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Spartan sleepers

Andrew Mouranie

The key to any successful football team is to get contributions from unsuspecting sources. Michigan State is no different. In 2007, it was an unknown junior college wide receiver named Devin Thomas that burst on the scene and turned himself into the first wide receiver taken in the 2008 NFL draft. In 2008, a walk-on receiver named Blair White led the team in receiving yards (including that oh-so-sweet touchdown in Ann Arbor), earned a scholarship and is now on his way to becoming a captain in, this, his senior season.

So who will it be this year? Well, here are eight names that could develop into household names by the end of the season.

Brian Linthicum, tight end, redshirt sophomore:
The Clemson transfer arrives in East Lansing with plenty of promise and anticipation. After sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer regulations, the Charlottesville, Virginia native is ready to step foot in Spartan Stadium. At 6’5”, 240-pounds, Linthicum becomes a huge target for whichever quarterback is under center for the Spartans. During his freshman campaign for the Tigers, Linthicum started five games and had 11 receptions for 76 yards and three touchdowns. Coming out of high school, Linthicum was rated as the No. 29 ranked tight end by Rivals.com and was a first-team all-state performer. He joins the best stable of tight ends in the Big Ten conference, which includes Mackey List candidate Charlie Gantt, sophomore Garrett Celek and heralded incoming freshman Dion Sims.
“They have made the transition really easy - the coaches and the entire staff,” Linthicum said when asked about his transition to Michigan State at Tuesday’s MSU media day. “Anytime you transfer I think it is really tough to pick up and start over. At first it was tough because you can't play but now I'm more comfortable… I just want to help the team out as much as I can. I want to contribute and do as much as I can do to help the team win.”

Caulton Ray, running back, redshirt freshman: The former Birmingham Brother Rice Warrior was the talk of the running back stable during spring practice and has a good chance at being one of the guys to replace Javon Ringer. He isn’t the biggest of the backs, but he might be the most well-rounded. Having spent a year in the system already, he should have a nice grasp of the offense. Plus, it cannot hurt that he watched Ringer a year ago and knows what it takes to perform at a high level. He was the No. 43 ranked running back coming out of high school by Rivals.com and was named to the All-Midwest team by PrepStar.

Larry Caper and Edwin Baker, running backs, true freshmen: I’m not sure if you can call these two guys sleepers, but since they are true freshmen, I guess it would be a bit of surprise if they came in and produced big numbers. Both are extremely gifted and physically ready to play in the Big Ten. When each verbally committed to play at Michigan State, they were pegged as one of the best running back commitments at MSU since T.J. Duckett. Both were supposed to be the heir apparent to Ringer, however with them both in East Lansing, it is bound be a two-headed monster. Together, they form the best incoming freshman running back duo in the Big Ten and possibly the entire country. Both were Rivals.com four-star recruits out of the state of Michigan. Baker, who graduated from Oak Park, was an U.S. Army All-American but was unable to play with a knee injury. Before the injury, he ran for a career-best 462 yards in a high school game. Caper, from Battle Creek Central, ran for 1,726 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior.
From reports, both have impressed during the early part of fall camp and will push for playing time this fall.
“Both came to camp in very good shape. After one day, they both seem to pick up things very well in the offense,” said MSU running backs coach Dan Enos at media day. “They have both shown very, very good athletic ability and both shown the ability to catch the football. They've also shown toughness and those are all qualities that you look for in running backs and we're excited about those two guys.”

Trenton Robinson, free safety, sophomore:
No other player got more praise from the coaches coming out of spring practice than the Bay City native. He has impressed anybody and everybody who has seen him and coincidentally he is in line to replace Otis Wiley as the starting free safety. In a crowded secondary that has plenty of experience, it is the unproven Robinson that has created all the buzz. He played on special teams during his freshman campaign and recorded six tackles. In high school, he was named to the PrepStar All-Midwest team and to the Detroit News and Free Press dream teams.
When asked at media day about the prospect of starting at free safety, Robinson said “it's exciting. I've just been working hard and it's nice to have the opportunity to get a chance to start here. There are a lot of seniors and upperclassmen ahead of me, but getting that chance is exciting.”

Jerel Worthy, defensive tackle, redshirt freshman: I was fortunate enough to cover Michigan State football a year ago and this was one of the redshirted players that the starters always use to complain about when going against the scout team (quarterback Keith Nichol was another). His athleticism and quick feet for a guy his size makes him an intriguing possibility to replace former captain Justin Kershaw along the defensive front. Oren Wilson is pretty much entrenched as the other defensive tackle, but Worthy has the ability to step right in next to him. Worthy is 6’3”, 292-pounds and moves like a guy 50 pounds lighter. I am not alone in my opinion that Worthy could be a force this season. At media day on Tuesday, he was mentioned numerous times as a young defensive player who could shine in 2009.
“We spotted Jerel a couple years ago in camp. He has a lot of athletic ability. He can dunk a basketball, and he can change direction very well,” said defensive line coach Ted Gill. “For a guy that size, he gives us an opportunity to do some things that we normally couldn't do. He has come a long way and we just have to remember that he is just a red-shirt freshman.”
Said senior middle linebacker Adam Decker: “Jerel Worthy (could have a breakout season). Some of the older guys think he could be a good player right now. If he can provide a presence in the middle, I think we can have a chance to be really good against the run, which helps the secondary, which is already good. I think it all starts with stopping the run, which he is good at.”

Tyler Hoover, defensive end, redshirt freshman: The highly touted former Novi Wildcat missed 10 games in 2008 with a shoulder injury and was given a medical redshirt. If healthy, the 6’7” Hoover might have seen the field as a true freshman. He came to East Lansing with all the physical tools to be a productive force off the edge, but unfortunately for him, the injury brought his freshman year to a halt. Back healthy now, he has a chance to replace Brandon Long opposite Trevor Anderson at defensive end. In 2008, Hoover was one of the best recruits in coach Mark Dantonio’s first full recruiting class. He was the No. 19 ranked strongside defensive end by Rivals.com and was No. 41 among all Midwest prospects by SuperPrep.

Chris Norman, outside linebacker, true freshman: Much like the other two true freshman on this list, I’m not totally sure Norman can be called a sleeper. Ever since he committed to Dantonio in February of 2008, Spartan fans have been looking forward to seeing this physical specimen in green and white. He was the first blue-chip member of the 2009 recruiting class to commit and could be partially responsible for many others in this class. He was open during his recruiting process that he was actively recruiting for Michigan State and had a good relationship with many of the other highly touted prospects in the state of Michigan. Fortunately, he was able to convince many of them to join him in East Lansing.
Since committing to MSU, Norman has continued to improve. Over the summer, he helped Team USA win the inaugural International Federation of American Football (IFAF) Junior World Championship. Norman was named to the all-tournament team. Coming out of Detroit Renaissance, Norman was a four-star recruit and the No. 6 ranked outside linebacker in the country by Rivals.com.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was all smiles when anybody asked him about Norman during media day and deservedly so. Reports have said that Norman has shown up to camp looking like a complete beast and ready to challenge for the last starting linebacker spot. Currently, Brandon Denson holds that position, but don’t be surprised to see Norman on the field sooner rather than later. And if it is determined that Norman is the best for that spot, the coaching staff will have no worries about throwing the true freshman out there.
“If he is our number one guy, we will go with him,” linebackers coach Mike Tressel said at media day. “Now, if he is neck and neck with somebody we will try and get him in the rotation and get him on the field. If he is clearly number one, he is going to play.”

Quotes and stats courtesy of msuspartans.com

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