Michigan State football has had a lot of movement in the last five years, with a coaching change and the transfer portal era. Who went where?
Welcome back to the second and final part of this project of tracking down all Michigan State football transfers who played in college football in 2023.
Today, you will be seeing players who I marked as Power Five contributors, Group of Five starters, and the Power Five starters. This list brings with a lot of players who you might recall, from early Mel Tucker recruiting victories to higher-up Dantonio prospects who did not quite pan out.
In case you missed the previous edition of this project, here is a link to part one.
Power Five Contributors (10 players)
- Luke Fulton, LB, Kentucky (2 tackles, 1 solo, 1 pass defensed)
Luke Fulton entered the Spartans as a four-star out of the 2019 class. Fulton did not play in 2019, and then was suspended for all of 2020 following charges of assault alongside Charles Willekes. Both entered the portal in November, and Fulton landed at Kentucky in February. Fulton played in six games in 2022, but did not record a stat. He recorded his first stats of his career this year. However, he has entered the portal as a graduate before the Wildcats played their bowl game this season. He has yet to announce his third school.
- Kalon Gervin, DB, Kansas (14 tackles, 11 solo, 4 passes defensed)
Kalon Gervin was another four-star corner out of the 2018 class. Gervin was another highly-touted prospect, with the Spartans landing him over Michigan and Notre Dame. Gervin saw the field for 22 games in his four seasons at MSU. After starting the first two games of 2021, Gervin saw less of the field the next two outings and entered the portal. Originally, he committed to Wisconsin, but later changed his mind and joined Kansas. Gervin saw the field as a role player for his two years at Kansas, and recently recorded three tackles in the Jayhawks’ bowl victory over UNLV and former Spartan teammate Ricky White.
- Jalen Hunt, DT, Cincinnati (3 tackles, 1 solo, 0.5 TFL)
Jalen Hunt is the third member of the 2019 Michigan State football class from Belleville High. Originally a three star Iowa commit, Hunt wound up enrolling at Michigan State after an academic issue barred him from the Hawkeyes. After taking an online course, Hunt would join the Spartans for the 2019 season. Unlike many of his other high school teammates, Hunt benefited from the coaching change under Tucker, with the then-redshirt freshman starting a game for Michigan State before an injury ended his 2020 campaign. Hunt started the season opener in 2021, but was reduced to a rotational player for the rest of the year. He was injured in 2022, but then saw the field upon his recovery and multiple suspensions. He entered the portal following the season, and joined the Bearcats on their inaugural Big 12 campaign. Hunt saw very little of the field this season. He might still have a season or two of eligibility left after he has missed parts of two seasons with injuries.
- Evan Johnson, K, Maryland (1-1 FG, long of 24 yards; 1 kickoff for a touchback)
Evan Johnson was a walk-on in 2021 after kicking for Hope College in 2018. Due to an undisclosed Matt Coghlin injury, Johnson wound up seeing the field for the Penn State season finale, and went 1-for-2 on extra points. Johnson entered the portal, and wound up at Maryland. He recorded his first FBS field goal this season. Johnson is another name that I barely recognize on this list. He is one of very few players who can say they have recorded points for two separate Big Ten schools.
- Chris Jackson, DB, Washington St (4 tackles, 1 pass defensed)
Chris Jackson was another corner from the 2018 class. Jackson played in nine games with the Spartans, and started the first two in the 2020 campaign. Following the 2020 season, he entered the transfer portal and headed to Washington State. Jackson played in all 12 games for the Cougars in 2022, including starting their bowl game. According to 247Sports, Jackson entered the portal following the season, but returned for the 2023 campaign. He took a noticeable step back this year.
- Jeff Pietrowski Jr., DL, Wisconsin (21 tackles, 14 solo, 1.5 TFL)
Jeff Pietrowski Jr. was the success story of the 2020 class. After primarily playing on special teams as a freshman, Pietrowski broke out in 2021. He was second on the team in sacks despite only starting three games. Going into 2022, he was a breakout candidate. Unfortunately, injuries derailed his campaign and he was done for the season after only three games. He entered the portal in January, and took his talents to Wisconsin. Pietrowski played in all 12 games this year but was not very productive as a Badger. There is still time for the once-promising Spartan. He has his COVID year and a medical redshirt in his back pocket.
- Jack Stone, K, Baylor (kickoff specialist, averaged 62.3 yards per kick, 14 touchbacks in 39 kicks)
Jack Stone was a highly touted kicker in the 2022 class. The 247Sports Composite had Stone as the no. 6 kicker, but Mel Tucker and Co. thought that the freshman could not take the torch from Matt Coghlin. Stone and Ben Patton alternated kicking duties in 2022, and Stone finished 2-for-4 on field goals and 15-for-16 on extra points, along with handling kickoff duties. Stone drilled a 51-yard field goal against Penn State to end the season, after Patton ruined the Spartan chances of a bowl game the week prior. After this bizarre choice of specialists, Stone entered the portal in December of 2022. He served as Baylor’s kickoff specialist for eight games this season. His big leg has a drawback, however: he put three kicks out of bounds for the Bears this season.
- Germie Bernard, WR, Washington (34 catches, 419 yards, 2 TDs; 13 rushes, 43 yards, 2 TDs; 1 completion for 14 yards; 3 punt returns for 43 yards, 10 kick returns for 233 yards)
Germie Bernard is one of the youngest players on this list. He was a late addition to the Spartans’ 2022 class and saw the field for all 12 games as a true freshman, which is not a surprise for the former top-250 prospect. His stats for the year had me considering putting him as a member of my top six former Spartans from the 2023 season, and I have no doubt that if I do this list again next year he will be the headliner.
Bernard, originally a Washington commit, flipped to the Spartans and got to start against the Huskies in 2022. He recorded seven catches for 128 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman.
However, Bernard entered the portal following the season, and went back to the Huskies for 2023. While his numbers are not eye-popping, Bernard has been all over the field for the College Football Playoff runner-ups. He also recorded a touchdown on his return to East Lansing in September, as well as a touchdown when the Huskies beat the Ducks for the final Pac-12 title. His loss really stings with Jonathan Smith putting Aidan Chiles at the helm of the offense for 2024.
- Elijah Collins, RB, Oklahoma State (30 rushes, 142 yards, 2 TDs; 2 catches for 19 yards)
Elijah Collins is a massive “what if” on this list. Collins was a member of the 2018 class for the Spartans, committing to MSU over Iowa, Boston College, and Cincinnati, among others. The former two-sport athlete (he played with Cassius Winston at Detroit Jesuit) had two carries for eight yards as a freshman.
As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Collins exploded onto the scene. He put up 192 rushing yards against Western Michigan and the back finished with 988 yards for the season. Then, the 2020 season and coaching change rolled around, and Collins barely saw the field. Apparently, the phenom had a bad bout of COVID-19 and was never back to 100 percent for the whole season.
In 2021, the Spartans brought in a generational running back in Kenneth Walker III. Collins did get to see the field against Youngstown State, but then got injured on a touchdown catch-and-run. He was named a team captain for the 2022 season, but split carries with Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard. He transferred to Oklahoma State last offseason, and only had 32 touches for the year.
Collins was the ultimate professional throughout his time with Michigan State football, never complaining for carries and always celebrating his teammates’ accomplishments. Despite Collins leaving the program to finish his collegiate career, I believe we all can agree that the back is a “Spartan for life.”
Group of Five starters (9 players)
- Jeslord Boateng, LB, Louisiana Tech (93 tackles, 31 solo, 9 TFL, 1 sack, 1 pass defensed)
Jeslord Boateng was a member of Mark Dantonio’s 2018 class. After not seeing the field as a freshman and then barely seeing the field as a Spartan (10 tackles in 2019), Boateng was not on the field in 2020. He entered the portal, where he headed off to Akron. After a productive two seasons with the Zips, including a matchup with the Spartans in 2022, Boateng entered the portal again. He went to Louisiana Tech, where he had his best season by a wide margin.
- Rocky Lombardi, QB, NIU (189-for-327, 2,274 yards, 11 TDs, 7 INTs; 72 carries for 129 yards, 7 TDs; 1 punt for 40 yards)
Yes, Rocky Lombardi was still playing college football in 2023. As a member of the class of 1998, I mean, 2017, he committed to the Spartans as the 12th-best dual-threat in the country. Lombardi was the hero of the Purdue game in 2018, and then saw the field sparingly in the last year of Brian Lewerke in 2019. After the 2020 campaign, where Lombardi could not lay a solid claim to the starting quarterback job, he entered the transfer portal. He went to Northern Illinois, and led them to a MAC title in 2021. After an injury robbed him of most of 2022, he got a redshirt, and returned for this season. This season, he ended up leading them to a victory in the Camellia Bowl.
- Charles Willekes, LB, Arkansas State (90 tackles, 31 solo, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 pass defensed)
Charles Willekes joined the Michigan State football program in 2019 as a walk-on. He saw the field on special teams against Michigan, but that was the extent of his time as a Spartan. After he was suspended alongside Fulton, he entered the portal in November 2020. He went down to Arkansas State and was a contributor for the next two seasons. This season, however, Willekes was a starter and made an impact. He hit the 90-tackle mark for the first time this season. Not all was perfect, as his Red Wolves were on the receiving end of Lombardi’s win in the Camellia Bowl.
- Tate Hallock, S, Western Michigan (75 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 4 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble)
Tate Hallock was a member of the 2019 Spartan class, joining the program as a legacy recruit. Hallock barely saw the field during his years at Michigan State, with five tackles in 18 games played in his four years. He entered the portal after the season in 2022, and stayed in state with the Broncos. In his first year as a starter, Hallock shined with Western Michigan. In his 11 games, he recorded 75 tackles, and picked off MAC star DeQuan Finn as a highlight.
- Michael Dowell, S, Miami (OH) (62 tackles, 33 solo, 3.5 TFL, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 5 passes defensed)
Michael Dowell was a part of the 2018 class, joining his elder brothers Andrew and David for his freshman season. Dowell played in 32 games for the Spartans, but found his playing time being reduced throughout the 2021 season. He entered the portal after the 2021 regular season ended, seeking more playing time. Following the Peach Bowl, Dowell announced his intentions to transfer to Pitt. However, that fell through and Dowell landed with the RedHawks. That appears to have worked out, as he recorded almost 100 tackles in 2022. He was not as prolific this season for the MAC champions, but he was named the MAC Safety of the Year by College Football Network.
- Cade McDonald, WR, Miami (OH) (28 catches for 355 yards, 3 TDs; 2 rushes for 8 yards; 18 punt returns for 229 yards)
Cade McDonald walked on to MSU in 2019, joining high school teammates Jayden Reed and Payton Thorne. He played in 25 games for the Spartans before entering the portal following spring practices in 2023. He joined Dowell with the RedHawks, and was their slot receiver and punt returner this year. McDonald had multiple flashy plays during the MAC title game, including a 12-yard rush.
- Chase Kline, LB, Eastern Michigan (143 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery, 2 fumbles forced)
Chase Kline was a member of the 2018 recruiting class. Kline played for Michigan State football for his first three seasons and a few games, recording 52 tackles in his 24 games. He entered the portal mid-season in 2021, and signed with the Eagles in December. This season, he was the starting middle linebacker for the Eagles, and put up nearly 150 tackles this season. He was named to the 2023 All-MAC third-team after this performance.
- Jacob Isaia, OL, Fresno State (Started in all 14 games)
Jacob Isaia joined the Spartans in 2018. He participated in 24 games at MSU, mostly on special teams. He also earned a start at fullback in 2019 against Michigan. After only seeing three snaps on offense during 2021, Isaia entered the transfer portal after graduating. He went back to his home state of California to head to Fresno State. Isaia was the starting center for the Bulldogs this season, helping them to a MWC title game berth.
- Damon Kaylor, OL, Ball State (Started every game)
Damon Kaylor was a member of the class of 2019. The Indiana native did not see the field for each of his first two seasons, and entered the transfer portal after spring practices in 2021. He went to Ball State, and has quietly been a great addition for the Cardinals. Kaylor paved the way for Carson Steele to have a historic 2022 with Ball State, and the lineman was preseason All-MAC this year. The former Spartan lived up to expectations, starting all of the Cardinals’ games and was named third-team All-MAC.
The Best Six (Power Five starters and an All-American)
- Payton Thorne, QB, Auburn (162-for-265, 1,755 yards, 16 TDs, 10 INTs; 134 rushes for 515 yards and 3 TDs)
Payton Thorne was the class quarterback of 2019. He was flipped from Western Michigan, primarily recruited by Jayden Reed, who was transferring from WMU at the time. Thorne made his first start in 2020, setting the pace for a historic 2021. He set records for passing touchdowns as Michigan State football went 11-2 and won the Peach Bowl. In 2022, with injuries and a lack of Kenneth Walker III, Thorne and the Spartans struggled. Following the announcement of the open quarterback competition, Thorne looked primed to compete.
Until, all of the sudden, he chose to not compete. He left the Spartans for Auburn, where he won the quarterback battle for the Tigers. His rushing numbers improved, but his arm and timing struggled, with Thorne not even hitting 2,000 passing yards. He nearly led an upset of Alabama, but then lost on a miracle conversion. His bowl game against Maryland went about as well as the last time Thorne saw Maryland. He threw a pick and was sacked three times as the Tigers lost by 14.
- Dashaun Mallory, DL, Arizona State (48 tackles, 26 solo, 10 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 passes defensed)
Dashaun Mallory was a member of the 2018 class. He started off as a defensive tackle, and then cut down nearly 50 pounds to slim down to defensive end. Mallory played in 30 games during his time with the Spartans, and ended his career as a starter following multiple suspensions. He took advantage of this opportunity and entered the portal after the season ended. Mallory went to Arizona State and played out his final season in Tempe. His season highlights include being named Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week after two pass breakups, nine tackles, and half of a sack.
- Jack Olsen, K, Northwestern (14-for-19 with a longest field goal of 47 yards; 33-for-33 on extra points)
Jack Olsen was the No. 4 rated kicker out of the 2020 class. With Matt Coghlin opting to stay another year, Olsen did not see the field in 2020. He entered the transfer portal and headed back to his home state in 2021, landing with Northwestern. He saw action in two games in 2021. In 2022, he saw a bit of game action again. Then, this season, Olsen was part of the resurgent Wildcats. While Northwestern beat Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl, Olsen struggled, going 0-for-2. That said, his season ended with an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection.
- Jack Bouwmeester, P, Utah (55 punts for 2,503 yards, averaged 45.5 yards per punt)
Jack Bouwmeester was the No. 6 punter in the 2019 recruiting class. Mark Dantonio managed to bring in the talented Australian. At the time, Michigan State football was in the midst of the last year of Jake Hartbarger, which led to Bouwmeester never seeing the field.
Due to personal reasons and the pandemic, Bouwmeester’s name appeared in the portal in September 2020.
Bouwmeester dropped off the map for a few years after this, re-emerging and taking his talents to the Utah Utes in 2022. In his first season as a starter, Bouwmeester averaged just under 40 yards a punt. This season, however, the former Spartan took off. Bouwmeester was highlighted by Pat McAfee for his excellence at punting early in the season, was named a midseason All-American by The Athletic, and then was named All-Pac-12 first team by the coaches and AP to end the season. Additionally, he was named a Ray Guy Award semifinalist.
Michigan State football rarely seems to miss with special team positions. Nearly every Spartan specialist has excelled with MSU, in the NFL, or with their next program.
- Keon Coleman, WR, Florida State (50 catches, 658 yards, 11 TDs; 25 punt returns for 300 yards)
Keon Coleman was a four-star recruit out of Louisiana in the class of 2021. As the first four star of the Mel Tucker era, Coleman faced a lot of expectations. His talent was apparent early, as the receiver saw the field for his entire freshman season, highlighted by his first touchdown against Ohio State. After this season, Jalen Nailor and Connor Heyward headed out to the NFL, opening up Coleman for a lot more time in 2022.
He excelled in 2022, with nearly 800 yards and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately, his efforts did not lead to on-field success, with the Spartans limping to a 5-7 record. However, the hype was strong for Coleman. A majority of pundits placed Coleman in the same range (mid-second round) for the 2024 NFL Draft that fellow Spartan Jayden Reed went in 2023. Big things were expected for Coleman in 2023.
Big things certainly happened. However, they came with the Florida State Seminoles. On the final day of the spring portal opening, Coleman, Chuck Brantley, and Payton Thorne all entered the transfer portal. Keon was viewed as the prize of this trio, as he was rated to No. 16 prospect in the portal by 247Sports. Coleman committed to the Seminoles a few weeks later, and announced his presence against LSU in Week 1. Coleman had nine catches for 122 yards and three touchdowns, firmly putting his name on the map. While he did not quite replicate that performance, partially due to an injury to Seminole quarterback Jordan Travis, the ‘Noles ran the ACC this year, going 13-0 and winning the conference title. Following the snubbing from the CFP, Coleman was one of many FSU opt-outs to focus on the NFL draft. In that opt out, he made sure to thank Michigan State.
While not in the CFP, Keon had quite a few accolades to comfort himself with for his one year at FSU. He was named the top punt returner, the top newcomer, a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, first team All-ACC, and second team All-American by Sports Illustrated. Coleman will be back in Michigan this spring most likely, as he is the consensus No. 4 receiver in the NFL draft (held in Detroit this season) and a surefire first-round selection. It is a near certainty that he will hold a “green room” invitation.
- Ricky White, WR, UNLV (88 catches for 1,483 yards, 8 TDs)
The final person on this list is one that made the biggest impact of all former Spartans in college football this season. Ricky White, the hero of the Michigan-Michigan State football game in 2020, shined for UNLV this season. White was part of Mark Dantonio’s final Spartan class in 2020, and he was one of the higher-rated prospects of the bunch. The Georgia native burst onto the scene with nearly 200 yards against Michigan in a massive MSU upset, but then struggled with injuries.
Along with Michael Gravely Jr., White was suspended and eventually hit the portal in December 2021. He did not see the field his second season, and looked for a fresh start with UNLV. In 2022, he again made a huge impact in one of his first games, recording 182 yards and two touchdowns in his Rebel debut against Idaho State. However, he did not go over 100 yards the rest of the season, and finished with just under 700 yards receiving. He was primed for a breakout 2023.
No one could have foreseen how big of a breakout White had, however. He went over 100 yards receiving seven times this year, including a mind-blowing five (!!) games in a row. He nearly had nine games in a row, too, with him just missing out on 100 three times against Colorado State (76 yards), Boise State (86 yards), and Kansas (97 yards). White finished the season just shy of 1,500 yards. Despite it being glaringly obvious that White was the go-to guy, no one could guard him. He earned first team All-Mountain West honors, alongside second-team All-American. At UNLV, that is an amazing accomplishment. Due to the nature of the Power Five controlling the names contending for Biletnikoff Award, along with his second-half production coming after semifinalist lists were announced, White was only named to the watchlist.
That said, he doubled Keon Coleman’s yardage total when Coleman was a semifinalist.
Ricky White was a nightmare for defensive backs this season. He will be a nightmare next year, too. The 2023 third-team All-American announced he was coming back to UNLV for 2024.
That was a lot. With multiple Spartans moving to the pros or graduating from this list, a 2024 edition may be on the way next offseason.
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