say:
Dantonio was Saban's d-coordinator at MSU in the late '90s.
Saban was an assistant coach @ OSU in the 80's under Earle Bruce.
Earle Bruce was an assistant @ OSU in the late 60's - early 70's under Woody Hayes.

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

Awesome title for the entry.  That is the name of one of my custom classes on Modern Warfare 3....Mk14 with Thermal Scope and Suppressor FTMFW!

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

MAVBuck's picture

Is there some reason MSU didnt recruit Hankins? I remember him being offered by the likes of Bama and Florida. Did I miss something obvious?!?

buckeye76BHop's picture

Great article Kyle and testament to why little brother (not to mention tTUN) have done so good with Ohio talent.  I'm sure the handful of tTUN fans that come here for some unholy reason would disagree with me despite the last two Heisman winners were from Ohio.  Both those teams up north have always benefited from Ohio talent.  

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987