MSU’s 2021 class gets a boost with the addition of 4-star linebacker

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EAST LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – In the short ten months Mel Tucker has served as Michigan State’s football coach we’ve learned this. He puts a huge emphasis on recruiting, which is why days like college football’s early signing day are one of his favorites of the year.

When discussing the Spartans’ 2021 class, on Wednesday afternoon, Tucker made a point to say that he and his staff were not done building this class. At noon Tucker had signed 15 players and he warned there would be more announcements coming throughout the day, and did those words ever come to fruition.

At 1:17 p.m. 4-star linebacker Ma’a Gaoteote just about broke Twitter when he tweeted that he had signed with the Spartans. The 6-foot-2, 220 pounder had originally committed to Southern California, but Tucker was able to sway him to come to East Lansing and as a result he is MSU’s highest-rated recruit. Gaoteote’s addition also bumped up MSU’s national ranking to No. 33 versus No. 42 and up one spot in the Big Ten from No. 10 to No. 9

Initially the lone quarterback of MSU’s #21BuiltStrong class was Hampton Fay, who is a 3-star recruit from Fort Worth, Texas. He committed to the Spartans in late April and was just one of two recruits who were able to visit campus before everything was shut down. Tucker trusts he’s a good fit for MSU based upon Jay Johnson’s, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at MSU, judgement of Fay. Johnson also played the position in college.

“He won’t say this, but Kurt Warner played behind him for three years in college,” said Tucker. “So he knows quarterback play. He knows arm talent, and mechanics, and those are certain things he’s looking for in a guy. Then there’s also the mental. Being able to evaluate a guy’s ability to process information, running an offense, and leading. There’s a lot that goes into that and so we trust our evaluation.”

Fay wouldn’t be the only quarterback to join the Spartans though on Wednesday. Late in the afternoon Tucker took a deep dive into the transfer portal and came out with Temple’s Anthony Russo.

Russo, who entered the transfer portal Dec. 7, played five seasons at Temple but will employ the NCAA’s COVID-19 waiver for 2020 that grants an extra year of eligibility to all fall-sport athletes which means he’ll be eligible to play immediately. Tucker knows a good player when he sees one and it’s one of the things that is helping him build this class.

“The thing that I won’t do, is I won’t recruit off the rankings,” said Tucker. “We have a process of how we identify players and how we evaluate them. I don’t take into account where they’re ranked in my evaluation. You know I just have to trust the tape, trust my eyes, and know a good player when I see one.”

Tucker and his staff ask this one question when they’re recruiting a player: “Can this player fit with our team, our culture, and help us win the Big Ten?”

Buckle up Spartan fans, for a spring and summer that is sure to be filled with many more announcements.

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