EAST LANSING - One of the best cornerbacks in the nation had one of the best camp experiences of his career, Saturday at the July edition of the Michigan State Elite Camp.
Dior Mathis, a tough, fast, technically-sound cornerback from Detroit Cass Tech, made new friends, touched base with some old ones and broadened his knowledge base on all things Spartan.
"I had a really good time," said Mathis, a Rivals250 prospect ranked the No. 8 cornerback in America. "Coming out here and seeing all my friends that I played with in little league that go to State and playing against people that I'm going to play against this season, and doing one-on-ones and drills, it's a good experience for me."
Count incoming MSU running back Edwin Baker of Oak Park as one of Mathis's old friends.
"I played PAL (Police Athletic League) football with him, and some of the other older guys here," Mathis said.
Mainly, Mathis came to town to hone his craft under the direction of Michigan State coaches.
"It's fun working with them," Mathis said. "I felt that I did good with the one-on-ones and the drills. I came out here just to enjoy the time here, talk to the coaches, tell them how I feel about coming to Michigan State, and do well in one-on-ones."
How does he feel about coming to Michigan State?
"I love it," he said.
By "coming to Michigan State," he means visiting, not committing. Not yet.
For now, he is taking time to get to know things. And he likes what he knows about Michigan State.
"It's just like a family atmosphere," he said. "I come up here and I feel like I am at home, almost. It's like being at home and used to the school. It's not like I'm coming to the school for the first time and trying to get to know it, trying to put myself in a new atmosphere. It's like I'm coming here as a home away from home. It's like I'm going to high school, but I'm just taking a further trip to high school."
There is plenty of talent at Cass Tech, but it's not every day that a high school player gets to work against a wide receiver as talented and skilled as Grand Blanc's Tony Jones, who was impressive at Saturday's camp.
The 6-foot-1 Jones, ranked No. 11 in Michigan by SpartanMag.com, has offers from MSU, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ole Miss, Missouri, Northwestern, Purdue, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin and Wake Forest, among others. At camp, he showed some of the high end capabilities that those schools have found attractive.
On one memorable play which drew ohs and ahs from campers on the sideline, Jones sold a post route with a quick, decisive cut and then doubled the route deep for a post-corner. He accelerated past an unidentified defensive back, gaining separation in impressive fashion. However, the quarterback led Jones too much with a pass. So Jones hit another gear and laid out to make a diving catch.
It was a route and reception any current player in the Big Ten would be proud to call their own.
When Jones met up with Mathis, it was talent vs. talent.
SpartanMag.com was not able to chart every time they went against one another, but there was one notable instance in which Jones gave a nod to an out route and then quickly cut inside for a crossing route. He's fast and he wastes no movements. Excellent route.
The ball was there, but so was a fast-closing Mathis. Mathis arrived with force and raked his arm across Jones' hands to break up the reception. It would have taken great hands to finish that catch.
Good route, good defense, good football all the way around.
After a break, the defensive backs were deployed in Michigan State's trademark cover-four zone coverage, featuring "man-match" principles. Mathis, ranked No. 5 in the state by SpartanMag.com, received hands-on tutelage from the head coach.
"Coach Dantonio gave me some pointers on what to do in cover-four, and how to put my feet and my stance in cover-four," Mathis said. "He was out there working with us."
In the sun and 80-degree heat, no less.
"That's crazy," Mathis said. "Every university camp that I go to, the head coach is either inside doing paper work or outside just watching. They're usually not on the field with the players, coaching them. Dantonio, he's out there working with you, teaching you stuff, talking with you and just having fun with you."
What do the MSU coaches say they like about Mathis?
"My whole frame of how I play, how the attitude is, how I break on the ball, my footwork, my tackling," Mathis said. "They say they like everything about me."
When asked to list what schools he is interested in, Mathis said, "Of course, here (Michigan State), Oregon, USC, LSU, Miami and Michigan.
Mathis has offers from Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Oregon, Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, Iowa and LSU. He has been invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Game in San Antonio in early January.
"Recruiting is fun right now but actually it is getting kind of tiring," Mathis said. "I really want to decide where I want to go. I wanted to wait until the Army game to do it but it depends on these next couple of months to decide whether I'm going to commit early or wait until the Army game."
What factors would lead him to an early decision?
"Just to get that big monkey off my back," he said, "to know what school I'm going to, everything being set, you don't have to worry about a whole bunch of schools following me, just one person and enjoy my whole senior year."
He gave no indication that he was close to getting that monkey off his back and making a final decision. But Michigan State certainly didn't hurt its chances for Mathis on Saturday.
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