December 13, 2006

Spartans suddenly running strong for Barksdale

Mark Dantonio believes trust and friendships and networks he has built through the years in the high school coaching ranks will serve him well in his new job as head coach at Michigan State.

It hasn't taken long for those networks and friendships to yield results in his home state of Ohio. It may come as a surprise to some that the trust he has built in Detroit over the years has already created ripples on the recruiting trail for Michigan State.

In week one of the Dantonio era at MSU, new Spartan assistants Harlon Barnett and Ted Gill visited every high school in the Detroit Public School league.

In week two, when Dantonio hit the road for the first time, he made the rounds in Detroit, including a stop at famed Detroit Cass Technical High School, home of Joseph Barksdale, one of the top defensive tackles in the country.

"He came to Cass Tech and he walked in without an appointment, without anything set up, and said, 'I'm going in here to see this young man and I'm going to get this done,'" said Cass Tech assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Charleston Fobbs.

Barksdale, ranked the No. 6 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 1 player in Michigan by, was down to three schools at that point: LSU, Notre Dame and Ohio State. He had visited all three of them and was in decision-making mode.

But then Dantonio knocked at the door. And Fobbs let him in.

"I have known Coach Dantonio for a long time," Fobbs said. "My knowing Coach Dantonio, I have kind of brought him into the family like, 'This is a good guy and it would be interesting to see what he has to say.'"

Dantonio secured an in-home visit with the Barksdales last week.

"So they listed to it, and they liked what he had to the say to the point that they felt compelled to go up for an official visit, which was something because he was basically done with his visits after his visit to LSU," Fobbs said.

Now, Fobbs said Michigan State appears to be in the running, along with Ohio State, LSU and Notre Dame.

"He really liked it," Fobbs said. "He had a terrific visit. He enjoyed himself up there. He really likes what Coach Dantonio has going on and the changes he has made.

"They liked the changes and the differences in the program and the different direction they are trying to go with the program. In talking to the parents, they liked Coach Smith but they felt like Coach Dantonio had a little bit more sculpted vision and a better plan to get there."

The decision will be a tough one, Fobbs said.

"There is no question that it is probably going to be the toughest few weeks of his life," he said. "Coach Dantonio came in last week for an in-home visit, Coach Miles from LSU is coming in (Tuesday night), and Coach Tressel is coming in this week as well.

"He wants to make a decision prior to the All-American game in San Antonio on Jan. 6."

But Dantonio has thrown Michigan State into contention?

"Yes he has," Fobbs said. "There is no question he has done that. Every kid has thought about having their parents come to every game like they did in high school. His mom is thinking, 'I can go an hour away to see my son play or check in on him.' That's their oldest son.

"Joseph takes a real methodical approach to looking at the university and saying what are the schemes, what is the past history of developing defensive linemen, what the academic history is, the coaches and how they respond to him as individuals and his family and the value system they set forward. And Coach Dantonio has indicated that he is a God-fearing man and into doing things the right way. And that's in line with his family and his dad being a minister. So that is definitely in line with what his dad's values and morals are.

"Those are some things that are seriously going to be on the table to be considered when looking at the programs he is thinking about being involved with.

"They loved the academic side of it. I mean the academic presentation was phenomenal. With Coach Saban setting up the center there before he left and then going to LSU and setting up the same thing at LSU, there were a lot of mirror images of things that were occurring at Michigan State and LSU that they noticed. So they really liked that. The mom is heavy in the academic side.

"And I actually asked her, 'If you had to give a parent some advice in the recruiting process, what would you give them?' And she said the biggest thing she would tell a parent is if you really wanted to find out about a university, go when they are not playing a football game. That gives you a lot of time to find out more about the university."

Mrs. Barksdale had that opportunity this past weekend.

"She spent a lot of time with a representative from the school of engineering and really had a chance to see the intricate aspects and scenarios that would be available to her child from an academic standpoint," Fobbs said. "And that's why they sent their son to Cass. They didn't send their son to Cass to play football. He came to Cass for academics. Both mom and dad are alumni of Cass. So their number one focus was academics and that's why he is a 3.5 student.

"So Michigan State was the next natural progression in that piece from the academic side, and that's why I feel they favored the Michigan State scenario locally."

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