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5 Freshmen who will make a big impact for Michigan State in 2018

Michigan State played 13 true freshmen in 2017, a record-high during the Mark Dantonio era. Collectively, they helped cap off the biggest single-season turnaround in program history in terms of wins from the previous year (7).

This year’s Spartans come in with high expectations after flirting with another Big Ten East Division crown last season and returning the vast majority of their starters (20 of 22, to be exact). Still, as is the case every year, there will always be incoming freshmen who find playing time, for a variety of reasons, and just take off.

It may be a bit harder for MSU’s Class of 2018 rookies to find time than their counterparts a year ago but these are five freshmen who could make a difference.

XAVIER HENDERSON

Xavier Henderson is a 4-star athlete from Pickerington, Ohio and is rated as the third-best recruit from this Michigan State freshman class, according to 247Sports.

One of seven early enrollees from this class, Henderson saw plenty of playing time in the team’s spring game back in April, playing mostly as a nickel back in the secondary and received good feedback from coaches and staff. The starting secondary is pretty much locked up but it would seem that Henderson could be the guy to moonlight as a fifth defensive back at times for the Spartans and be the first one called upon if an injury arises.

KALON GERVIN

The honor of being the most highly-touted recruit for Michigan State goes to cornerback Kalon Gervin. The former Cass Tech standout, like Henderson, was also an early enrollee at the school.

Gervin does not have the most intimidating size presence right now (5-11, 180) but he makes up for that with some blazing speed, which will surely make some opposing quarterbacks think twice before throwing a deep ball on his side of the field. Much like Henderson, Gervin could be a guy who forces his way into the everyday rotation for the secondary. He also has good footsteps to follow in, as presumptive starting corner Josiah Scott broke out as a true freshman in 2017.

Whether it now or in the future, Gervin seems like a good fit for the “No Fly Zone” in East Lansing.

TRENTON GILLISON

Tight end Trenton Gillison, who was teammates with Henderson at Pickerington Central in Ohio, was tabbed as a top-15 player at his position from the Class of 2018.

The two-sport athlete could earn some playing time early on for one big reason: the lack of production at the position. Tight ends for the Spartans in 2017 — Matt Sokol, Matt Dotson, Noah Davis — combined to haul in just 26 passes, or less than 11 percent of Brian Lewerke’s completions, for 263 yards. Sokol, who is expected to be the starter, was responsible for 21 of those.

After Sokol, however, there is a lot of uncertainty. Davis went under the knife for an undisclosed injury back in April and there is no clear timetable for if and when he could return. This ultimately could lead to some opportunities for Gillison.

LA’DARIUS JEFFERSON

After shredding the competition as a dual-threat quarterback at the high school level, former Muskegon signal-caller La’Darius Jefferson is taking his explosive talent to MSU.

Jefferson earned multiple ‘player of the year’ honors last season, including being named “Mr. Football” in the state of Michigan and topped it all off with a state title. But here is what makes him one of the more intriguing freshmen to watch: how is he going to be used? The quarterback spot is already taken. The Spartans formally offered Jefferson a scholarship as an “athlete” and there are some options with that.

Offensively, he could be utilized as a change-of-pace ball-carrier in the backfield to complement starter LJ Scott, or even sprinkled in as a slot receiver, given his speed and athleticism. At the same time, those same attributes could translate to a linebacker of sorts as well.

JALEN NAILOR

Jalen Nailor is one of two freshmen at the wide receiver position for Michigan State, along with fellow rookie Julian Major (who we also probably could have put here).

Nailor is also a former multi-sport athlete coming out of a high school, he ran track at Bishop Gorman High School and broke several records this past school year. Simply put, he is a burner. And he just might be the guy who adds that extra dimension of speed to the Spartans’ offensive gameplans.

The first-stringers at wideout for MSU are already set (Felton Davis III, Darrell Stewart Jr., Cody White) but it is pretty wide open after that. Cam Chambers balled out (again) in the spring game and will presumably be the “fourth” wide receiver for the Spartans, but another guy or two will need to step up, especially in the instance of an injury and after the transfer of Hunter Rison. Nailor could have a similar role, albeit on a smaller scale, to that of Stewart, who logged 640 total yards rushing and receiving last season.

Written by Alex Muller

MSU Graduate. Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Baseball is life, a pitcher at heart. Freelance writer for MIPrepZone (News-Herald, Press & Guide).

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5 Potential impact freshmen for Michigan in 2018