Don’t look now, but Mel Tucker is quietly putting together a fine recruiting class in his 1st year at Michigan State.

The Spartans signed everyone they were expected to on Wednesday and even picked up a few surprises, catapulting them into the high 30s on 247Sports’ recruiting rankings. Michigan State earned 2 huge wins this season over Michigan and Northwestern that likely went a long way toward securing some talent. But Tucker still has much work to do to return the Spartans to the Big Ten Championship Game.

These were the 5 biggest takeaways for the Spartans after Day 1 of the Early Signing Period:


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1. The Ma’a Gaoteote surprise

Any day when you have to upgrade who your highest-rated recruit is is a good day, especially when it’s at a position of need.

Gaoteote was one of the biggest surprise signings of the day nationally, as the former USC commit since February 2018 selected the Spartans. A Las Vegas native, Gaoteote is the No. 11 outside linebacker in the country and rated as the 155th best recruit in the Class of 2021.

Gaoteote’s recruitment opened up following his older brother Palaie entering the transfer portal. Palaie is a former 5-star linebacker recruit who signed with USC in the 2018 class. He would obviously be another huge addition to Tucker’s defense, should he choose to follow the path of his younger brother.

2. A QB for 2021 and a QB for 2022 and beyond

Everyone was expecting 1 QB signing on Wednesday in the form of 3-star pro-style quarterback Hampton Fay. The Fort Worth, Texas product is the 39th-best prospect at his position and was expected to be Michigan State’s quarterback of the future, but not until he had a year of development. The Spartans were hoping for someone from the transfer portal to hold the team over.

Enter Anthony Russo.

Russo is an accomplished veteran from Temple who posted a 59.6 percent completion rate, throwing for 6,287 yards with 44 touchdowns and 32 interceptions over the course of 26 starts and 5 seasons with the Owls.

“We have adopted an NFL approach to recruiting,” Tucker said. “Much like the NFL, there’s a draft and free agency; in college football today, we have a National Signing Day and we have the transfer portal. That, itself, demands new approaches.”

While Michigan State could return all 3 quarterbacks on their 2020 roster along with these 2 new additions, Russo will in all likelihood be the starter going forward.

3. Geographically diverse

Tucker has said how Michigan State is a national brand, and his first recruiting class reflects that.

While the Spartans signed only 4 players from the state of Michigan on Wednesday, the other 12 signees hail from 9 different states. The Spartans even had a commitment from Australian punter Mark Vassett, though he recently deleted his commitment tweet and did not sign with Michigan State.

Just how geographically spread out this class is is impressive given that Tucker has been unable to host any recruits since March or send out coaches all over the country to scout. Michigan State will need to continue to find gems in every corner of the country, as they will likely be outrecruited in their backyard by the other Big Ten powers.

4. Tom Izzo would be proud

One thing is certain. Tucker certainly has a knack for finding tall players.

There isn’t a single recruit listed below 6 feet. Eight are taller than 6-4, with an additional 2 skyscrapers expected to sign later this week. Russo is also 6-4. Offensive tackles Brandon Baldwin and Ethan Boyd top out at 6-7.

In a conference known for physicality, Tucker is building his roster to be able to compete with the hog mollies of the Big Ten. It may not be pretty football, but as long as the Spartans win, it’s not a bad formula.

5. Whom are we waiting on?

Michigan State is still anxiously awaiting National Letters of Intent from 3 prospects, including their top-rated player before the Gaoteote signing.

Rayshaun Benny is a 4-star defensive tackle from Oak Park High School and is the 194th-best recruit in the nation. He recently said that he still plans to sign with Michigan State, but he won’t do so until February.

Of less certainty are high school teammates Audric Estime and Geno VanDeMark. Estime is a 4-star running back and would be the 3rd-highest-rated player in this class, while VanDeMark is a 3-star offensive guard.

Estime picked up an offer from Notre Dame on Monday, and at this point it’s unclear when the 2 will sign.