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INDIANAPOLIS — Mel Tucker feels the sense of urgency going into his second season leading Michigan State’s football program.
“Lots of people tell me, ‘It's like Year 1 for you.’ No, it's not Year 1, it's Year 2,” Tucker said Friday at his first Big Ten media day. “We gotta get this thing moving.”
On the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Big Ten championship game and with two MSU title banners hanging off to his side, Tucker laid the groundwork in person on a bigger stage for the first time since he was hired Feb. 12, 2020. His message on the field that will host the 2021 College Football Playoff title game laid out his mission: “I want to bring a national championship to East Lansing.”
“Michigan State has been my dream job since 1997. This is not just another opportunity for me and for us in East Lansing,” he said. “This is a dream come true, and we need to make it work.”
Easier said than done.
Tucker inherited a program that in the final years before Mark Dantonio’s retirement, following three Big Ten titles since 2010 and an appearance in the 2015 College Football Playoff, played just above .500 football in 2018 and ’19. The Spartans went 2-5 during Tucker’s pandemic-shortened debut season, one that did not involve spring practices and endured the stopping and starting of Big Ten football last summer and fall.
That gave Tucker a chance to assess his roster and begin reshaping it to his liking. In total, the Spartans have 34 new players from a year ago between transfers, incoming freshmen and walk-on additions.
“Our roster is stronger and more competitive,” Tucker said. “And it's gonna lead to a better brand of football. … We have been able to indoctrinate the new players to our program. Now, at this point in the summer, we're all moving forward together, united and as a football team, not just as a collection of players.”
And Tucker borrowed one of Dantonio’s key phrases he used for much of his 13 seasons, saying the Spartans have “a chip on our shoulder. We got a lot to prove.” MSU kicks off at Northwestern at 9 p.m. on Sept. 3 in Evanston, Illinois.
“I feel the momentum. It's coming together,” Tucker said. “Our players can feel it, our coaches can feel it, our donors can feel it. They're excited. We can't wait to get going.”
There were two additions beyond the newly arrived freshmen and transfers. MSU added freshman safety Khalil Majeed from Moorestown, New Jersey and Suffield Academy in Connecticut, and junior kicker Evan Johnson, an Okemos native who transferred from Division III Hope College. Both are walk-ons.
There were position changes of note as well. Sophomore Angelo Grose moved from cornerback to safety, where he worked during the open spring practice in April after playing nickel back mostly last season. And redshirt freshman Maliq Carr from Southfield is listed as a tight end after the Purdue transfer played wide receiver for the Boilermakers in 2020.
MSU added a new tight end in May, one that pleased Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren.
It was his son, Powers Warren.
The younger Warren, who was a redshirt junior at Mississippi State last fall, entered the NCAA transfer portal in November after not playing for first-year Bulldogs coach Mike Leach. Powers Warren, standing 6-foot-3, 245 pounds , played in one game in 2019 and five in 2018.
Kevin Warren on Thursday said his son has two years of eligibility remaining at Michigan State, where he will be a graduate student. Powers Warren is a preferred walk-on.
“I deeply love him. I'm proud of him and to see him to grow up,” Kevin Warren said. “And to grow up in Minnesota, I thought he was going to be a college hockey player. But to follow the path and to go to the South and go to Mississippi State, he went down there, the coach who recruited him left after the first year. He graduated in three and a half years. He battled through some injuries. He stayed positive.
"And so for him to get the opportunity with his college degree in hand in three and a half years, to now go to Michigan State and have an opportunity to play two years of college football and work on his master's, this is what this whole experience is about, when people say, ‘What makes college athletics special?’”
A two-star recruit in the 2017 class according to 247Sports.com, Warren caught 28 passes for 507 yards and two touchdowns in helping Minnetonka to the quarterfinals of the Minnesota State High School League Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
Cass Tech reunion
Kalon Gervin glowed when he learned Tucker hired his high school coach, Thomas Wilcher, to be the Spartans’ director of community and high school relations earlier this month.
And the junior cornerback thinks bringing the legendary Cass Tech coach aboard will be a major boost for MSU’s recruiting in Detroit.
“That was great, man. I love that dude. He's like a father figure to me,” Gervin said earlier this month. “It's great to have your high school head coach right on the team with you. It was amazing when I found out that he was coming.
“He's a huge bridge. I think coach Tucker hit the jackpot. It's a huge deal, especially for Detroiters. I think we'll get a lot more players from the city of Detroit to come here and play.”
The Spartans struggled to mine talent from the city in the waning years of Mark Dantonio’s tenure. Tucker talked about making Detroit a priority in his recruiting efforts the day he was hired officially in February 2020. He fired a direct salvo at Michigan by hiring Wilcher, who was a football and track standout for the Wolverines in the 1980s before taking Cass Tech to three state championships (2011, 2012, 2016) and another runner-up finish.
“He brings everything,” Gervin said. “He knows the game, he knows how to recruit. He's just a great dude. I think a lot of kids gonna are find out that he's just someone you can talk to. He's never gonna give you a wrong answer, he's always gonna tell you how it is straight up. And he's gonna embrace everyone.”
MSU-EMU in 2026
MSU will face Eastern Michigan in a nonconference game Sept. 12, 2026 at Spartan Stadium, per the Spartans' media guide that came out Friday and the Eagles’ media guide released Tuesday.
That would leave one more 2026 nonconference game to schedule for the Spartans, whose schedules are set through 2025. MSU hosts Toledo a week before EMU in 2026 in a makeup of the 2020 game that got postponed due to the Big Ten calling off all nonleague games during the pandemic last fall.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State's Mel Tucker: 'We've got a lot to prove'