Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch joins Detroit Free Press writers Chris Solari and Shawn Windsor following Michigan State's news conference on the dismissal of three football players on June 6, 2017.
EAST LANSING – They arrived with the air of high expectations.
They’re leaving in a cloud of doubt and disgrace.
Four of the top players from Michigan State's 2016 recruiting class have been accused of rape in two separate incidents. Charges from January sexual assault allegations involving Donnie Corley, Josh King and Demetric Vance were authorized today stemming from an incident on campus. Similar charges were levied against Auston Robertson in an April case. All four players were projected as starters this fall. All four have been dismissed from the program.
“With the criminal sexual conduct charges filed against Josh King, Donnie Corley and Demetric Vance, I have decided that regardless of the final outcome of the criminal process, these three individuals have been dismissed from our program, effective immediately," MSU coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement this morning.
"Sexual assault has no place in our community, and I want to share my deep concern for the young woman affected and her family."
Much of the best talent from Michigan State’s vaunted 2016 recruiting class – the best in Dantonio’s 11 years – is gone. And when Dantonio said in December that he expected more attrition in the off-season, no one knew that six freshmen from that group would be among those leaving before another snap of football was played.
“Everybody has high hopes when they come in,” Dantonio said on signing day in 2016, “but it’s really how they go out is what's important.”
In addition to the four dismissed from the program, two others, the 11th- and 13th-best recruits from 2016, also left since the end of last season’s 3-9 downturn. For academic reasons, safety Kenney Lyke announced last week he was leaving for a community college. Offensive lineman Thiyo Lukusa did not enroll at MSU for second semester in January because he said he lost the passion to play football at the highest level. Both players would have had a chance to play plenty this fall.
Juniors Malik McDowell, a defensive lineman, and Montae Nicholson, a safety, left for the NFL, which was expected attrition. Linebacker Jon Reschke also left before his senior season after he “lost control of my emotions and made an insensitive and totally regrettable comment involving a former teammate.” Two others, defensive back Drake Martinez and cornerback/wide receiver Kaleel Gaines, also transferred out.
MSU also had two other players, senior defensive end Demetrius Cooper and junior cornerback Vayante Copeland, involved in legal matters during the off-season. Their status for this fall remains unclear. And the Free Press reported last week that former MSU and NFL receiver Keith Mumphery had been banned from campus and expelled from his graduate studies program last summer for a March 2015 incident that violated the university’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy.
Dantonio has declined multiple media requests for comment since he last discussed the problems his program was facing during an April 12 teleconference of Big Ten coaches. He spoke to the West Michigan Sports Commission on May 1 and to an MSU alumni group in Troy on May 11 but would not talk to reporters.
“I look along the way – 11 years,” Dantonio told fans last month in Troy. “Eleven years of what we’ve tried to do here as a program. … I look at some of the things that I’m experiencing now that I’ve never experienced, not in my 11 years. Other things that I have.”
There is no question that losing Corley, King and Robertson will have major ramifications this fall. All three played extensively as true freshmen and were four-star recruits among the nation’s top 110 recruits in 2016, according to 247Sports.com.
Corley, who was charged today with charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct for his role in a Jan. 16 incident, made an immediate impact a year ago after enrolling in January 2016 as the state’s top high school player that year and one of the nation’s best wide receivers out of Detroit Martin Luther King High.
The 6-foot-2, 186-pound wide receiver started two games and played in all 12 during his debut season last fall. Corley also played defensive back late in the season and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and earned a spot on the Football Writers Association of America’s Freshman All-America Team as an all-purpose player.
Corley got a few carries on jet sweeps, dabbled at defensive back (five tackles in four games), played on a number of special teams and got a few reps on punt returns. But he became the No. 2 pass-catching option behind senior R.J. Shelton almost immediately, even with continual instability at quarterback.
Corley’s 453 receiving yards are the most in MSU history by a true freshman, and his 33 catches are second to only running back Sedrick Irvin in 1996. His 496 all-purpose yards were third on the Spartans a year ago, and it included seven plays of 20-plus yards.
“I expect him to play on a whole other level,” MSU wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel said on Feb. 1 this year, eight days before Corley and two others were suspended from the football program. “Yes, he can be that. It’s rough to say – better than Tony (Lippett), better than (Aaron Burbridge). This is just a throwing-it-out there type situation, my opinion. But he can be.
“These guys, Donnie is the one who’s played a lot. He put a freshman year, he did really well. Could’ve done a lot of things better, and I think he’s addressed a lot of those things. Hopefully, if I’m teaching him the right way, we’ll see the progress.”
King was charged in the Jan. 16 incident with one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, as well as with capturing an image of an unclothed person.
King is a 6-6, 267-pound defensive end and top-100 prospect nationally from Hinsdale South High in suburban Chicago. He started two of the nine games he played last season, registering 10 tackles.
“Well, I just see growth and his understanding more of the defense and his ability to play strong at the point of attack in the run game and his future as a pass rusher…,” defensive line coach Ron Burton said of King in October. “We’re looking for more, and you shall see more.”
Robertson was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct for an alleged rape of a fellow MSU student that occurred April 8 in Meridian Township. He is due in 55th District Court on June 22 in Mason for a preliminary examination.
Video: Timeline of MSU's off-field, legal issues
A look at Michigan State football's off-the-field legal trouble since last fall.
The 6-4, 281-pound Robertson played seven games as a true freshman at both defensive end and defensive tackle. He had three tackles and forced a fumble. Robertson played defensive end during MSU’s spring game April 1.
“Sexual assault has no place in our community,” Dantonio said April 21 in a statement released by the university after dismissing Robertson. “While there is an ongoing criminal process, we’re extremely disappointed that Auston put himself in this position. He is no longer a member of our football program.”
Dantonio took a chance on Robertson, who was arrested in January 2016 on a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from an October 2015 incident at his high school in Ft. Wayne, Ind. Robertson was accused of improperly touching a female classmate, according to Allen Superior Court 4 records. He entered into a diversionary program for that case, which he completed March 11.
Those charges against Robertson were cleared from his record March 22 after he fulfilled the terms of his diversionary program and by not getting into further trouble, according to court records.
Robertson did not sign with MSU on signing day in 2016 after the first incident was reported. Dantonio announced Robertson’s signing on March 30, 2016.
Dantonio said in his April statement that Robertson “underwent an extensive educational process” that included “daily supervised sessions within the football program and regular meetings with university staff addressing appropriate behavior and developmental growth.” Robertson’s diversionary program included a 22-week course focused on behavior changes that began in Indiana and was transferred to the state of Michigan’s Prevention and Training Services program.
Robertson also had charges dropped in September 2015 after allegations of criminal mischief/damaging property and resisting law enforcement, according to Allen Superior Court 5 records.
“Due to the charges he was facing during his recruitment, we took precaution in allowing Auston to be a part of our football program, including a thorough vetting, which we acknowledged publicly at his signing,” Dantonio said in his statement. “This was a multiple-step process that continued through his final admission in the summer.”
Vance, who was charged today with charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct for his role in the Jan. 16 incident, is a 6-2, 200-pound safety who was a four-star recruit out of Detroit Cass Tech. He redshirted in 2016 but was being projected as one of the prime candidates to replace Nicholson and the graduated Demetrious Cox. Vance was one of the players coaches buzzed about when talking about the true freshmen who were not among the nine who played last fall.
“He can play corner and safety,” co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett said of Vance in August. “He’s a good player, a good tackler, good ball skills – just another guy of many that I think will be a good player for us.”
Vance, Corley and King were not permitted to participate in the Spartans’ off-season workouts after they were suspended Feb. 9 amid the sexual assault allegations from an incident that occurred in the early-morning hours of Jan. 16.
Neither Lukusa nor Lyke were involved in criminal situations. However, losing both significantly affects the Spartans’ depth chart.
Lyke, a four-star recruit from Hoffman Estates, Ill., told the Free Press on Saturday that he was leaving MSU for academic reasons. The 6-2, 187-pound safety – who also did not play in the April 1 spring game – plans to enroll at Mississippi Delta Community College and hopes to land at a Southeastern Conference school by the 2018 season.
The 6-5, 305-pound Lukusa played eight games in his debut season – a rarity for a true freshman offensive lineman – and was projected as the starting right tackle this fall. He did not return to MSU for classes in January. The Traverse City native plans to transfer to and play basketball at Arizona Western Junior College. That’s also where Gaines plans to transfer and play football.
“I was not hired because all of a sudden everything was great. I was hired to change things and take people to a higher level,” Dantonio said in early May. “Times like this, you just have to sort of sit back, reach back and reaffirm yourself as a coach, as a person and move things forward.”