January 12, 2011

Spartans hope to hit grand slam with NJ star

Now that North Carolina apparently hit a home run while playing host to Rivals100 defensive tackle Marquise Wright, Michigan State will go for a grand slam.

Wright had an official visit to North Carolina last weekend, and came away tremendously impressed. Wright, ranked the No. 2 player in New Jersey and the No. 68 player nationally, will take an official visit to Michigan State this weekend. He is scheduled to visit Miami the weekend of Jan. 21. His primary recruiter at Miami, Jeff Stoutland, today was hired as the new offensive line coach at Alabama.

At stake for Michigan State is the chance to make a major splash at the all-important, hard-to-find defensive tackle position. Michigan State focused on defensive end recruiting in 2010 and landed a promising group, headed by five-star prospect William Gholston. The Spartans signed only one defensive tackle a year ago, junior college transfer Anthony White, who saw second-string duty as a sophomore for the Spartans' 2010 Big Ten championship team.

Michigan State moved redshirt freshman defensive tackle Dan France to offensive line during bowl practice and there are indications France will get a long look on the o-line in spring practice.

Meanwhile, the Spartans will have junior All-Big Ten defensive tackle Jerel Worthy returning as a third-year starter to Michigan State's 4-3 defense, along with senior Kevin Pickelman, and junior Blake Treadwell, if he doesn't decide to follow his father to Miami of Ohio.

The door is open for an influx of high-end defensive tackle talent for Michigan State's class of 2011, and the Spartans aim to get back on the lead lap with Wright.

Michigan State has a commitment from three-star defensive tackle Mark Scarpinato of Milwaukee, Wis., and will try to make a major push for Wright this weekend.

Wright committed to Pittsburgh in the summer, but reopened his process after the firing of Dave Wannstedt.

"He started all over with the recruiting process," said Chris Partridge, Wright's head coach at Paramus (N.J.) Catholic.

A week ago, Partridge told SpartanMag.com "it is probably going to be Michigan State and North Carolina as his top two right now."

It became a Top One after his visit to Chapel Hill.

"Right now UNC is number one," Wright told CarolinaBlue.com after the visit. "It's just the feeling you get when you step on campus. UNC is the only campus that I've stepped on that I can honestly say that's where I wanted to be. And I've been to a few other schools and the feeling at UNC is not the same as anywhere else."

Wright, ranked the nation's No. 6 defensive tackle, visited Pitt several times, and then visited Maryland on Dec. 18 after re-opening his recruitment. Maryland then fired Ralph Friedgen a few days later. Michigan State and North Carolina emerged as quality candidates, although they were sight-unseen at the time.

When asked what Wright likes about Michigan State, Partridge said: "What's not to like? It's Big Ten football. He likes Coach (Pat) Narduzzi, he likes the scheme a lot. He likes what he has heard about the campus and the academics that they provide. It's up there. He is obviously looking forward to his visit."

What about UNC?

"Pretty much the same," Partridge said, prior to Wright's visit to UNC. "The academics, the school, Coach (Butch) Davis and his pedigree and his tradition with d-linemen."

As for Miami, Partridge said: "They have always been involved. Coach Stoutland has done a great job recruiting him. I don't think his interest has anything to do with the coaching change. They were always involved. Even if it was the former coach, he would have still been interested in Miami. When it opened back up, he was going to go there to visit."

It's unclear whether he will follow through with that visit, or perhaps the chance that Stoutland will try to get Wright to visit Alabama. Wright's recruitment remains one of the more fluid among Top 100 recruits, with Michigan State right in the middle of it, hoping to attract a difference-maker.

The Personality Factor

Gholston has flourished as a recruiter for the Spartans, over the last two years. Gholston is a gentle giant, a caring person and a program guy. Last week, Gholston worked his magic with defensive end Shilique Calhoun of Middletown, N.J. This weekend, it wouldn't be a surprise if Gholston spends extra time with the latest d-line visitor from New Jersey.

It might work into MSU's favor that Wright's selfless personality is similar to that of Gholston.

"The thing about Marquise is you see him on film, you love him, but then when you meet him, you realize what a dynamic young man he is," Partridge said. "He is a great, great kid. He is not a kid that is going to go out and party or get in trouble. He takes care of his mom, who he is close with. He takes care of his younger brother. He's an amazing person with a good heart, all for the team. I think when these coaches realize that, that's why they become so intense about getting him in their program. Nevermind his skills, he is going to be an unbelievable kid to have in the program."

Partridge was a first-year head coach at Paramus Catholic this season, leading Paramus to its first playoff appearance in four years.

Partridge's first impression of Wright: ""I knew he was a good kid and he was only playing one way and I always wondered why. When I got here the first conversation I had with him I told him he was going to go both ways and he was going to be our left tackle and he was like, 'Whatever is going to help the team.'"

Wright ended up starring on both sides of the ball.

"We are going to have our awards banquet here in another week and he is going to get the offensive player of the year," Partridge said. "He had over 50 pancakes and was dominant."

Matchups and Measurables

Wright is listed at 6-3, 265 in the Rivals.com database, but Partridge says he about 25 pounds heavier than that, and still has the ability to run like a horse.

"Explosive," Partridge said. "I mean he is 6-3, 290. He gets down in a stance and you might think, 'Okay, this guy is never going to be able to get up.' And then he explodes through somebody and you're like, 'Holy crap, what the heck was that?'"

"He is the No. 2 kid in our team in the pro agility. That's his top thing. He can move."

The pro agility drills is 5 yard sprint one way, a 10 yard sprint 180 degrees in the opposite direction, and then a 5 yard sprint back in the original direction. It measures burst and change of direction.

"He is unbelievable side-to-side with his feet, his quickness and his explosion," Partridge said. "We never ran a 40. He is a 300 pound max bench."

That horsepower stays "on" all game long.

"He brought it every game," Partridge said. "I think the first time we played Don Bosco he kind of wreaked havoc on them and did a good job."

That would be Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep, ranked the No. 6 team in the nation by RivalsHigh.com.

"We moved him to guard the second Don Bosco game and he played Hamilton the defensive tackle, and he pretty much shut him down on the offensive side of the ball," Partridge said.

That would be junior defensive lineman Darius Hamilton, one of the top d-linemen in the country for 2012.

"On defense Marquise wreaked havoc on Devin Fuller, who is a Division I kid."

Fuller, of Old Tappan, N.J., is a junior with early scholarship offers from Rutgers and boston College.

"Marquise did a good job against those guys," Partridge said.

As would be expected of a national Top 100 prospect.

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