SOUTHFIELD - In the most talked-about, noteworthy signing day victory in Michigan State football recruiting history, the Spartans gained a commitment from Malik McDowell during a press conference at Southfield High School, Wednesday.
McDowell selected Michigan State over Ohio State, Florida State and Michigan after an exhaustive, dramatic recruitment which gained national attention and spurred statewide angst and controversy as college football fans and non-fans alike became interested to find out where the state's No. 1-ranked recruit for 2014 is headed for his college career.
Rivals.com ranks McDowell the No. 26 player in the country and the No. 2 strong side defensive end. He is one of only 33 players in the country who received five-star status from Rivals.com, and is the only player in the Midwest to earn Rivals.com five-star status for 2014.
McDowell is a promising football prospect, but his status as one of the best players in the country was only half of the story which made his recruitment a sporting soap opera during the first five weeks of 2014.
McDowell was regarded as a heavy Michigan lean throughout most of his recruitment. But he soured on Michigan as the Wolverines endured a difficult, often tumultuous 2013 season on the field. Meanwhile, Michigan State's rise to a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl Championship sparked his growing interest in the Spartan program. His regard for the supportive MSU coaching staff and the warm camaraderie of the team caused him to make a late scheduling change and take an official visit to MSU in late January, against his parents' wishes.
"The players made me feel real comfortable," McDowell said of his future Spartan teammates. "The coaches are just the same -- real good people. They are real energetic coaches, so I like that.
"I like Coach D, Coach [Pat] Narduzzi, Coach [Ron] Burton and Coach [Terry] Samuel too. Just the team atmosphere - I like the school atmosphere and just the overall school."
McDowell's recruitment transcended college sports as a source of odd interest in the days leading to signing day when McDowell's mother, Joya Crowe, told Detroit newspapers this week that she is and was adamantly against sending her son to Michigan State. Her comments, denigrating the university and the program, offended and angered Michigan State fans and alums, and delighted anti-MSU factions.
The strangeness of Crowe's stance made her son's recruitment major news on national sports web sites.
Unable to dissuade her son from considering Michigan State, she took her task to the media, disparaging Michigan State with an interview campaign unprecedented in the history of Michigan high school football recruiting.
Apparently, her anti-MSU sentiments bothered McDowell as well. Sources indicate that McDowell often argued with his mother about his affinity for Michigan State, sometimes while in the presence of Spartan coaches.
Crowe added juice to the drama by claiming that "something happened" while she accompanied her son during his official visit to Michigan State in late January, but didn't reveal specifics. Sources indicate that Crowe voiced her anti-MSU stance during official visit functions, making committed Spartan recruits and family members of committed Spartan recruits uncomfortable.
Crowe told a Detroit newspaper that she and McDowell's father fear "too much social life" at Michigan State - which also enraged Spartan fans, considering that Florida State and Ohio State are far from the quietest campuses in America.
McDowell's parents also stated a conflicting desire to see their son leave the state and get away from local friends and influences - but also stated that they would be 100 percent behind him remaining in the Detroit area and attending the University of Michigan.
Crowe stated that academic considerations were chief among her concerns, and concluded that Michigan State wouldn't do enough for her son to prepare him for life after football. Ironically, the day that Crowe appeared on a Detroit radio station making those remarks, Michigan State defensive tackle Mark Scarpinato announced that he is retiring from football after graduating from Michigan State with a degree in kinesiology and being accepted to medical school at the Medical College of Milwaukee in Wisconsin. Scarpinato earned Academic All-Big Ten in 2013 with a GPA of 3.87.
Crowe also stated that Michigan State hasn't produced enough NFL Draft Picks on the defensive line, in comparison to Ohio State and Florida State. On the radio show, she didn't seem satisfied with William Gholston being selected, as she said, in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. [Gholston was actually selected in the fourth round]. Meanwhile, MSU rising junior Shilique Calhoun is projected as a first-round pick for the 2015 NFL Draft, listed as the No. 1 DE prospect in the country by NFLDraftScout.com.
Michigan State coaches attempted to sell Michigan State to Crowe on all of these fronts, but never weakened her stance.
Despite the resistance, MSU coaches continued to pursue McDowell and encouraged him to "seek the truth," as Mark Dantonio often says. McDowell welcomed their overtures.
While Crowe took her campaign to the airwaves, McDowell withdrew from giving video or radio interviews in the final weeks of his recruitment - aside from an exclusive interview with Rivals.com's Josh Helmholdt on Monday. At the end, he seemed exhausted and saddened by the process, but steadfast in his appreciation for Michigan State.
The publicly-stated hang-ups that McDowell's parents had with MSU didn't seem rational to Spartan fans and many media members, and apparently didn't resonate with their son, either. McDowell battled through his parent's misgivings and elected to commit to Michigan State anyway.
Michigan State has now signed the top in-state player in four of the last five years, including: Aaron Burbridge in 2012, Lawrence Thomas in 2011 and Gholston in 2010. This comes after a nine-year drought of being unable to sign the No. 1 player in the state, dating back to Charles Rogers in 2000. But none of the recruiting victories and losses over the years carried the bizarre drama of MSU's signing of McDowell in 2014.