Apr 1, 2012

Column: Which DeAnthony Arnett should Michigan State Spartans fans expect?

 Photo: Saginaw News -- Former Saginaw High star DeAnthony Arnett could bring the unexpected to Michigan State, depending on your opinion of him.

By Adam Biggers

Most Michigan State Spartans football fans are probably eagerly anticipating the official arrival of transfer DeAnthony Arnett, a former Saginaw High prep All-American.

However, they're also probably holding their breath, not sure what to expect.

As of now, the facts are the facts: There are bitter Tennessee Volunteers fans who claim that Arnett was immature and simply wanted out of the program. But that's speculation on their parts. Officially, his reason for transferring to Michigan State was to be closer to his ill father.

We can leave it at that, because only Arnett knows for sure. He caught 24 passes for 242 yards as a freshman, a decent showing for a first-year player.

There have been a lot of reports and columns published on Arnett, but my question is this: How many of the writers actually had a personal encounter with him? How many truly spent time with him before hitting the keyboard with their sideways analysis?

I'm not claiming to know Arnett by any means. However, I did interview him just over a year ago for about half an hour.

I approached him with the standard questions, which I expected standard answers in return. But he was polite, laughed a little, and seemed like a genuine kid looking to play college football. He loosened up a bit and mentioned something about getting out of Michigan, so I figured in-state schools weren't options.

(He had some of the best hands I had ever witnessed, too. He turned poorly thrown balls into acrobatic, one-handed catches during that practice. And they looked effortless). 

At that time, he hadn't committed to Tennessee, but weeks later, he followed with a less-than impressive outburst on Twitter that included multiple "I'm going here" statuses and video footage in which he wore a different team's hat -- including UM and MSU hats -- each time.

To me, that was just a kid being a kid, but it did change my opinion of him. I thought he could have handled the situation a little differently. But then again, I wasn't a highly-touted prep football player while in high school, so who was I to judge? I can't say I wouldn't have done the same thing. How many kids get to choose from a laundry list of premier programs to play for?

Not many.

Other than that, I thought Arnett was a likable kid. I arranged the interview with his coach, Gary Lee, and it went smoothly. Arnett thanked me for my time. I thanked him for his and left the field. That was that.

I remember watching a Volunteers game one Saturday. I don't remember the opponent, but I do remember the announcer calling Arnett's name after he finished a nice kick return. At that time, I smiled and said to myself: "I hope he has a good college career," not knowing that he would soon make the decision to transfer to Michigan State.

My overall feeling is this: Spartans fans should hope for the best, but brace themselves for the worst. Will Arnett settle for anything less than being a go-to receiver? He should. Michigan State has Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphrey and Bennie Fowler returning, along with other recruits. Arnett -- who was a basketball and football standout at Saginaw -- isn't guaranteed to see action, but he's been cleared to play spring football. He's waiting to be cleared for fall, and if the NCAA fails to grant him the ability to play come August, all the thoughts on Arnett's potential this season will be for naught.

Will Arnett accept a role on special teams, perhaps as a kick returner? Nick Hill saw duties at that position last year, but will likely see more time at running back since Edwin Baker left early for the NFL. Could Arnett handle only a few touches per game, or would he revert to the immature kid so many Volunteers fans tabbed him as and become disgruntled?

Spartans coach Mark Dantonio recently interviewed with ESPN. He comes across a good judge of character and had nothing but positive things to say about Arnett, who had to make a difficult choice on whether or not to transfer.

"It was a hardship because his father is ill," Dantonio said. "DeAnthony had success at Tennessee. He was happy at Tennessee. He felt like he needed to come home to be near his family. Every Friday afternoon he goes home. He's a great young man, and he cares deeply about his family and wants to be close to them and wants them to have the opportunity to see him play as well."

Form your own opinion on Arnett. But consider reading this column by the Saginaw News' Hugh Bernreuter, who offers a solid analysis of the situation.

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